Have you ever struggled with the deep-seeded desire to live a meaningful life? To do something great? To be fruitful? You are not alone. Finding meaning in life is one of the biggest problems people face. I created Honey and Figs to help solve this problem for myself and others. I believe our culture is in a meaning crisis and how to solve for it is not a simple thing we can check off our to-do lists, but the meaning crisis is definitely solve-able.
The Meaning Crisis
Viktor Frankl, world renowned psychiatrist and Nazi concentration camp survivor, wrote the book "Man's Search For Meaning" and made it his life's work to help people find meaning in life.
He traced the mass societal problems of addiction, depression and aggression back to one root cause, meaninglessness. He called these problems the "mass neurotic triad" and the rise in addiction, depression and aggression in recent years points to a crisis of meaning.
However, in the midst of the personal and societal suffering around us, there is hope we can find a meaningful future because our struggle forces us to a place where we might otherwise not be looking for meaning at all.
“Ever more people today have the means to live but no meaning to live for” Viktor Frankl
How to Battle Depression with Meaning
According to a study by the CDC, released this week, suicide is now the 2nd leading cause of death in the U.S. among people ages 15-34.
Avicii ,28-year-old DJ worth a reported $85MM, committed suicide in April while on vacation. In a statement following his death, his family shared that “he really struggled with thoughts about meaning, life, happiness..”
This week Kate Spade, one of my favorite designers, committed suicide. In a statement her husband of 35 years shared ""She was actively seeking help for depression and anxiety over the last five years, seeing a doctor on a regular basis and taking medication for both depression and anxiety".
Today, Anthony Bourdain, celebrity chef and TV personality committed suicide in a Paris hotel room. In an episode of Parts Unknown, he visited a psychologist to talk about his relationship with food and mentioned how it sometimes sends him into a depression. “I will find myself in an airport, for instance, and I'll order an airport hamburger. It's an insignificant thing, it's a small thing, it's a hamburger, but it's not a good one,” he explained to the therapist. “Suddenly I look at the hamburger and I find myself in a spiral of depression that can last for days."
In a recent debate over the meaning of life, Psychology professor Dr. Jordan Peterson shared "we are finite, breakable and capable of reprehensible acts. We bear finitude in suffering. We are limited and this produces suffering. Being requires limitation. There are modes of being which allow you to transcend suffering. Self-sacrifice, the idea that I can give up something I want now for something way better later."
When you find justification for suffering, that is meaningful. Here’s how you can find justification for suffering according to Dr. Jordan Peterson:
- Take responsibility for being
- Take responsibility for the suffering of being
- Bear the responsibility of living properly moment to moment
Taking responsibility for being, recognizing that as a human being you have purpose in and of itself, despite the suffering you may be facing and bearing that responsibility of living is the antidote to suicide.
When you see your life as a responsibility to be, and you bear that responsibility for the sake of others, you are better equipped to overcome.
When I traveled for business, I would often find myself waking in the middle of the night with physical manifestations of anxiety in my body. I would get very sick and be overcome with a feeling of dread and that I was going to die alone in my hotel.
In times like those, my thoughts would always go to my son and my prayer would always be “Lord please let me live so I can raise my son”. My love and commitment to my son is an example of how I transcend myself and find meaning in loving someone else.
A mental shift from self-focus to meaning focus is what is needed to lift ourselves out of the dark pit of despair. Meaning comes from reaching beyond ourselves for causes to serve or people to love.
How to Battle Addiction with Meaning
Blue Cross Blue Shield found that addiction to opioids among its members climbed 493% from 2010 to 2016.
In his book Love and Addiction, Stanton Peele, Ph.D says "people overcome addiction with purpose-based motivation. They are able to quit when they recognize how their habit violates who they were, what they want to be or where they want to go in life."
This was true for me 8 years ago when I unintentionally became addicted to a drug called Ativan.
Prior to being diagnosed with Dysautonomia, I was having one of my episodes where my entire body was shaking uncontrollably and decided to go to the ER because I was also feeling shortness of breath.
The ER doctor promptly gave me Ativan to stop the shaking and it worked. After a few hours of running various tests, they couldn’t diagnose what was wrong with me so they sent me home with a two week supply of Ativan, the prescription on the label being “take three times daily as needed for anxiety”.
I made a big mistake in not researching the drug before I started taking it and proceeded to take it three times per day as prescribed.
At the end of the two weeks, I stopped taking the medicine and my body went into a tailspin of withdrawal symptoms, the scariest of which included heart racing that would not stop. I called my doctor who told me that I could not stop taking Ativan abruptly, but needed to taper off of it very slowly.
When I finally researched Ativan I found that it is more physically addictive than heroin and after only being on it for as little as 7 to 14 days you can be physiologically dependent. I went on to spend the next 6 months tapering off that horrible drug.
Prior to this experience, I was a person who never did a drug in her life, did not even drink alcohol until my mid twenties and even then had never been drunk. To find myself addicted to a prescription drug so violated who I was, what I wanted to be and where I wanted to go in life that I made it my singular focus to overcome that addiction no matter what.
I remember the fear being the worst part to overcome. My brain was literally riddled with irrational fears as I was trying to taper down week by week.
Once I was finally free of it and my brain chemistry returned to normal, I was able to empathize with others who struggled with addiction and offer support to them in a way I never could have had I not had to overcome addiction myself. In this way I not only found the meaning I needed to overcome the addiction, but found meaning in overcoming as well.
How to Battle Aggression with Meaning
After a historical decline in violent crime in the U.S over the last 30 years, the homicide rate has risen 20% (from 4.4 to 5.3 murders per 100,000 people) in the last two years.
A lack of meaning generates a feeling of emptiness. This feeling will either cause us to discover meaning in our lives or trigger the development of depression, aggression or addiction to deal with the frustration of meaning.
The way to battle aggression is to hold others-oriented goals as our primary motivation. To devote our lives to serving others and improving ourselves to fulfill our God-given purpose and potential.
If we devote our lives to serving others and improving ourselves, we will look for ways to help others, not hurt others. We will want to find ways to cope with and overcome anger rather than act out in anger toward others. We will seek those solutions out rather than giving in to aggression.
I believe the reason we as humans are facing this meaning crisis in the first place is because this existential vacuum was placed in us by our Creator. To accomplish the purpose we were created for, we must experience some frustration with trying to fulfill it and thus discover it.
Ultimately, meaning can only be fulfilled by the Ultimate Being. One who transcends all time and all things.
As Pascal said,"There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God the Creator, made known through Jesus Christ."
Serving others is counter-intuitive to our very nature. Serving self is what comes naturally. Jesus came to offer himself for us. He commands us to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength" and "love your neighbor as yourself." When we choose to follow Him, He gives us the desire to live others-focused lives and His Spirit gives us the power to love them. He equips us to break our addictions and infuses us with the grit to endure our sufferings. In short, He makes all of life meaningful.
If you have never considered Jesus, I would encourage you to read the Gospel of John as an introduction to your journey of exploration.
In short, the meaning crisis is real. It is evidenced by increased levels of aggression, addiction and depression in our society today. But the meaning crisis is solve-able.
We can solve for it by:
- choosing to take responsibility to endure through our sufferings
- shifting from a self-focused to a meaning-focused mindset
- pursuing our purpose for being
- devoting our lives to serving others and improving ourselves
We can discover ultimate meaning and find the power to serve others by giving up our reign to self and making Jesus Christ our Lord.
If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). it is available 24/7 across the United States.
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Welcome to Honey & Figs! I'm Lisa. I love helping people with practical ways to live more abundant lives based on my own experience. You can click here to find out more about me.