Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Meaning as Vital-Mind-M

Originally posted on August 19, 2011

I’ve been thinking of the need for a sense of meaning in life, becoming more intensely aware of the need for this to be operating at a certain level. It occurs to me that feeling that life is meaningful is a kind of psycho-cultural nutrient, a kind of vitamin-equivalent that I call a “Vital-Mind” component.

I think a sense of meaning in life is an aggregate experience, like a sense of self (which I write about on a paper on my website), or a sense of being optimally or even adequately socially connected—versus alienated, and so forth. These experiences can also overlap a bit.

What makes for a sense of meaning in life? I suspect, for starters, some of the following:
  – having a job that one believes is helping substantially to make the world a better place, or in other ways fulfilling God’s purpose or some other high ideal
  – being able to align with any other role or activity that partakes of the sense of destiny, especially if it is optimistic
  – participating in any framework in which one’s efforts are imagined to transcend one’s own life— religion sometimes includes this
  – participating in a conscious or near-conscious sense of progress, the evolution of consciousness, the betterment of humanity
  – helping others, doing even a little to help out, love being its own justification
  – maintaining an ethnicity or tradition that one feels proud of keeping going, passing along to the next tradition certain values that are intuitively sensed as good
  – participating in any cause associated with hope for a group or humanity
  – participating in fighting against a clear enemy, and/or a sense of rightness in fighting against "evil"
  – feeling identified with a larger group of people with a high morale and sense of purpose

What might be added—but is not as necessary as I used to think—is the presence of a consciously-thought about philosophy of life, or the contemplation of theological concepts or other theories. I personally enjoy these and they add to my sense of the meaning of life, as seen in other recent and past blog posts. But, honestly, lots of folks have a vivid sense of life as meaningful, although they can’t express much in the way of why they feel that way. Also, many who do philosophize are also not deeply consoled by their ponderings of the way things work—so philosophy does not in itself guarantee a strengthening of the sense of meaning in life.

Lest the aforementioned factors seem so general that they include everyone, I want to suggest that I suspect that a great many people today feel a marginal or sub-marginal sense of meaning in their lives. One can participate so weakly, and very often not be participating at all in any of the aforementioned activities. It’s easy to live a life of selfish gratification, not only from sex and alcohol and drugs, but also from a retreat into television, various simple pastimes, video games, etc.

More, if one works at a job that is “just a job,” that is not experienced as really adding value to the world; or worse, if the worker secretly doubts whether the enterprise is truly helpful—and, frankly, I see a goodly number of roles in our world as supporting trivia or feeding low-grade addictions—, I think it quite possible that this could also add to a sense of meaninglessness.

Finally, I think that a marginal or full deficit in Vital-mind M might make people far more vulnerable to becoming anxious or depressed in the course of life’s ups and downs. In the face of trauma, this deficiency can make post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) worse and more tenacious. I’m reminded here of the writings of the pioneer of existential psychiatry, Dr.Viktor Frankl.  Well, enough for now.

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