WHY ARE YOU HERE?
3 Ways The Search For Meaning Impacts Your Life
“Strange is our situation here upon earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to divine a purpose”. Albert Einstein
Perhaps you’ve seen this picture of our Milky Way Galaxy.
Our galaxy is 100,000 light years1 across. It takes our solar system 250 million years to orbit once around our galaxy (a galactic year). And it is only one of hundreds of billions of galaxies. The image is daunting as you read “You are here.” We are one tiny speck in this vast cosmic seashore.
Think of it. You are 1 in 7 billion people – a tiny speck of dust – living on a speck of dust, in a galaxy that’s a speck of dust in this vast universe. We find ourselves in a seemingly endless ocean of nothingness.
In our own galaxy we live on the outer edge as an imperceptible speck. We are both fragile and special at the same time.
When we do a fast microscopic collapse of this universe down to our individual lives, we get hit at a deeper level with deeper questions. You and I have been given a life consisting of moments. These moments are precious and they matter. What is the meaning of life? And so we intuitively turn the question “you are here”, into………….
“Why are you here?”
Theologians and psychologists have brought it down to our deepest question of meaning. We phrase it in different ways, often referring to it as “our true north.” We are programmed to seek the answer. The ancient sages wrote, “eternity has been placed in our hearts.” And our technological advances have only deepened that question and made it more relevant.
Here are 3 ways the quest for meaning impacts our life.
1. Meaning impacts our purpose – our need to do. We are programmed for accomplishment. Purpose is our need to live for something bigger than ourselves. It’s our innate need “to make our dent in the universe.” It’s difficult to grow beyond the size of our purpose. You cannot have a peak performance without a peak purpose. We have a need to move, to seek, and to find our place in life. There is risk involved, but all the risk comes from doing. So we choose risk over stagnate living. Rooted in our core is the need to do, to grow, to become more than we are. Ambition is in our DNA. Aspirations energize us. We have dreams, and these dreams keep the future personally alive. When the present gets hard, our dreams are there to comfort – “It will get better.” It makes transcending the difficulty easier. So it’s in our very nature to do. But to do what?
2. Meaning impacts our significance – our need to make sense. Sense-making is unique to humans. We look at things and ascribe meaning to them.
We have this innate need to make sense out of life. The only way to avoid this is to numb ourselves with the anesthetic of minutia. It’s impossible not to attempt to find meaning in our lives. We connect thoughts, patterns and events. We are constantly mapping. Our desire is to create a powerful meaning that becomes the ultimate sense-maker. The sense usually includes others in a shared future. We do it individually, but not in isolation.
Significance is about finding meaning, and it has numerous spinoffs. Here are a few: vitality, satisfaction, altruism, joy, quality goals, direction, achievement, growth, love, kindness, peace, discipline, self-control, worth, patience, happiness, compassion, gentleness. Significance helps you direct the power of your thinking to the positive influences in your life and the lives of others.
3. Meaning impacts our aging – our need for fulfillment. If meaning impacts our purpose and significance, then it cannot be divorced from the aging process and even death itself. Studies have been done on the longevity of older adults. The researchers studied aging adults for 5 years. What were their findings? A sense of meaning in life somehow provides a buffer against negative health outcomes. A greater purpose in life is associated with a reduced risk of “all-cause” mortality among community-dwelling older persons. The group that felt their life had no meaning or purpose had a much greater risk of dying. Those with meaning and purpose had a 57% less hazard of dying than those whose lives were void of meaning. Meaning was the major factor impacting their life and life expectancy.
Each one of us must find meaning. Being a passive spectator in life does not lead to a sense of fulfillment. Life works best when it is anchored to purpose and significance. Too many go through life littering their landscape with one misspent moment after another. Life is brief. Numbering our days motivates us to live those moments skillfully and meaningfully. There’s never enough time to do everything, but there’s always enough time to do the important thing.
What makes your life meaningful? How do you make sense out of it? In what ways do you go about connecting the dots?
Simply asking these questions strips away a lot of meaningless activity. And I personally have found that to be a great start.
1Traveling at the speed of light, 186,000 miles per second, 11,160,000 miles per minute, or 669,600,000 miles per hour, it would take 100,000 years to cross.