What do you want? Or, better yet, what do you want from what you want?
It turns out, more than money or praise, humans yearn for a purpose. And new data indicate Americans are lacking that meaning and connection in their lives.
Approximately 1 in 3 of adults aged 18-49 are exhibiting weekly and even daily symptoms associated with major anxiety and depressive disorders, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Additionally, a nearly 60% increase in suicide rates from 2007-2018 has been found for 10-24 year olds. A new survey conducted by the Survey Center on American Life says that men, in particular, are experiencing a recession of friendships, and Americans, overall, have been experiencing a declining number of friendships for over the past 30 years.
So where do people find meaning?
Meaning is personal, and stems from real, human connection. And these qualities of meaning are direct outgrowths of people’s innate and important freedom and responsibility. Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist, author, and Holocaust survivor, had much to say about the importance and demand for meaning, latent or expressed, in every person.
Frankl focused less on asking where meaning can be found in life and instead thought the right way to think about this issue is to examine what the mere fact of existence (i.e., the gift of meaningful life) is asking of each person.
One does not start with nothing. Rather, existence comes with its own demands. These demands are highly unique and specialized to every individual. This “will to meaning” conferred upon every individual is immensely inclusive of human personality, but not just any human personality – yours specifically.
Meaning is not a gift one should hope or expect to be artificially manufactured or stumbled upon throughout life. Rather, it is a blessing already intrinsically bestowed upon every individual. What this blessing requires is a response.
And here Frankl’s writings can be of assistance again in helping to see what kinds of responses contribute value. Frankl writes of three types of values present and accessible for every person: creative values, experiential values, and attitudinal values. The prioritization and utilization of these types of values will vary by natural disposition and total situation.
First, there are creative values. These are the values that arise from man’s active work and creation. They are man expressing himself in his singular uniqueness with the tools and resources at his disposal. An active role is taken in this mode of living. To the anxious and depressed, we might suggest they find their “place,” recognize where they are physically and mentally “at” and truly occupy and create within their space to the fullest.
Next, there are experiential values. These are the values which are “realized by experience.” In these cases one takes the role of peaceful participant. Here, one acquires a source of meaning by receiving. Religion and entertainment, when properly understood, are critical bastions of such experiential values. To the many contemplating suicide in our present society we could say that there is a transcendent, experiential reality in God who has chosen them as his beloved, one for whom they have an abundant reason to live for.
Finally, attitudinal values consist of the perspective taken toward those things which are outside of one’s control. The value of attitude is the singular value that can in relation to time both coexist with other values and outlast them. It is in the realm of attitudinal values that suffering for good and worthy reasons finds its relation to meaningful living. To the lonely and isolated men experiencing the bitter pain of fewer vibrant friendships, we must encourage them to shift their attitude from one that bemoans their loneliness to one that accepts the challenge of rising to their situations and facing them with virtuous attitudes.
Ultimately, all discussions of meaning and value creation must end with hope, derived from God’s good nature and expressed through man’s free will. It is the hope that the mental, physical, and relational content of existence can be better tomorrow than it was today. For it is in hopeful anticipation evidenced by active creation, experiential acceptance, and attitudinal response that we can live life in a truly meaningful way – giving our worthy reply to God’s gracious demands on our life.