Meaning of life is often searched for today. Why is feeling meaningless a common problem of the 21st century and how to find a meaning of life in this context?
In modern society, the question of what is the meaning of life is often asked. This seems a bit ironic when one considers that today people have an incomparable amount of choices about how they will live compared to previous historical periods. In previous historical periods before the Englightenment, the ways of living were fixed. One had to believe in God, one had to marry and have children. The guidelines for a good life were pretty clear. In today’s society, this is no longer so. Whether you want to be a believer today, whether you want to eat meat or be a vegetarian, whether one wants to be educated or married – the choice is ours. In a sea of limitless possibilities, one needs to find the one that will work for him or her.
Naturally, a certain amount of uncertainty came along with this. Which way of life is the right one for us? How do we choose? How do we know if we have made the right choice? This kind of reflexive thinking is typical for today’s age, it was not usual in previous time periods.
New guidelines for meaning of life in the 21st century
The absence of the guidelines is the hallmark of today’s society. This is why so many of us are scared, loss, don’t know with certainty what to do with one’s life. This is why people are longing for some kind of guidelines and why authors such as Jordan Peterson thrive on this sentiment, by detecting it as a pervasive feeling of a contemporary globalized society and empty area on the market where the fixed guidelines can be offered – the ones that restore our sense of security. Because with the erosion of guidelines, our sense of security was also partly flushed down the toilet.
Further, among new guidelines, the one which offers an instant recipe for success is also often heard; How many followers do you have on Instagram? How successful are you in terms of assets? While in no way it should be implied that money is irrelevant, or that happiness might lie or not lie in traveling or Instagram followers, the link between them and the meaning of life is the question.
“Good” meaning of life
Existential philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre and Austrian psychiatrist Viktor Frankl both dealt with the meaning of life as the central topic of their work. Both have found that the meaning of life has to have a certain quality – has to be directed outside of us, towards a certain value or other people, towards enjoyment in something else such as the beauty of art. In any case, towards something other than ourselves. However, we are constantly bombed today by consumeristic guidelines for happiness – do this, do that, look like this, look like that, to be loved, to be happy.
The question is if these consumeristic guidelines are indeed in line with self-transcendence? Are money or certain looks really a self-transcendent value? Do they transcend individual existence? Both Frankl and Sartre would be interpreted through zen philosophy in terms of our values’ need to connect us to the world, to give us feelings that we are part of that same world. This is part of the interconnectedness of zen – the realization that we as human beings are never isolated, though in today’s paradigm of isolated mind it might seem so. Yet we live in a world and we are part of it, though we might sometimes lose our ability to feel it.
And even if this might seem as banal zen quote at first, once it is emotionally really felt it is something entirely different – it has implications both on a moral and political level. Once a human being is able to feel like part of this world and society, it will feel one’s meaning.
So start looking for your own meaning, which can get you closer to this feeling…