Does your life lack meaning?
What are the ingredients of a successful life? Enough money to buy a nice home, enjoy good food, wine and the odd holiday? A loving partner and happy kids? Good health? A successful career? The answer will, of course, be different depending on your hopes, beliefs and expectations – one man's safe, ordered life is another's boredom and drudgery. Existential philosophers and psychotherapists would argue that, once all our basic needs are met, finding meaning in your day-to-day existence is fundamentally important.
The value of meaning becomes clear if you suffer from depression. As your energy and joie de vivre drain away, so does the ability to find meaning in anything. You wake up every day thinking, what's the point? Why go to work, or make small talk with colleagues? Everything seems faintly ludicrous and, try as you might, you cannot find meaning in any of the activities with which we fill up our days. As the gloom lifts, so meaning comes seeping back into everything, from the simplest act to the most profound.
We humans are complicated, meaning-seeking creatures. It's not enough for us to exist, we have to know why (think of the five-year-old who asks a constant stream of 'why' questions – she wants to understand everything). And we may learn to tone down the questions, but that thirst for knowledge never leaves us. As we get older we want to know we have lived well, done what we could to enrich the lives of those we love.
I saw this with my beloved 104-year-old grandfather, who passed away a couple of years ago. These questions preoccupied him deeply as he neared the end of his wonderful long life. Had he been a good father? A good grandpa to me? Was he leaving the world a better place than the one he entered over a century ago? Yes to all, I reassured him – because he had. His life had meaning because he had been a loving father to his two daughters, and a massive influence on me. He gave me my liberal world view, my dislike of poverty and injustice, and (for my sins) a love of Spurs that has bound me to the club through thick and thin. He taught me to play football too, showing me the pleasure exercise can bring, which I now pass on to my clients.
These things – children, family, politics, citizenship, our passions – provide meaning. If your life seems a little empty and pointless, you may be depressed. Or you might just have searched for meaning in the wrong places, valuing material things over strong, supportive relationships. Happily, it's never too late to shift focus, or to colour your life with richness and depth. Meaning is out there, waiting, if you know where to look.