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The Search for Meaning
The last time many people took the time to ponder philosophical questions, such as: “What’s the meaning of life?” “What values do I cherish?” “What shall I do with my life?”, it's likely they were with their college buddies, high on pot, contemplating the meaning of life, love, sex, truth, peace and more.
What a luxury it now seems to have that leisure to sit around to contemplate the meaning of life. For once one becomes immersed in the business of life – earning a living, raising a family, maintaining a residence – it’s easy to shy away from reflecting on your philosophy of life. The typical consequence: a feeling of emptiness, alienation, purposelessness - despite being constantly busy and rushing around doing things.
A philosophy of life provides a compass, a direction, a guide to help us make our way through life. Knowing what you believe in not only creates a sense of purpose but also is a guide to practical matters such as how to make a difficult decision, how to develop a sense of personal organization, how to be resilient - even in the most straining times.
Traditionally people turned to religion or principles of morality to provide meaning to their lives. Some still do. But others, despite religion, morality, education and wealth, feel little spirituality in their lives. Their deepest questions about why they are here on earth remain unanswered, typically resulting in feelings of loneliness, depression and reduced interest in anything except the pleasure of the moment.
“You cannot get enough of what you don’t really need,” declared philosopher Eric Hoffer. But if you don’t really know what you need, you’ve got to make it up as you go along. And what most people do is to accentuate the amorphous concept of “more”. More money, more sex, more work, more drugs, more food, more clothes, more tech gizmos, more travel, more parties, more friends, more activities. And yet, despite having more than you ever dreamed of, you may still find less meaning in life.
So what should you do if you’re not finding much meaning in life? Keep busy, keep active, keep moving, we are told. At times, these suggestions are helpful. But more often, we are busy enough. What we need, we don’t even deem worthwhile. Qualities like acceptance, simplicity, solitude, tranquility, stillness. If you devalue these qualities, it’s likely you’ll create little or no time for them. Indeed, you may be critical of yourself for “wasting time”, instead of feeling pleased that you allowed yourself space for quiet and solitude.
Let’s return full circle to our original questions: “What’s the meaning of life?” “What values do I cherish?” “What shall I do with my life?” With the wisdom of experience, it's a good chance you'll respond to these questions in a more enlightened way. I hope you give yourself the time to revisit these questions and reflect on your answers.
Copyright 2009: Linda Sapadin, Ph.D. is a psychologist in private practice who specializes in helping individuals, families and couples overcome self-defeating patterns of behavior.
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