Meaning, Health and Happiness

“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”  Nietzsche

I was lucky enough to have been exposed to some great books in high school. One that child with smartphone sitting on a benchhas stayed with me the longest is Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning.” I didn’t fully appreciate the value of the book when I read it, because I didn’t have the life experience at that time to do so. What teen does? However, being equipped with the book’s thesis gave me a different perspective on others and on my experiences as they occurred.

The book is a modern classic. It’s been through 100 printings in English, plus other formats and languages.

The thesis of the book is that each person needs a purpose. You need to know a reason why you are alive, something that you feel you are meant to accomplish. You can find the meaning in a number of places — service to others, religion, existential struggle, conservation, human rights, whatever. It doesn’t matter where you find it, only that you have it, believe in it and act on it.

For me, the purpose has to be “worthy.” I could never see collecting money as a purpose, although others seem to see it that way.

Frankl based his argument on his experience in the Auschwitz concentration camp. He argues that people with a purpose were largely able to survive, and those without a sense of purpose died.

I’ve been able to see this up close. My wife has a purpose, and she’s survived stage IV cervical cancer, esophageal cancer and breast cancer. Having a purpose doesn’t make one bulletproof, but it may be as close as a human can get.

The value of purpose isn’t a new concept.  Think about these:

  • Why do we want kids involved in team sports? (For most, it’s not about a career  and riches. It’s about happiness, academic success and staying out of gangs.)
  • How do we motivate sales people?  (The classic question is “What’s your why?” We tells sales people to post a picture on their computer of something they want to achieve/obtain.)
  • How does a folksinger like Pete Seeger live to age 100? (There’s always a war someplace to protest.)
  • Why do people who retire or lose a spouse often die within a year? (Although I’d argue that making the job your purpose is a poor choice in a gig economy.)

The anecdotal evidence and some science is there to support Frankl’s argument.

  • A feeling of lack of purpose is considered on of the hallmarks of a depression diagnosis. Apart from suicide, depression is linked to a variety of negative health outcomes.(2)
  • Having a purpose is associated with success.(3,4)
  • Life purpose is a recognized issue in therapy.(5)

So, this sounds like a flippant question, but the topic is deadly serious: What your why?


Sources

  1. Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning. Originally published in 1946, the latest edition is 1997 and is available both new and used on Amazon and in the store at Barnes & Noble.
  2. http://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/no-purpose-life.  This is one of a large number of references which can be identified simply by googling “lack of purpose depression”.
  3. Keith Yamashita, “How to Find Your Purpose — and Live It,” CNN. http://www.cnn.com/2014/11/25/business/career-success-purpose/index.html. Again this is one of many articles
  4. Jason DeMers, “Define Success: A Professional’s Guide to Finding Purpose and Motivation”, Inc., 21 January 2015. https://www.inc.com/jayson-demers/define-success-a-professional-s-guide-to-finding-purpose-and-motivation.html
  5. GoodTherapy.org, “Life Purpose.” https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/issues/life-purpose
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