Health, random, Random opinions, The life

Purpose and Meaning in life

I was talking to someone who felt like they had no purpose and meaning in life which I am sure we have at all, at one time or another, related to.

Certainly, with chronic pain and vertigo being disabled you sort of struggle with that sense of purpose when you lose a lot of functionality. And your work. Many people equate work with meaning. So I obviously felt like a burden and struggled with purpose and meaning. Of course, I found life doesn’t need to be constantly Purposeful and Meaningful: capital P and M.

But- the more meaning and purpose you find in life the more life satisfaction you have and life satisfaction is basically what we mean when we say ‘happiness’. Because of course happiness is a fleeting emotion but overall life satisfaction is actually something we want.

Purpose and Meaning in life Pin in dark blue with cartoon image of a man thinking, bunch of 'thought doodles above his head

Victor Frankl

Victor Frankl thought a whole lot about humans and our need for meaning and purpose in life. And he isn’t wrong. I don’t think so. We are meaning-making machines and I do think we need some sense of meaning in our lives to feel like ‘all this crap’ makes sense.

His criteria:

  • Life has meaning under all circumstances, even the most miserable ones.
  • Our main motivation for living is our will to find meaning in life.
  • We have freedom to find meaning in what we do, and what we experience, or at least in the stance we take when faced with a situation of unchangeable suffering.

Basically, even with immense suffering we have absolutely no control over we do have control over our stance we take against it- and that is our meaning. We have meaning in how we endure suffering, how we hold up to it, and how we react to it. And maybe that seems crappy to everyone else but it Means something because anything else you get from there- any gleams of sunshine, any slices of life, is Because of that stance you take against suffering.

We are how we perceive things to be. Our brains are writing the story of our lives. If we do not consciously make our meaning it makes it for us.

According to Victor, we can discover meaning by:

  1. by creating a work or doing a deed;
  2. by experiencing something or encountering someone; and
  3. by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering” and that “everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances”

“Frankl emphasized that realizing the value of suffering is meaningful only when the first two creative possibilities are not available (for example, in a concentration camp) and only when such suffering is inevitable – he was not proposing that people suffer unnecessarily.” … he believed that a person is “capable of resisting and braving even the worst conditions”. In doing such, a person can detach from situations and themselves, choose an attitude about themselves, and determine their own determinants, thus shaping their own character and becoming responsible for themselves. (source)

And I think we don’t like to think pain has meaning. Suffering has Meaning. Because it sucks. But it is an experience in the brain and our brain wraps it up in beliefs, ideas and thoughts. So it Definitely creates Meaning.

I know pain is an experience in the brain. I know our brain has an emotional experience of pain. A mental experience. Chronic pain more so. And I know our brain has to wrap a story around that to make some sense out of what doesn’t Make any Sense. And that is our belief system about pain. The story we tell ourselves about our pain. All the Meaning we wrap around it. Most of which we didn’t choose at all. But we can choose the meaning. As we go along and cope, adapt, endure, and gain acceptance we change perspectives on that meaning.

Viktor Frankl’s work has led to therapies we use today to manage our chronic pain. There are aspects of his work in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and Positive Psychology.

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” 

Viktor Frankl

Meaning and purpose

However, the thing I learned about meaning and purpose is that there are a whole lot of them. Lots of little meanings and small purposes. Because I can’t have a Purpose or Meaning with a disability- and maybe most people do not feel they have that.

But we can have small ones. That satisfies a lot of those life satisfaction factors. And that is what we really want to aim for.

Life Satisfaction factors:

  • satisfied with who we are as a person? (self-esteem)
  • do we have a good sense of self-identity and value who we are?
  • do we feel like we contribute to society, or our family, or our personal lives in a way we value? (productive in a way that we value)
  • do we feel like we contribute a positive experience to those around us- family, friends, co-workers? (positive social relationships)
  • do we fear the future? Or look forward to it? Prepared for it? (sense of control)
  • How is our overall mental, physical, and mental wellbeing?
  • How is our quality of life?
  • Do you feel there is meaning or purpose to your life?

If we can work on those? I think we are doing okay. I never really felt life had any real essential meaning or any real purpose. Maybe I was born into an existential crisis. Maybe that is why I was drawn to philosophy at University. Anyway, I don’t need it to make sense. I don’t need there to be any essential meaning or purpose. I am fine with the messy chaos of it all.

But we want to feel needed in life. Useful. Worthy. Like we have some sort of role in this life. That we fit in some niche. And that is difficult when you don’t really. Worse when we feel we don’t. When I was depressed it sucks away any sense of worth and definitely, that takes away any sense of meaning. I found as I learned to re-train my brain to create those small ‘meanings’- and I am aware they are fabrications but they are basically ‘meaningful’ things to me because I tell my brain they are until it believed it to be true.

See more random ponderings

The Sunk Cost Fallacy sucks
Internal self- Are we good narrators of our own story?
Wild ideas for External locus of control

Buy Me a Coffee at

2 thoughts on “Purpose and Meaning in life”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.