A universal human impulse is to live a life of meaning. This desire has spurred some of the biggest and complex questions we as humans can ask, including “what is the meaning of life?” While not specifically answering that questions, for most of human history in the West, it was assumed that meaning in life was given, perhaps by fundamental principals of the Universe or by God, but your life and my life have meaning given to us by another, whether personal or impersonal, who is worthy of granting meaning to one’s life.
This belief that meaning was discovered began to be challenged and questioned by thinkers over the last 200 years, like Nietzsche, who saw civilization as not operating as if God were real any longer. As he noticed this he described how if there were no God, humans would have to create their own meaning in this world. Just because humans function in a more secularized society does not eliminate the need for transcendent meaning for one’s life. This in some ways becomes a massive burden, one that each person needs to take up and be responsible for their own meaning in life.
While psychology and therapists have mostly been focused on how to help people with struggles and illnesses become well again, a line of psychology has focused on the meaning of one’s own existence. As our field continues to grow and develop I believe that an increased emphasis on identifying meaning in one’s own life will once again become a central issue for human flourishing. Because meaning is so fundamental to humanity, regardless of the age we live in, it is a question we will need to contend with.
So my questions to reflect on are: do you believe we discover meaning, if so, where is that meaning found? If you believe we create meaning, what kinds of choices lead to a meaningful existence? Finally, how are you being intentional about pursing and cultivating a meaningful life right now?