“Meaning makes a great many things endurable – perhaps everything” – Carl Jung
Questions to ponder: What is the meaning of life? What is the meaning of my life? Why are we here? What do we live for?
Importance of meaning
“Absence of meaning in life plays a crucial role in the etiology of neurosis. A neurosis must be understood, ultimately, as a suffering of a soul which has not discovered its meaning… about a third of my cases are not suffering from any clinically definable neurosis but from the senselessness and aimlessness of their lives” -Carl Jung
- We (human beings) require meaning. To live without meanings, goals, values or ideals seems to provoke considerable distress. In severe form it may lead to a decision to end ones life.
- Victor Frankl author of “The search for meaning” noted from his experiences in a concentration camp, the individuals without a sense of purpose were unlikely to survive.
Why do we need meaning and what is "Meaning"?
Meaning – refers to sense or coherence. It describes what is expressed by something. A search for meaning implies a search for coherence.
Purpose – refers to intention, aim, and function. When we ask about the purpose of something we are asking about its role or function. What does it do? To what end?
What is the meaning of life? Is an inquiry into cosmic meaning, about whether life fits into some overall coherent pattern.
What is the meaning of my life? Is an inquiry into terrestrial meaning. Terrestrial meaning (the meaning of my life) embraces purpose: one who possesses a sense of meaning, experiences life as having some purpose or function to be fulfilled, some overriding goal or goals to which to apply oneself.
What gives us meaning?
- Altruism – Leaving the world a better place to live in, serving others, participation in charity, etc. The belief that it is good to give, to be useful to others, to make the world better for others, is a powerful source of meaning.
- Dedication to a cause – Many kinds of cause may suffice: the family, the state, a political or religious cause, and a scientific venture. “It must if it is to give life meaning, lift the individual out of himself, and make him a cooperating part of a vaster scheme” – Durant
- Creativity – To create something new, something that rings with novelty or beauty and harmony is a powerful antidote to a sense of meaninglessness. The creation justifies itself. It defies the question, what for?
- The Hedonistic Solution – The purpose of life in this view is simply to live fully, to retain one’s sense of astonishment at the miracle of life, to plunge oneself into the natural rhythm of life, to search for pleasure in the deepest possible sense. “Life is a gift. Take it, unwrap it, appreciate it, use it and enjoy it”
- Self-actualization – Another source of personal meaning is the belief that human beings should strive to actualize themselves, that they should dedicate themselves to realizing their inner potential. Self –actualization is a modern term for an ancient concept expressed by Aristotle in the 4th centenary B.C. It refers to the aim pf each being to come to realize its own being. Thus, the acorn is realized in the oak and the infant is a fully actualized adult. Abraham Maslow – self actualizing needs consist of knowledge, insight, wisdom, symmetry, congruence, integration, beauty, creativity and harmony.
- Self-transcendence – Victor Frankl holds self –transcendence (a desire to strive toward something or someone outside or “above” oneself) as a key feature in the question of meaning.
What gives you personal meaning?