Meaning

At once the universe’s most abundant resource and the one currently in short supply.

Craig Axford

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Photo by author. Mt. Tolmie, Victoria, BC

Life has no meaning. Each of us has meaning and we bring it to life. It is a waste to be asking the question when you are the answer. ~ Joseph Campbell

Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. ~ Victor Frankl

He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

According to the lead author of a recent study on meaning’s impacts on mental and physical health, Dilip V. Jeste, MD, “Those with meaning in life are happier and healthier than those without it.” Dr. Jeste continues, “When you find more meaning in life you become more contented, whereas if you don’t have purpose in life and are searching for it unsuccessfully, you will feel much more stressed out.”

The findings by Dr. Jeste and his team seem obvious. Hardly worth the money spent verifying them. They echo what countless philosophers and theologians have been saying for centuries.

It’s hard not to wonder about some potential unintended consequences arising from discussing meaning in the context of its potential health benefits. Meaning is not like exercise. One cannot simply set aside a little time on the calendar to search for or experience meaning like we might for going to the gym.

That said, it’s not difficult to imagine someone keen on living a long and healthy life reading Dr. Jeste’s description of his findings and putting meaning on their list of things to do. I picture it typically coming after exercise but before eating more vegetables.

Unfortunately for anyone inclined to see meaning as just another life task to be checked off the ever-growing list of healthy habits, it is as elusive as it is intangible. If we treat meaning as a goal in and of itself, we’re bound to fall well short. The US Declaration of Independence notwithstanding, meaning, like happiness, cannot be caught through pursuit.

Meaning is something that will ideally emerge over the course of a lifetime. It is not a thing unto itself that can be considered independently from the act of living, whatever form that may take. While it can certainly…

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Craig Axford

M.A. in Environment and Management and undergraduate degrees in Anthropology & Environmental Studies. Living in Moab, Utah. A generalist, not a specialist.