Existential Psychology

Find What Is Meaningful To You

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From our existential point of view there is such a thing as objective meaning. But where everyone has it wrong is in assuming that this meaning can and should be the same for everyone. The previous two sentences might sound like they contradict each other but this is only because of the failure to recognize that as human beings we all share certain inherent qualities with each other, it’s these very qualities that make us human, and one of these inherent human qualities is that each of us is a unique individual who has never existed before and will never exist again, an individual with different potentialities waiting to be actualized.

It’s through the actualization of these unique potentialities that meaning is derived. This is why it’s not at all a contradiction to say that meaning is objective and personal at the same time since each of us must walk our own unique path if we want to actualize our unique potentialities, a path that might not be right for someone else with a different set of constitutional and environmental factors.

You will often hear people who lack a sense of meaning in their lives say that they feel like something is missing. They can’t put their fingers on what that something is though. Their main problem is that they have fallen under the spell of believing that meaning can be given from the outside, that by aligning their thoughts and actions with authorities who profess the right ways to think and act their own lives will be made meaningful. But this type of meaning is a sham, it’s authoritarianism in disguise. It’s not meant to help people become who they really are but to turn them into something that they’re not, into sheep who think and act like everyone else living under those same authoritarian guidelines, into people who, as Erich Fromm would have put it, are made to want to do what they have to do for the smooth functioning of the society in which they find themselves.

Authoritarianism of all kinds demands obedience, it demands unquestioning adherence to a given set of guidelines, and promises meaning in return. But as we said above, as unique individuals the only way to derive meaning out of life is by discovering and then actualizing our own set of potentialities, potentialities that often conflict with given outside sources of meaning in the particular time and culture to which we belong. You find what is meaningful to you by looking inside and then making the outside world align with it as best you can, not by looking at the outside world and then making what’s inside of you align with it as best you can. Meaning is objective in that each of us can derive it  through the same process of actualizing our potentialities, but it’s personal in that these potentialities are unique to each and every one of us.