Making Lives Meaningful
BY SETTING GOALS
“Hitch your wagon to a star,” advises the old saying. Goals of high purpose give meaningful direction to our life, keep us from drifting, floundering or stagnating. Human creatures are goal-oriented. Setting goals aids progress and strengthens purpose. Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, in “Man’s Search for Meaning,” writes of the importance of goals even in Nazi concentration camps: “Any attempt to restore a man’s inner strength in the camp had first to succeed in showing him some future goal.”
He tells of two men in camp who had decided to commit suicide—what did they have to live for? But when one realized his adored child was waiting for him, and the other had a series of scientific books to finish, both chose to live. “There is nothing in the world, I venture to say,” Frankl wrote, “that would so effectively help one to survive even the worst conditions, as the knowledge that there is a meaning in one’s life.”
If this is true in “the worst conditions,” how much more so would setting goals and striving to reach them help people in their day-to-day living!
BY DOING WORK
Goals in themselves, however, mean little. Only when they are accompanied by deeds do they have real meaning. A farmer may have as a goal the harvesting of a certain crop, but to attain that goal he must sow seed and do all the additional work needed to produce and bring in the crop. He can’t be like the farmer described at Ecclesiastes 11:4: “He that is watching the wind will not sow seed; and he that is looking at the clouds will not reap.”
Work accomplished reflects the qualities and abilities of the worker, shows what he is, and when it is successful it gives him a sense of fulfillment. “A long life without the feeling of fulfillment is very tedious,” says Dr. Hans Selye.
Even children benefit from work. Professor Alice Rossi, a sociologist at the University of Massachusetts, urged parents to give children work in the home: “To feel needed and useful is as important as to feel loved. Yet our child-rearing ideas have stressed only love and the child’s need to play, neglecting the work children can do.”
BY MINDING SPIRITUAL THINGS
Purpose and meaning are based in the things of the spirit, not the flesh. Frankl wrote of the ability to resist the tortures of the concentration camps because of spiritual strength: “The consciousness of one’s inner value is anchored in higher, more spiritual things, and cannot be shaken by camp life.” Why do successful executives, materially well off, change careers in mid-life? Psychologist Levinson said that they begin to ask: “Is this all there is? Was it worth all I had to give up along the way? Do I want to go on like this for the rest of my life?”
It is the awareness of a person’s spiritual need and the fulfilling of that that brings happiness and meaning to his life. (Matt. 5:3) The apostle Paul wrote: “The minding of the flesh means death, but the minding of the spirit means life and peace [with God].” (Rom. 8:6) Study the Bible and come to know Jehovah God and Christ Jesus, for ‘this means everlasting life, taking in knowledge of the only true God, and of the one whom he sent forth, Jesus Christ.’—John 17:3.
BY A RIGHT ATTITUDE
“According to your faith,” Jesus told two blind men who asked for sight, “let it happen to you.” It happened for them because they had a positive attitude and believed. (Matt. 9:29) Do you work toward a goal with confidence and vigor, not doubting or drifting willy-nilly? Think negative and get negative results; think positive to get positive results. Doubts are traitors that make us lose what we might win if we didn’t fear to try. Think on that which is good. (Phil. 4:8) Why is this so vital? Because of the principle expressed at Proverbs 23:7: “As he thinketh in his heart, so is he.”—Authorized Version.
BY SERVING OTHERS
We feel useful when we help others. It shows we have something to offer, and as Jesus said: “There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.” (Acts 20:35) Useful lives become meaningful lives, viewed so by others as well as by ourselves. Serving mankind can in itself become a goal and impart meaning to a person’s life.
Serving God does much more toward enabling us to view our life as meaningful, even though we are small in a vast universe and exist only in a tiny fraction of the stream of time.
BY SUFFERING FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS’ SAKE
“Suffering ceases to be suffering in some way at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice,” writes Frankl. “Man is even ready to suffer, on the condition, to be sure, that his suffering has a meaning.” What greater meaning could it have than being for righteousness’ sake?
“Happy are those who have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake,” Jesus said. The apostles experienced this joy: “They [the Jewish religious court of the Sanhedrin] summoned the apostles, flogged them, and ordered them to stop speaking upon the basis of Jesus’ name, and let them go. These, therefore, went their way from before the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy to be dishonored in behalf of his name.” (Matt. 5:10-12; Acts 5:40, 41) There is no merit in suffering for wrongdoing, but when you suffer for doing good, this “is a thing agreeable with God.”—1 Pet. 2:20.