the last few years a number of people who struggled emotionally because of
meaninglessness of their life, came to my clinic to consult me as a
psychotherapist. They did not suffer from any mental illness. They were
not psychotic or clinically depressed. Their main complaint was,
life is meaningless”
have no purpose in life”
life is not fulfilling”.
wanted me to help them in creating a meaningful life.
While I was working with these people in therapy I prepared a
questionnaire and sent it to my friends and colleagues to find out how
they discovered their meaning in life. I thought reading those responses
might help and inspire my patients to create their own unique meaning in
life. My questionnaire included the following four questions.
Do you believe LIFE has a meaning? If yes, what is it?
Does YOUR LIFE have meaning? If yes, what makes it
Did you ever feel YOUR LIFE was meaningless? If yes, how
did you make it meaningful?
Do you consider yourself a religious, spiritual or a
secular person? What is your philosophy of life?
pleasantly surprised by the enthusiastic responses. Those responses ranged
from 5 lines to 5 paragraphs to 5 pages. Interestingly in the respondents
there were more men than women and more secular than religious people.
When I read all the responses I received I realized that their answers
could be divided in the following groups.
MEANINGFUL PERSONAL DREAMS
number of respondents had personal goals, ambitions and dreams that made
their life meaningful. As they followed their passions and dreams their
life took a positive turn and made it more enjoyable. Some wanted to
develop their fullest potential while others wanted to develop their
artistic talents and create masterpieces.
respondent said, “One must live one’s life to the fullest…ensuring one is
true to oneself first and foremost…”
artist responded, “Until I have created my ‘masterpiece’ there will be a
void, but perhaps that is the pursuit of many artists.”
writer stated, “I read books, I write books, which makes life very
respondent quoted George Eliot who said, “It is never too late to become
what you might have been.”
were a number of respondents who found meaning in their emotional bonds.
For them their friends, sweethearts, spouses, colleagues and relatives
enriched their lives. One mother said, “My children make my life
meaningful…” For many, loving relationships were a source of meaning in
respondent stated, “What makes life meaningful is the fact that I have a
family, have children, grandchildren, friends, relatives….”
MEANINGFUL SERVICE TO HUMANITY
were a large number of respondents who believed that serving other human
beings made their life meaningful. Their altruistic behavior helped them
rise above their selfish mindset and made them part of the whole humanity.
They felt they were part of creating a happy, healthy and peaceful world.
One respondent said, “My life has meaning because I care about other human
beings. I have been involved in human rights issues since I was a teenager
and I have been trying to educate people about that. Another task that I
have taken upon myself is to encourage people to adopt scientific thinking
and I have been quite successful in that. Those endeavors make my life
meaningful. They make me feel that I HAVE made a difference.”
MEANINGFUL CONNECTION WITH GOD AND RELIGION
was a small number of respondents who felt that their
special relationship with their God and religion provided a meaning to
their lives. One respondent who suffered from depression believed that
belief in God helped many depressed people to stay alive otherwise those
who felt desperate would have committed suicide. He stated, “ …in case of
depression, it is religion that gives you support and a light for living,
otherwise there should have been much more suicides in the world than
those occur at present. Everyone gets depression at one time or another.
Some overcome it without any help, some need psychiatric help. Religion,
right or wrong provides a good psychiatric support to overcome depression
and provides a meaning to life and urge to live.” One female Muslim
stated, “I have always felt the presence of ALLAH around me and that has
always been meaningful to me.”
Another male Muslim wrote,” So I am a Muslim and believe in One God, the
Creator and the concept of life after death and accountability of my
actions in this existing life. And this assumption or faith has made my
DOES LIFE IN GENERAL HAVE MEANING?
interview alongside asking people about their personal life I also asked
them whether life in general had a meaning. Most secular people believed
life had no intrinsic meaning while spiritual and religious people
believed life had an inherent meaning. Some seemed unsure. One woman said
“Life has a meaning but I do not know what it is”. Some believed it SHOULD
have a meaning otherwise life would be meaningless and the idea of a
meaningless life made them uncomfortable. One respondent stated, “Every
life must have had a meaning, for if not, then the whole act of creation
It was interesting for me to see how for some religious people a
faith in God and religion and for spiritual people their spiritual ideals
made their lives meaningful. One Muslim stated, “My life has a meaning to
serve ALLAH and be able to connect people with ALLAH”. On the other hand
secular people did not need God, religion or spiritual values to make
their lives meaningful. For them their art, music, loving relationships
and serving humanity were enough to lead an enjoyable, exciting and
meaningful life. For some secular people their spirituality was more
connected with humanity than divinity. One secular respondent said, “I am
very spiritual and secular humanist. The source of spirituality is love,
knowledge and above all music.”
secular people had a unique perspective to meaninglessness of life. One
stated, “I find meaningfulness of life in its meaninglessness.” Another
non-religious person felt meaning was not important to enjoy life. He
said, “ …overall I find my life most satisfying—whether with or without
secular people believed that as human beings evolve and grow and develop
rational and logical thinking, their need for God and organized religions
will become less and less. One respondent stated, “God was created by
humans for psychological and emotional reasons. As human courage and
wisdom grows further, God will be buried in the caves he came from”
It was fascinating to see how secular people searched for meaning
in life without religious and spiritual traditions. One quoted Bertrand
Russell for defining good life, “A good life is one, inspired by love and
guided by knowledge.” The other responded that he tried to make his life
meaningful by, “ Enjoying various thrills of life that nature has gifted
us, with the least amount of guilt and repentance. He added, “I am
extraordinarily conscious of my cosmic ignorance and I strive to be
compassionately ego-less, carefully fearless and ethically guilt-free.”.
all the religious, spiritual and secular respondents, alongside their
differences of opinion, they had a reasonable consensus on one aspect.
Most of them agreed that serving humanity was a major source of making
their lives meaningful as such activities connected them with other human
beings in a meaningful way.
respondent said, “…One of the major pleasures is to be of some help to
other human beings…”. Such behaviors decrease human suffering and increase
quality of life. Serving humanity creates genuine bonds and friendships
between people where they rise above the religious, cultural, gender and
ethnic differences and connect with common humanity. It seems as if by
serving humanity human beings can strive to become fully human
individually and collectively, rise to the next stage of human evolution
and become part of creating a loving, just and peaceful world. One
of my favorite responses were, “ My aim is to be the best person I can be
and to strive to change the world for the better even in a small way.”
When I was reviewing the responses I realized that some people had
accepted the traditional meaning of life, the meaning offered to them by
their families, communities, religions and cultures, while there were
others who had rejected the traditional meaning but found their own
meaning to their lives.
When I shared the responses with the people I was working in my
clinic who were struggling with meaninglessness in their lives, as it was
distressing for them, they found those answers quite helpful. It offered
them hope and inspired them to discover their own unique meaning by:
…focusing on their personal talents and pursuing a hobby, a passion and a
dream. They finally got in touch with the special gift life had offered
them but they had been unaware of it
…developing new relationships and creating a circle of close friends, that
I call family of the heart
…doing some voluntary work to serve their communities.
I was pleased that my friends sent thoughtful answers to my
questions and I felt honored that my patients gave me an opportunity to
help them in creating meaningful lives. Helping them also gave meaning to
my life as a humanist psychotherapist.