The Meaning of Life

Posted: January 25, 2011 in Psychology
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Is there a meaning of life that applies to everyone? If that were true, it would be so general as to lack any meaning for you as an individual. If there is a meaning of life, it has to be your own personal one. It cannot be a meaning imposed from outside. That would be someone else’s meaning. Are we free to choose our meaning? How can we be sure it isn’t predetermined?


Freedom or Determinism

If we each have a predetermined meaning of life, it would mean that we have no freedom to choose differently. It’s the same case if we all had the same meaning of life.

Freedom is a wonderful ideal, but it also means that we are cast out into an openness where nothing is certain. We can be or do or think whatever we want. But that’s no answer. That’s what happens in life crisis.


Life Crisis

The teen life crisis comes from the need to choose an adult role. Anything is possible, but what? Finding that role gives a person something that creates a feeling of meaning. We gain something solid when we can define ourselves by our job and our relationships.

The mid-life crisis comes along when we keep the same job, same wife, same friends and same hobbies for a long time. They call it a Mid-Life Crisis when a person changes everything. Anything is possible again and the same anxieties (and sometimes depression) come into play until a person chooses a new job, wife, friends and hobbies. Then meaning is restored as a person returns to a solid definition of who they are based on what they do.

The teen life crisis is pretty much unavoidable unless a person has choosen their life course in childhood and finds help making it happen. Either it happened or it didn’t.

The adult Mid-Life Crisis doesn’t need to be such a major breakdown. A person can deliberately examine their life now and then and change what is least important about it. For example, I dropped my video game hobby to make time for studying computers. Making the change to only one area of life is an expression of freedom and increases happiness (when completed) while allowing a person to still have the certainty of the other parts of their life which have not changed.

Changing your job may save your marriage. Changing your hobbies or social groups may save your marriage and your job.


Finding Your Meaning of Life

Again, the meaning of your life can be whatever you want to make it. The smoothest, least anxious, least depressing way to go about it is to take time to plan what you want to change before it becomes a crisis. You can tell your life is building toward a crisis when depression is getting to be a recurring theme.

How do you plan the change?

First, you must identify what needs to change. Sometimes the answer is you. You need to become a better lover, friend, or worker. Read how-to books. Discuss it with others. Put what you learn into practice. Changing yourself makes you stronger and lets you keep your support network.

When it’s not you, change will be tougher. Changing others usually means replacing them. You will lose part of your support network at a time when negative emotions may be strong. This is why planning is important.

The second part of planned change is finding something to fill the void that will be created. Your current world is there because you need it. Unless you’re a stoic, you will need to replace what you are losing. If you must replace people, becoming more social is good preparation.

Thinking about what has worked for you in the past helps. Write down ideas as they come to you, even if they seem ridiculous. Your list will inspire more ideas. How much time you spend planning depends on the change. Hobbies are worth changing right away. At the other extreme, a divorce is not something to hurry into.

You should spend a lot of time thinking about what you want to change. Is it really necessary? Have you chosen the least disruptive change first? Are you sure you can’t solve the problem by changing yourself? If it’s “Yes to all” then you need to find what works for you.


Where Have You Found Meaning in the Past?

A long thoughtful review of your life can remind you of things that were good but that were interrupted. Sometimes the interruption is out of necessity, like having to change cities for a job. Sometimes you forget something good because something that seemed better came along, but you’ve grown tired of the better thing.

When you think about your past, everything tends to come back to you in large time chunks; university, a city you loved, a job that was fun but low pay, a lover you lost, memories often spanning years. What were the best years? Can you bring them around again?

You’re free to choose your meaning. Bring the best of your past into your future and you will make your life more meaningful.

Creating your own meaning can be hard. It can be stressful. It can be depressing. But when you finally break through to where your life aligns with your meaning, it will be wonderful.

– – –

If you are planning a serious life change, don’t base it on a single blog article. That would be crazy. Read more. Talk with those closest to you. Consult professionals. Minimize the damage. Take your time and do it right.

Article text copyright 2011 David Arthur Smith. All Rights Reserved.


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