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The Search For Meaning

With the hustle and bustle of everyday life and in the midst of everything that’s going on, many of us are understandably busy concentrating on what we’ve got right in front of us.  That might be our job, trying to get that document finished on time, or the weekly shop, if we’re racing around to get the grocery shopping done before the kids need picking up from school.  At times when the hands on the clock seem to be moving too quickly, thinking about ‘meaning’ may be the last thing on our mind.  But meaning, I would suggest, absolutely needs thinking about if we are to live lives which are fulfilling and satisfying.


Meaning is of course different for everyone.  What I find drives me, for example, may not be the same thing that drives you, the reader of this blog post.  Some people find meaning in caring for others, some in living out their religious faith, while still others might find meaning in making sure they do the best job possible, on time and on budget.  Viktor Frankl, the 20th century Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist had a lot to say on this topic.  Having personally experienced the horrors of the Auschwitz concentration camp as a persecuted Jew, Frankl came to realise that there could even be meaning in suffering.  For him, suffering with dignity became meaningful, as he recounted in his famous book From Death-Camp to Existentialism. (The German title, ‘Trotzdem Ja Zum Leben Sagen: Ein Psychologe Erlebt das Konzentrationslager’ literally translates as ‘Saying Yes to Life in Spite of Everything: A Psychologist Experiences the Concentration Camp’).  Frankl asserted during his career after his horrific experiences that “ever more people today have the means to live, but no meaning to live for”.  While material possessions are important, perhaps you would agree that purpose is more useful once the basics have been covered?


Sometimes I counsel people who find themselves in very challenging situations, and it is in these that the utility of meaning really comes to the fore.  Faced with the loss of physical mobility, perhaps, or subjected to unfair treatment with no end in sight, those clients who can look to what they feel their purpose is often seem to be able to deal more effectively with hardship or loss.  Indeed, the 19th century German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, once said that “he who has a why to live for can bear almost any how”.


I have come to realise, after working with clients of all ages and situations, that meaning is something that has to be discovered, rather than ‘assigned’ by some external force.  Your parents might have told you that you were going to be a surgeon – and a good one – but if that’s not what’s important to you, maybe meaning will be lacking if you do pursue that avenue.  Sometimes talking through what is important to you, what you value, can lead to bigger questions being addressed, and new seams of meaning uncovered.  How would you feel about having a conversation about what means the most in your eyes?  Would you be able to confidently state what drives you and why, or would you benefit, do you think, from a little further exploration in that area?



Rob Oglesby MBACP (Accred) B.A. (Hons) BSc | Ashwood Therapy


Ashwood Therapy provides a discreet, confidential and professional online counselling service by encrypted video call, live instant messaging and secure email.  More details, including tips on wellbeing and information on current counselling session pricing, can be found at www.ashwoodtherapy.com


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The Search For Meaning | Ashwood Therapy Blog