“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