The meaning of life

Problems with broadly understood meaning of life

Nowadays, the need of finding the meaning of life has changed diametrically. A lot of people are touched by the feeling of meaninglessness, accompanied by existential void, manifested by apathy and boredom. Apathy is defined as the lack of initiative and willingness to do something in our life, while boredom refers to losing the interest in the external world. Here it is worth to quote a fragment of the book by D. Yalmon (1980): “Among forty subsequent patients, who came to the psychiatric clinic […] (30 per cent) had a serious problem connected with meaning”.



The meaning of life – does it really exist and what is it?

Human right and privilege is not only to search for the meaning of their life, but also to ask whether it really exists. There is no other living creature, apart from the human, who would ask itself questions of this kind. We are the creatures searching for the meaning of our lives. So… The meaning of life, what is it? What meaning does their life have for a human? Erich Fromm asks: “Is there any reason for which we want to live or maybe we would not want to live if we did not have such reason?”.

Then Fromm claims: “It is a fact that all living creatures, animals and people want to live and this desire is paralyzed only in such exceptional circumstances as the pain that one is not able to support or (among humans) the occurrence of such strong emotions as love, hatred, pride, loyalty which may be stronger than the desire to live. It seems that the nature or – if someone prefers it – the evolution process equips each living creature with the desire to live and irrespective of what one may think about it, the reasons provided are only secondary thoughts, which make it possible to rationalize this biological urge”.



What does it mean to “be happy”?

It is a fact that we want to live. But what would be the answer to the question: How do we want to live? What do we expect from ourselves and from life? We will then get confronted with the reality of our life and the situation of other people and we will discover that different people have different ideas on how to live. Many of us would say that the meaning of life consists in peaceful family life, others that they are searching for fame, love or what they appreciate most is security, others would appreciate sensual pleasure or the power. Some people live hoping for vengeful triumph, others devote all their lives to higher purposes or somebody else – God, another human. Other people find the meaning of their life creating art or fighting for truth. There are also those who, plunged in despair, dream about peace and freeing themselves from pain. Sometimes the meaning of life is to gain the acceptance of one’s father or mother.

However from my professional perspective, the most common opinion is that the meaning of life is to be happy. I ask my patients: To be happy, so to be what? And it turns out that this notion becomes abstract. I often hear: “I will be happy when my needs are satisfied”. Then it seems that the notion of the meaning and purpose of our life leads us to the issue of the nature of human needs, which are numerous, e.g. the need of authenticity, competence, achievements, privacy, trust, intimacy, relationships, respect, love, acceptance, peace or support. How will we be able to recognize that a given need is satisfied, what would it change in our life?



Where does the growing feeling of meaninglessness in society come from?

Our industrialized society for sure aims at satisfying all human needs. The consumption society existing next to the human creates new needs, which are to be satisfied without any reflection. It seems to me that the consumption lifestyle “tears the human out” of traditions in which they were functioning and at the same time deprives them of values passed on from generation to generation. The sense of meaninglessness resulting from this has the greatest negative influence on young people and it is in particular among them that such phenomena as depression, addictions and aggression are born.



When might a human find the meaning of life?

So – the meaning, what is it? According to Frankl, in the most prosaic sense it refers to how much a given situation means for a given human being. It looks analogically with the situations that the life challenges us with. Each event creates some requirements or questions to which we need to find the answers. The perception of meaning may be defined as sudden discovery of a specific opportunity appearing on the background of reality. People may really find the meaning of their life irrespective of their age, gender, education, IQ, environment, character or finally if they are simply believers or not, and if yes, irrespective of their religion. One can thus find the meaning in any circumstances, even those which are difficult to imagine for an average human.



Three ways to search for the meaning

It is necessary to point out that an average person searches for the meaning in three ways. The first leads through fulfilling the deed and constructing the work; the next it is experiencing something or meeting someone, which means, that the meaning of life may be found for example in work or love; the third way, in turn, that while facing the fate which we are unable to change we have to use a given situation to the fullest, overgrow ourselves, simply become a different human. It also refers to the “tragic trinity”, i.e. pain, guilt and death, as each suffering can be transformed into a personal achievement, in feeling guilty we can see the chance of change for the better, while in the transitional character of life the encouragement to behave in a responsible way.

The essence of the meaning of life always refers to what had existed in primary life. It always refers to preserving the individual, the human race, to habits, creating friendly relationships between the human being and the external world. People are following the race of evolution and they do not see it as they do not see that the earth goes round. We aim at successfully adapting to the external world. Already at the very early stage of life the struggle for perfection had existed, which constitutes an inborn fact, inherent for every individual, as to live means to develop.



Components of the meaning: human, external world and the relationship between them

The sense of the meaning of life contains a relational nature. Such state is proved by the people finding coherent relations in themselves, between a person and the external world. Discovering such relations guarantees the understanding of the nature of phenomena as well as formulation and anticipation of expectations. In this way, people are searching for meanings, the sense, as this makes them form part of the external world. In other words, people find the content of the worldview and at the same time to some extent form its ingredient. The next assumption, referring to the meaning of life, states that people create and add meaning, i.e. they find the relationships between events or states of affairs through discovering the stability of these relationships and analyze them. In addition, a human is also able to find contradictions, manifestations of losing the meaning and the ability to restore meanings.

The meaning of life, matching human nature within the limits of their existence, consists in the ability to love, to use humility, objectivity and common sense, to keep with the internal and external world the relationships which are free from distortions. Such connection with the world constitutes the most precious source of energy. The meaning of life is based on humility, objectivity, perceiving the things as they really are. This gives the sense of our own self.



The feeling of community

At the beginning of our life we see only what our ancestors had brought as their share in the evolution, higher development of joint humanity. This only fact could show us how the life continues, how we are approaching the state enabling bigger share of all of us in greater ability to cooperate. It refers to the state when everybody is identified as part of the whole to a larger extent than so far. All problems of the human life require the ability and preparation to cooperate, a visible sign of the feeling of community. It is as natural as breathing. All we can do before this happens is to understand this inevitable course of things and teach others the sense of understanding it. We are all somehow connected with each other.



Driving effort, so how the mastering of virtues and qualities helps in finding the meaning

In the literature on the subject Szuman emphasized that we live the meaning of life as its content when it incites our curiosity, our interest, moves us deeply and becomes a secret which we are trying to understand. The meaning of life constitutes the realization of our plans, dreams, set goals as well as constitutes the care for our own spiritual development and the quality of inner life. According to the author, the real meaning of life can be achieved through personal driving effort. The mastering of virtues and qualities constitutes such constructive effort. It is impossible to imagine the sense of life without the occurrence of such positive emotions as humility, hope, kindness as well as love, which is the life-giving motivator, the basis for creating relationships between people.



Love and gratitude as the most important components of the meaning

It is thanks to such emotions that a human being functions actively in the world. It is love which entails faith and happiness, patience and trust, generosity and the ability to forgive. Thanks to love in particular, as it is the positive emotion, we may even rise from the biggest fall and discover the meaning of life again. Gratitude is the feeling close to the positive emotion of love. This emotion gives us the basis for the meaning, as it exposes humility, kindness, generosity as well as thanksgiving. Gratitude is the appreciation of life as something beautiful, and in the moments of doubt it may simply save us. Gratitude stimulates other positive emotions, such as happiness, faith, peace, satisfaction, thus protecting people against losing the meaning of life.



The uniqueness of a human being

“As we are unique and one of a kind as human beings, it differentiates us among the other, adding the meaning to our existence and equally influencing our creative work as well as our ability to love. When we realize that one person cannot be replaced by somebody else, the role of responsibility which we have for our own life and keeping it will be manifested to us in its entire magnitude. The human who realizes the responsibility which they have for another human being who loves them and is impatiently waiting for them to come back, or in connection with some unfinished work, will never be able to take their own life. They know why they live and it will make them able to support how they live.” – Viktor E. Frankl.



Tłumaczenie/Translated by: Agnieszka Zielińska

Zdjęcia / Photos by : Anna Fotyma