What is the meaning of life? It may come-off like a cliche question, Bill, but I’m living with depression and anxiety – and having a tough time making sense of it all.
Well, it sure seems like a legitimate question to me. Living life can become a “callin’-it-in” proposition for anyone. But if you’re living with depression and/or anxiety, “What is the meaning of life?” can be a terribly troubling inquiry.
Okay, we’re getting close to Christmas and my mind’s all over the place with the “gettin’-ready’s.” So instead of bringing you a brand-spankin’-new article, I decided to tidy-up a piece I wrote two years ago. I’m confident you’ll find it timely (’tis the season) and meaningful. Let’s do it…
Have you ever wondered why you get out of bed to take on another day? I sure have. Think about it for a moment. I mean, we motivate ourselves to “rise and shine” – but why?
Oh, you might say, “To go to work.” To which I’d again ask, “Why?” “So I can eat, keep a roof over my head, and pay the bills.” To which I’d reply, “Well that’s great, but what else can you come up with?”
And then, there may be silence.
Fact is, I believe most people do what they do because, well, that’s what they do. But for many (including moi), that doesn’t cut it. If we can’t manage to come up with even a morsel of meaning in life, living it becomes a dicey proposition.
In the midst of a horribly callin’-it-in “life” several years ago I turned to a book I’d blown-off in the past: Man’s Search For Meaning, by the great 20th Century psychiatrist, theorist, and professor Viktor E. Frankl.
If you haven’t read it, I’d encourage you to do so. Based upon his imprisonment at the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II, Frankl shares his amazing take on life’s purpose and meaning.
Citing numerous philosophers and writers throughout, this quotation from 19th Century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wonderfully summarizes Frankl’s position…
He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.
As he goes on to discuss the meaning of life Frankl notes, day to day/hour to hour, it differs from person to person. See, he believed it isn’t so much the meaning of life that matters. Rather, it’s about the meaning of a person’s life at a given moment. That said, Frankl proposes that though the meaning of life is always changing, it never ceases to exist.
So how do we find this elusive meaning? Frankl directs us to focus our energy thusly…
- Create a work or do a deed.
- Experience something or encounter someone: He’s referring to things that involve goodness, truth, and beauty within the context of culture and nature. And he suggests this can also be accomplished by experiencing another human being in his or her “very uniqueness – by loving him (her).”
- Gain insight into our attitude toward unavoidable suffering: Frankl writes “In accepting this challenge to suffer bravely, life has a meaning up to the last moment, and it retains this meaning literally to the end. In other words, life’s meaning is an unconditional one, for it even includes the potential meaning of unavoidable suffering.”
Frankl goes on to declare that the search for meaning was absolutely the primary motivation in his life, not a “secondary rationalization of instinctual drives.” I love the way he expressed that.
This is one great read, written by a marvelous human being – one with whom I’d love to be stuck on a desert island. Man’s Search for Meaning spoke so much truth to me – and still does. If ever I’m in the midst of what Frankl calls “The Existential Vacuum,” characterized by chronic emptiness and boredom, his insight and perspective bring me sparks of hope that most always grow into flames.
As we close, consider this observation from Viktor E. Frankl as he reflected upon his Auschwitz imprisonment…
…it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us.
“What is the meaning of life?” If you’re living with depression and/or anxiety I’m thinking you frequently inquire. Perhaps especially so at this time of the year.
I encourage you to continue posing the question – and to continue your quest for answers. How much more hopeful and worthwhile life will become.