The search for meaning in life refers to the idea that individuals are strongly motivated to find meaning in their lives, that is, to be able to understand the nature of their personal existence, and feel it is significant and purposeful.
No one can tell the actual definition of the meaning of life. Because the meaning will be different for each person For some, it is all about happiness, building a family, and leading life as it is. For some, it is about accumulating wealth, whereas, for some, it is all about love. We all are individuals, and we find meaning through different avenues based upon what we find value in the most.
The three elements of the meaning in life: Understanding and distinguishing coherence, purpose, and significance. Coherence means a sense of comprehensibility and one’s life making sense. Purpose means a sense of core goals, aims, and direction in life. Significance is about a sense of life’s inherent value and having a life worth living.
A meaningful life is commonly associated with or predicted by the following: Positive self-views ( high self-esteem and self-confidence). Seeing oneself as distinct (different from others in a positive way). Sense of self-continuity, meaning a connection between the past and present.
Through the years from ancient times philosophers have been trying to understand what the meaning of life is. The late Dr. Victor Frankl a modern-day philosopher and Jewish Austrian psychiatrist. While personally struggling to survive “Theresienstadt” a Nazi concentration camp, and drawing from his experiences as well as observations, he developed the theory of logotherapy which he claimed that through a search for meaning in life, individuals can endure and overcome suffering.
Victor Frankl spent a total of three years in four camps: Theresienstadt, Auschwitz, Kaufering III, and Türkheim. He lost his father in the Terezín Ghetto, his brother and mother at Auschwitz, and his wife in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. His sister, Stella, escaped to Australia. He was devastated when he returned to Vienna and found nothing left of the life he once knew and the people he loved. From the horrors he experienced at the concentration camps yet with his will to survive he developed “ Logotherapy.”
Logotherapy is a scientifically based school of psychotherapy, based on the belief that the search for meaning even amidst misery can constitute a potential solution to human suffering. Meaning can be found by creating a work, loving someone, or adopting a modified attitude toward inevitable suffering.
Frankl writes: We can discover this meaning of life in three different ways: (1) by creating a work or doing a deed; (2) by experiencing something or encountering someone; and (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.
“Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.” Victor Frankl
Helping People Find Meaning to Their Life:
Studies have shown that fostering a sense of awe, gratitude, and altruism can help strengthen a sense of purpose. Ask the client to listen to the positive things people have to say about them. Help clients to discern the truth from the lies they may have been believing. Encourage your clients to take healthy risks in life. Writing or reading about personal experiences can help develop a shared understanding of meaning. The sources of meaning and a sense of purpose in our lives are highly personal, subjective, and will vary throughout our lives.
Post Traumatic Growth: Finding Meaning After Trauma
The concept of post traumatic growth evolved from the belief that people can emerge from any traumatic event or life crisis with a new world view and resilience, thus feeling changed in unexpected and positive ways. Rather than a direct result from trauma, this process occurs as people cope with the trauma. The intent is not to minimize the trauma or the suffering connected to it. The distress from the trauma can remain as post traumatic growth occurs. Post-traumatic growth involves a positive change in someone’s thinking or behavior as a result of an adverse experience, or trauma.1 For many people, it feels counter intuitive to think that good things can result from a life trauma. However, people can be transformed in positive ways they did not anticipate. Life can take on new meaning as people evolve from the role of victim to victor as they emerge from a trauma. Post traumatic growth describes both the outcome and the process. Post traumatic growth asserts you can learn to embrace your survival and growth skills as you work through the emotional and psychological pain created by a trauma. It does not necessarily erase pain but offers new ways to cope with it. This phenomenon does not occur with all trauma victims. There is nothing wrong or abnormal regarding those that do not choose the path of post traumatic growth, especially those with PTSD or acute stress disorder. About one-half to two-thirds of people experience post traumatic growth. We all cope in different ways with a life crisis. The goal of post traumatic growth is to move forward with your life after a trauma in meaningful ways. Post traumatic growth can help to reshape your core beliefs, life goals, and values.
Promoting Happiness Themes in Pursuit of Life’s Meaning
The following activities and techniques can promote key themes in our lives as sources of meaning .
- Support others (and receive others’ support) by joining clubs – strengthening bonds and building relationships.
- Share feelings, desires, hopes, goals, successes, and failures with a close friend or significant other to increase intimacy.
- Focus outside yourself on causes, pursuits, and responsibilities to self-transcend.
- Pursue goals and strive for achievement in areas aligned with your values.
- Become comfortable with who you are. Feel the satisfaction of meaning by practicing self-acceptance.
- Express and experience respect and fairness.
- Obtaining materialistic desires can be significant and meaningful for some. People
- Working towards professional goals can be purposeful for many. Others
- The pursuit of pleasure and happiness brings meaning and purpose to many but can be short lived.
A Christian Perspective on The Meaning of Life
You were created to glorify God. You glorify God by obeying him; you enjoy him by glorifying him. Obedience to God and enjoyment of God are interconnected. This might seem tyrannical and insecure on the part of the divine: Did God create us for his glory? Isn’t that selfish and insecure? No, because “God, and God alone, is man’s highest good.” God is not just sovereign and strong, but also good and satisfying. He is glorious. He is the Creator; you are the creature. He is the Potter, you are clay. The Creator and Potter have a right to determine how things work. And this glorious God has ordained that living for him. knowing him, enjoying him, obeying him, glorifying him, is the path to the meaning of life. Far from being a killjoy, this is man’s highest good. No amount of money, status, or success can compare with knowing God. You can continue to run from God in hopes of finding fulfillment through worldly means, but you will be running in vain. God has created your heart in such a way that, apart from entering into a right relationship with him, you’ll always feel empty and miserable on the inside. Stop running From God and surrender to Him and you will find the meaning of your life.
– Jim Katsoudas – learn more about working with Jim here!