June 3, 2010
We hear it all the time:
FIND MEANING IN YOUR LIFE.
It's become the advice du jour. The magical solution to our woes. The on-call prescription for disappointment with life. The hope we hold onto when our own has abandoned us.
In a sense, the search for meaning has become a religion of its own.
We worship its ideals and bow at its implications. We're kept awake at night, hoping to form a relationship with meaning. We want to feel its presence so deeply in our lives, but at times, we tend to lose faith when it doesn't manifest itself to us right away.
In many ways, meaning has been put up on a pedestal as a savior.
Unlike traditional forms of religion, however, this religion–the search for meaning–is far more compelling in terms of conversions, because there are many who have walked before us who have actually seemed to find it. I certainly don't need to go door-to-door peddling copies of the newest testament in hand (whose cover would likely feature a Hanes underwear model, because I'm the one making this all up and I've decided that Hanes underwear models should be plastered on as many objects as possible within my line of vision, thank you very much) because the proof is in the pudding. We see other people leading these lives just oozing with meaning–you know the type–and by golly, we're just dying for someone to take a chicken baster already and just douse us with all their might. (Overboard? I'll settle down with strange image-evoking metaphors.)
We want so desperately to find meaning in our lives, that when we don't find it instantaneously, we stomp up and down, cross our arms with frustration, and march on back to the land of superficial happiness. Superficial or not, at least it's readily available. Big screen, big screen, who wants a big screen?
It's the easy way out.
Truth be told, the search for meaning is hard. It sounds like a bunch of lollipops and fun in the sun, but it's a grueling process if you're starting from scratch. Even the goal itself–meaning–is rather vague and elusive. What does meaning, well…mean, anyway? If we don't have a clear idea of what meaning is in the first place, how are we suppose to go out and get some?
Meaning is emotion.
When that one thing drives us to truly feel–be it elation, somberness, excitedness, worry, etc.–it brings us meaning. Something can only mean as much as we feel it. For example, writing to me is highly meaningful, because of the feelings that come with it. Intense joy. Fear. Pride. Wonder. Challenge. Satisfaction in knowing that no matter how fleeting life can be, words are permanent. Fascination with the human ability to communicate. Amusement when attractive readers from Indianapolis ask me to weddings. You know, the usush.
In many cases, relationships become meaningful to people, because of the feelings they attach to them (rapture, exhilaration, enchantment, sensuality, security).
In other cases, hobbies like sports become meaningful to people, because of the feelings they attach to them (loyalty, unity, pride, pleasure, desire to have an excuse to drink beer).
Meaning is not inherent; it is derived only when we assign meaning, which we do because we feel strongly about something.
As it turns out, feelings are running this crazy, crazy world of ours.
Not just individual feelings, but collective feelings as well. It's precisely how societies are formed, with their expectations and cultural norms; the group, as a whole, shares a general feeling toward something, and as a result, that something ends up representing great meaning for a society. Take funnel cake, for example.
Therefore, it seems to go without saying that when we deny ourselves the ability to feel; when we push our emotions to the side, and aimlessly keep on doing what we've always done, meaning will never reveal itself to us. It can't. Because it's personal. And if we don't take it personally and run the emotional risk, then we'll remain indifferent to life, to the world around us, and to ourselves. And not only is that unfortunate, but it's incredibly boring as well. You might as well be dead.
Risk equals reward. Risk equals reward. Risk equals reward.