”What is the meaning of life?” The question is as bad as asking you, ”What is your passion? Why, because both questions assume that you have a pre-defined response.
I also feel that you are expecting an easy response, an answer that is agreeable to you, me and everyone else. Fortunately, there is no broad inoculation that can satisfy the everyone. Why, because your reply is uniquely based on your Why, which will differ from my “why,” and the “why” of others.
Viktor Frankl, the author of A Man’s Search for Meaning, plainly explains, "No man and no destiny can be compared with any other man or any other destiny."
I have been on a journey for the meaning of my life. The significant reason why I get up every morning and check off items on my To Do List. I’ve entertained a few possible suitors, but none have held my interest.
It’s an unsettling prospect not to be clear on your why, which eventually bleeds into a terrifying question, “What if I die with regret because I never found my meaning?”
Frankl continues the argument:
"Former prisoners, when writing or relating their experiences, agree that the most depressing influence of all was that a prisoner could not know how long his term of imprisonment would be. He had been given no date for his release. (In our camp it was pointless even to talk about it.) Actually a prison term was not only uncertain but unlimited. A well-known research psychologist has pointed out that life in a concentration camp could be called a “provisional existence.” We can add to this by defining it as a “provisional existence of unknown limit."
I would not dare compare my life to that of Viktor Frankl. But I find myself drawn to the argument of the “provisional existence of unknown limit.” I felt as if I was wondering (endlessly) through my life, starving to find meaning. Unfortunately, all I found were remarkably common answers:
- What is the meaning of life… to be happy.
- What is the meaning of life… to be always satisfied.
- What is the meaning of life… to live, go to school, work, and die.
These findings are hollow answers which fed my existential distress.
But then Dr. Frankl explains:
"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."
The word responsible echoed in my mind. Was I being responsible? Or was I on some frantic search for an answer that would not only quench my thirst but that I could showcase like a trophy?
Professor Frankl continues to educate by explaining:
"By declaring that man is responsible and must actualize the potential meaning of his life, I wish to stress that the true meaning of life is to be discovered in the world rather than within man or his own psyche, as though it were a closed system."
I am horrified; I’ve been pursuing the wrong answers to the vital question. I have been looking for answers when I should be discovering or more importantly making myself into the person I want to be. Doctor Frankl, continues:
"I doubt whether a doctor can answer this question in general terms. For the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment. To put the question in general terms would be comparable to the question posed to a chess champion: “Tell me, Master, what is the best move in the world?” There simply is no such thing as the best or even a good move apart from a particular situation in a game and the particular personality of one’s opponent. The same holds for human existence. One should not search for an abstract meaning of life. Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfillment."
So how do you find the meaning of life?
- Stop searching for abstract answers.
- Start looking for specific missions.
The advice might sound pedestrian, but there is a high level of sobriety. If you want to live a meaningful life then you must define what a meaningful life means to you; if you don’t you will be stuck in an endless loop of existential distress.