“What’s it all about Alfie?”
“As sure as I believe there’s a heaven above
Alfie, I know there’s something much more
Something even non-believers can believe in
I believe in love, Alfie
Without true love, we just exist, Alfie
Until you find the love you’ve missed
You’re nothing, Alfie.”
What is life all about? It’s all about love. This popular song from 1966 expresses it all. In his searing book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” Viktor Frankl has this realization when he is a prisoner in Auschwitz during WW II. During one of the daily marches in the freezing cold during the early morning hours, it comes to him.
The song refers to romantic love, but I believe there is more to it than that. It is also important to love life, family, neighbors, and fellow human beings. But, do we love our lives and fellow people?
Besides the dreadful Pandemic, there is an epidemic of mass shootings in the United States. Why is this happening? The answer to this question is complicated. In part, the answer lies in how we raise our children. There is also the problem of poverty and racism in the United States. Then there is the easy availability of guns to everyone because of the lack of gun control. Finally, we have to ask if people find any meaning in their lives.
People feel alienated and disconnected. The great 19th-century sociologist Emile Durkheim called the feeling of meaninglessness “Anomie. This term refers to a society losing its norms and values. What develops from this lack of norms is a disregard and violation of the law. Ethics and standards of behavior and belief disappear.
Anomie is connected to existentialism, in which people feel lost because they believe their lives are meaningless. The famous existentialist writer, Albert Camus, wrote a novel existentialist novel called “The Stranger.” In the opening scene, the main character states, “Today his mother died…or was it yesterday…I don’t know.” How could he not know? Because his life and that of others have no meaning. He is in the state of Anomie. Later in the book, he shoots an Arab man and is brought to trial. The prosecuting attorneys are more concerned that he does not cry than about the death of the murdered man. Again, the reason for this is that life has no meaning.
Thought about this way, there should be no surprise that mass shootings and violent crimes exist. For many people in this modern world, life has lost any meaning.
This does not mean that everything is hopeless. Positive Psychology teaches us that people can build meaningfulness into their lives. An excellent psychology website devoted to positive psychology is “Greater Good.” “Greater Good” explores the “science of a meaningful life.” What they do is publish the latest findings regarding a meaningful life. For instance, one research report found that compassion and kindness help build an inner sense of morality and a moral self-concept. Basically, kindness, generosity, and compassion make us happy. Included in this is gratitude because it helps build stronger relationships.
Children must be trained to show these positive characteristics and behaviors. In this way, children need to learn cooperation and service to less fortunate people.
The central concept is vitally important for building relationships with others and society. This connectedness could overcome Anomie.
Human beings are the only beings who can question their own lives. The most extensive quest in an individual’s life is to find meaning and purpose. The questions about the meaning of human life are as old as humanity itself.
Meanings are at the core of our experience and also at the core of whatever we do. It is only through meanings that we make sense of our existence. In life, we find meaning through a sense of purpose which makes life worthwhile. Viktor Frankl (1978) aptly pointed out that a firm sense of meaning is essential for optimal human development. Jerome Bruner (1990) put it more bluntly, noting that without meaning systems, “we would be lost in the murk of chaotic experience and probably would not have survived as a species” (p. 56).
Meaning in life is not just a theoretical construct. Still, it bears human health and well-being (e.g., Jung, as cited in Jaffe, 1970) asserted that the absence of meaning is related to psychopathology.
Yalom (1980), in empirical research, confirmed earlier clinical observations that living without meaning, goals, or values provokes considerable distress (Yalom 1980).
While pondering what makes life meaningful, several perspectives in the literature are found that cover philosophy and existential psychology. To plan a single definition of meaning, one may ask what the essence of meaning is? But a single generic answer to this question is not possible to find. The meaning of life differs from person to person, from day to day, and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning the specific meaning of a person’s life at the moment (Frankl, 1970). Frankl speaks of the uniqueness of meanings, a quality of a situation, and life since life is a string of unique situations (Frankl, 1970). Frankl postulated that man’s search for meaning is the primary motivation in his life and not a “secondary rationalization” of instinctual drives (Frankl, 1970).
Meaningfulness serves several vital functions in human lives (Frankl, 1992). It provides a purpose for our lives. Then it furnishes values or standards by which to judge our actions. In addition, it gives us a sense of control over the events in our life. Last, it provides us with self-worth. When people cannot find meaning for any of these functions or lose or outgrow their once-loved meanings, they become distressed. Many emotional problems result from a failure to find meaning in life. They can be resolved only by finding something to make life worth living (Frankl, 1992).