Psychologists and philosophers often talk about the importance of finding meaning in life. At a recent world congress on behavioural and cognitive treatment, I heard a great healer, Dr Aaron Beck, describe how he has helped persistently psychotic individuals come out of their shell by guiding them to find meaning in life. For instance, he gave a woman who did not speak or do anything useful an opportunity to make muffins. She liked doing that and liked giving the muffins to other patients. She was formerly a teacher, and she soon started teaching other patients how to cook. By finding meaning in these activities, she laid a path for herself out of the hospital and into a more normal life.
Where can a person find meaning in life? Another speaker at the congress, Professor Matt Saunders, described how he helped create the Positive Parenting Program, which has educated huge numbers of parents in Australia and many other countries. The effects of the training, including lowered rates of child neglect and abuse, benefit children all the way into adulthood. Saunders likely finds meaning in his professional work.
Other individuals find meaning in volunteer work, helping, teaching, or coaching others. I see many individuals time and again in Armidale plays, as writers, directors, performers, and so on. They put on shows that entertain and enrich audiences.
Many individuals find meaning in parenting or in helping family members, including aging parents. These individuals sacrifice so much that I think of them as saints. One of my friends, who is about to “lose” her child to a distant university, is now searching for new meaning to replace motherhood. She reckons that helping others in her indigenous ethnic group can help satisfy the need for meaning.
Carefully following the rules of a religion or a philosophy of life provides meaning to some individuals. Much of the rule following involves helping others. Pope Francis gave us a public example by taking in refugees and by apologizing for harm the Catholic Church has caused gays.
Last night I watched a documentary about the tragic murder of Aussie baseball player Chis Lane as he jogged down a street in an Oklahoma town. Three teens, who did not even know Lane, shot him in the back because they were bored and angry. They lacked any higher level of meaning than the meaning that comes from having the power to kill another person.
I am not a person to fret about meaning. I find meaning in most aspects of my life, even in being alive. Being alive seems grand to me in that it provides me a chance to experience, to learn, and to act.
What gives your life meaning?