elrentaplats. The True Meaning of Life. Flickr.
Trying To Resolve Existential Angst: Learning to Develop Ourselves and Reach Out To Others.
As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light of meaning in the darkness of mere being.
A sense of pointlessness and lack of meaning characterise some people’s lives, especially those who feel depressed and low.
Many people feel that they do not matter, they are insignificant, they do not make a difference to the world or to others.
Such existential angst produces ‘What’s it all about?’ questions that can be highly frustrating and disturbing for them. Yet these questions have been there since time immemorial.
Munch. The Scream.Wikimedia Commons
“I stood there trembling with anxiety – and I felt a vast infinite scream through nature.” – Extract from Munch’s diary. 1892.
Munch’s own existential angst is powerfully depicted in his painting, which also expresses a universal connection between inner and outer states.
Existential ruminations are commonplace, as we ask-
‘What is real?’ ‘ Is all the world a stage as Shakespeare said?’
‘Why am I here? Who am I?’
‘What on earth is the point of it all when we all die anyway?’
Perhaps we might all express versions of The Scream, of these powerful cries of anguish, doubts and concerns sometimes.
“About a third of my cases are suffering from no clinically definable neurosis, but from the senselessness and emptiness of their lives. This can be defined as the general neurosis of our times.”
Carl Gustav Jung
He lost his wife, parents and brother in the horror of the Nazi camps.
What Frankl also witnessed, amid all the terror and deprivation, was the strength and magnanimity of the human spirit. He saw some people giving away their last crust to others who were also starving:
“They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof the everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”Viktor Frankl.
After the war ended, Frankl still felt, perhaps more than ever, that he could find meaning in his years of terrible suffering and loss. He believed that meaning could be found in every experience. It depended on how you thought about it and processed it.
Frankl founded Logotherapy, a humanistic therapy centred around meaning. It emphasised the importance of being aware that we also have the freedom to choose how we think about the world, about life and about what happens to us.
He saw the importance of transcending our experiences, rising above the everyday and the apparently mundane workings of our lives, in order to create meaning, to see patterns, to make life-stories and to discover our life’s purpose.
His resolution of his own search for meaning became part of his own life story, as it does, in different ways, for us all.
Finding meaning in our lives appears to happen when we forget ourselves in the service of others or become very immersed in some external cause or work. It is through these kinds of experiences that we might discover our life’s objectives.
“True happiness… is not attained through self-gratification, but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.” ―Helen Keller
Finding challenging and absorbing work inevitably gives us worthy goals and a sense of purpose; satisfying relationships, both personal and work-related, definitely help to make us feel that our life is worthwhile.
Developing ourselves, our talents, passions, gifts and abilities helps us know who we are and what direction we need to take in order to make living meaningful personally.
“If you can’t figure out your purpose, figure out your passion. For your passion will lead you right into your purpose.” -Bishop T.D. Jakes
“The aim of life is self-development, to realize one’s nature perfectly.” – Oscar Wilde
Having an aim in life is motivating and fulfilling; it gives us a sense of why we are on this earth. It is important to find what makes you feel really alive and what fills you with a sense of being yourself, of having found what it is that fulfils and thrills you.
“Musicians must make music, artists must paint, poets must write if they are ultimately to be at peace with themselves. What humans can be, they must be.” ―Abraham Maslow
“Man is originally characterized by his “search for meaning” rather than his “search for himself.” The more he forgets himself—giving himself to a cause or another person—the more human he is. And the more he is immersed and absorbed in something or someone other than himself the more he really becomes himself.”
“To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.” Nietzsche
Along the way, however, remember that it is important to really live whilst you are finding life’s purpose.
“If you wait until you find the meaning of life, will there be enough life left to live meaningfully?”
-The Lubavitcher Rebbe
Next week’s post is about Hope.