This is a revised version of an article that has first appeared in "Samen 02-2021"
What makes your life meaningful? What is it that you get out of bed for in the morning? How do you discover the meaning of your life? And why is it important to know what you live for?
Many people today are looking for meaning, since for many people that ‘sense’ is no longer unambiguously motivated by faith or tradition. The fact that many people search for meaning nowadays is evident from the popularity of magazines, articles and books that appear on this subject. The Corona crisis has only further strengthened this search for meaning: a lot of certainties have disappeared and what value remains?
I myself recently read the book ‘Man’s search for meaning’ by Viktor E. Frankl, a book that has been of great importance to many people since its publication in 1946. It is the account of a psychologist who survived several concentration camps during World War II and who studied the behavior and experiences of people (including his own) amid all these atrocities. He came to the interesting conclusion that as long as a person experiences meaning in their life, they can endure the worst suffering. For example, it turned out that prisoners who had a goal for their time after a (possible) liberation, had a greater chance of survival. An important goal that Frankl himself had in mind was to publish his research in order to inspire others. After the war he indeed published his insights and on this basis he developed the ‘logotherapy’, a therapy in which the client learns to discover the meaning of their life and thereby also finds the meaning to live again. This ‘meaning of life’ can not be prescribed in general terms, but can only be found and articulated by each individual in his or her specific situation.
The question ‘What gives my life meaning?’ also plays a role for students, although you might not always literally put it this way. Rather, you might ask yourself questions like ‘How can I find motivation?’ or ‘Which direction would I like to go, in the future? In order to be able to make choices on that basis. Recently, a student told me that he felt like a ‘floating boat on a lake’, while he wanted to feel the wind in his sails and keep a course. I always like to ask students what it is that inspires them: What do you like to do? What are you passionate about? What gives you energy? In many ways I can invite you to dream about what you want to experience in your life. Not infrequently, it turns out that students don’t only want to live for themselves, but also want to be meaningful to others and to society. Many people experience meaning in connection with others and it’s very well possible to make your unique contribution to this world from what you like to do. Just like Frankl wanted to publish his research to inspire others. Sometimes students ask me why I don’t emphasize their weaknesses that much in the coaching in order to improve. Apparently many expect a focus on weaknesses and of course there is room to discuss difficulties and struggles. Yet, I deliberately do not look for weaknesses, as I assume that strengthening people’s sources of inspiration and qualities is so much stronger than tinkering with what is missing. Moreover, it becomes such a joyful process if you start looking for what is buzzing in your life and what would like to see the light of day.
Of course, this search for a meaningful life is also more difficult for students during Corona times than in the time before. Many things that you would like to do or accomplish cannot be accomplished by all measures. Fortunately, a lot is still possible. For example, I recently spoke to a student who saw her previous plans to study abroad go up in smoke. After being disappointed for a while, she had the opportunity to participate in a project for young people who think along with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This way she can still follow her passion, albeit in a different guise. It is nice to see these kinds of possibilities emerge.
At TINT, we don’t only focus on meaning. We are also active in the field of personal development, life questions, spirituality and religion. The great thing about meaning is that it connects religious and non-religious students. After all, sooner or later every person is faced with the question: ‘Who am I and how do I live a meaningful life?’.
Frankl’s story shows us that even under the harshest circumstances sense can be found. This puts our current situation into perspective and encourages us to continue to think in terms of possibilities in this day and age. It also invites us to ask ourselves the questions: 1. What do I like to do? 2. What am I good at? 3. What do I want to contribute to the world in which I live?
These questions help you discover what gives your life meaning. Where you find answers to these questions, you notice that you also become more ‘inspired to live’, because: meaning in your life gives meaning to live!
Margit van Tuijl
Life coach at TINT