Ready for a reflection on meaning of life for New Year?

There are many different ways to celebrate New Year.  For some people, it may be a time for them to take rest and enjoy being with loved ones after a year of hard work.  For others, it may be a time for them to reflect on different aspects in the past one year and make New Year’s resolution.  Given the uncertainty and challenges in recent few years, many people may undergo difficulties such as unemployment, divorce, or health-related issues.  Other people may feel confused and helpless for the realisation of life as unpredictable and uncontrollable.  For these people, they may feel that life is less meaningful to them as their usual pattern of coping and planning is failing.  

As Jean-Paul Sartre, a French philosopher, stated that we as human beings are born for no reason.  There is no absolute meaning in our lives.  In fact, we are alone and must create our own meaning.  He also emphasized that we also has the responsibility to commit ourselves fully to fulfilling the meaning that we created for ourselves.  In this sense, we are having the freedom to choose our meaning of life.  However, it is not an easy path for many people because of their inability to realise that each human being is alone and solely responsible for oneself.  In order to create our own meaning of life, we must face our aloneness that we are our own parents and need to face our uncertainty and anxiety in navigating in this world alone.  For some people, due to their childhood adversities and trauma, they are not psychologically mature enough to be their own parents.  It is therefore, even more difficult for them to find their real meaning in life.  In this case, they need to undergo long-term psychotherapy for healing their wounds before becoming self-sufficient.

Even though it is not easy for us to come up with our own meaning of life, meaning is essential for us according to Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist.  Frankl stated that each individual has their own meaning of life that no one could fulfill for them.  He categorized three aspects of life meaning.  First, we as human beings create to give to the world and to accomplish for ourselves.  For instance, a medical researcher devoted his life to study the cure of a particular disease.  This is the most common definition for meaning of life for many people.  For some people, it is a confusion for them to be unable to figure out their path in one’s career and not having a direction in giving to the world in one’s life.  It is not uncommon for many people suddenly feeling life as meaningful after the birth of their first child due to their new direction to taking care of their offspring in one’s life milestone.

Second, we also find meaning in our lives when we takes from our world when we encounter with others and engage in various types of experiences.  This is a familiar category of meaning of life for those who enjoy travelling as their hobby.  By engaging in travelling to different parts of the world, these people find meaning and fulfillment in their experiences.  In fact, the first and the second categories of life meaning are not mutually exclusive.  For example, an artist can give to the world by creatinng meaningful art pieces for inspiring others or increasing awareness for some important issues.  At the same time, this artist can enjoy the process of creating these art pieces by fully engaging in the creation and having flow experience.  How about for those who give to the world and enduring some kind of sufferings?  Are they also taking something from their giving?

The third category of life meaning is the bearing of our own sufferings that we cannot escape.  For Frankl, to survive and bear the sufferings in Auschwitz concentration camp has meaning in which he could complete his work and develop a valuable psychotherapy approach.  For many carers of people with disabilities or mental illnesses, their bearing of suffering has significant meaning to them for benefiting the lives of their loved ones.  In fact, we should not confine our thinking that the people who sufferred had no gain.  Giving and taking are always hand in hand in our lives as human being.  By bearing of our own sufferings, we may also taking back the experiences that are precious for us.

No matter what are you going through now in this year end, it may be the time for you to pause and reflect on your meaning of life.  If we pay effort in self-reflection and self-exploration, we may be able to make New Year’s resolutions that are meaningful to us.  Wishing you a New Year with peace, good health and meaning! Happy New Year!

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