The Frustrating Search for Meaning

August 27, 2017 by Charlie Hedges − 3 Comments

The greatest task for any person is to find meaning in his or her life.”

Rabbi Harold Kushner, forward from Man’s Search for Meaning by Vicktor Frankl

The search for meaning in life is a privilege.

I write this post on a plane after eight wonderful days of work with an NGO in the acute poverty of rural Uganda, where people lack clean drinking water or toilettes or electricity. The majority of residents haven’t ventured more than ten miles from their villages in an entire lifetime. And yet these same people are extraordinarily happy, friendly, and grateful for any gift—a balloon, a piece of candy, or a soccer ball for the kids and a sewing machine for the moms.

They haven’t the privilege of pondering the meaning in life because meaning in life simply boils down to survival. So yes, the search for meaning in life is a privilege.

Options for Finding Meaning

And a burden. After acquiring basic needs, we begin ponder—and fret—the question of purpose. Questions like: why am I here and what am I supposed to do? How can I make a difference? How can I feel fulfilled? And so often the task is a burdensome one leaving you feeling unfulfilled.

After surviving a German concentration camp, psychologist Victor Frankl wrote one of the world’s most impacting books titled Man’s Search for Meaning. In the forward Rabbi Harold Kushner (famous for When Bad Things Happen to Good People) writes,

Life is not primarily a quest for pleasure, as Freud believed, or a quest for power, as Alfred Alder taught, but a quest for meaning. The greatest task for any person is to find meaning in his or her life. Frankl saw three possible sources for meaning: in work (doing something significant), in love (caring for another person) and in courage during difficult times.

I have pondered the question of the meaning of life for more than thirty-five years and as I enter old age I am beginning to conclude that finding it is not nearly as difficult as I once thought. It was Aristotle that got me thinking when he was supposed to have said that a person’s purpose in life is to “contribute the value of society.” And then Victor Frankl deduced three opportunities to do so: to do significant work, to love, and to be courageous.

You Can’t Help Everyone, But You Can Help Someone

You and I find meaning in life when we serve other people, especially those in dire need. I return from Uganda a new man from a truly life-altering experience. You can’t serve everyone, but you can serve someone and THAT will change your life. I know that from helping fund the drilling of clean water wells. One well will give 1000 people clean water for twenty-five years. By the end of 2017 we (The Wells of Life) will have drilled more than 300 wells. That means 300,000 people no longer have to drink the contaminated water that kills 1in 5 children.

I have found meaning in service: in my work, in my love, and in my courage to overcome trying and difficult situations. Life in the USA leaves us striving for wealth and hungry for meaning, even after attaining the wealth we so ardently sought. We are left feeling frustrated with an unfulfilled hunger for meaning… when the solution is an easy one… if we decide to act on the behalf of those in need.

I am not advocating that your only opportunity for meaning in your life is found solely in the service of the extremely poor and needy. What if your answer was to be a good friend, a wise parent, or (like I wrote about recently) just being a kind person?

Create Your Legacy

Bottom-line: Your meaning in life is not so much about what you do today but what you do that lasts beyond your lifetime. Your legacy.

For what do you want to be remembered, your success or your significance? The more lives you touch with love and kindness and service, the more impact you will make and the better will be your legacy. Finding your meaning in life is not so frustrating and difficult to find if only you are a person known for your acts of mercy.

Your Meaning in Life

Is Found in the Lives You Touch!

Photo Courtesy of Ildo Frazao at istockphoto

3 thoughts on “The Frustrating Search for Meaning”

  1. Charlie-
    Thanks for having an open heart and open (enquiring ) mind as our group has the pleasure of your company across the many miles it took to come face to face with the enemy Wells of life was created to defeat. Lack of water in our mind is the “tap root” of Poverty. Seeing the Joy exploding from the people in each community is a memory I will treasure for a long time to come. The honor of bringing life to community of as many as 1000 people stands as one of the most practical ways of anyone giving just a little of what America has blessed so many of us wish. Your words express in a very powerful and thought provoking way the Vision and Mission of Wells of life.
    Nick Jordan
    CEO / Founder
    Wells of life
    949 584 6166

    1. Thanks Nick. It’s an honor to be part of Wells of Life. The work we get to do has made a difference in the lives of more than 300,000 people so far. 700,000 to go. Great job Nick.

  2. I love the random connectivity of a powerful cause. Nobody knows the ingredients of an Irish Stew but everyone I’ve ever met loves the taste.,Very few mothers enjoy the pains of labor but few would argue that the baby wrapped and placed in their arms was worth every single moment regardless of how long they lasted. Few of us enjoyed learning Latin memorizing the Iliad or grasping the concept of algebra or dare I say perfecting the dying art of cursive writing but deep down we know for sure every item of true value has a price attached.
    Leaving a legacy or even finding time to give this some thought comes at a cost. Grasping a hold of a slippery and fast moving world is not easy to do and the ground under the merry go round is often the place where many fall and never again rise from.
    I’ve found certain truths to be worth grappling for. The one that you see looking back at you in the mirror is the one that needs your most honest answer.
    Life offers no guarantees so why not take a chance and bring the bright colors tonthe canvas whatever brush God has placed in your hand.
    Thanks for the place to throw a few words tonight Charlie .

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