When I was about 16 years old, I started my internship for a medium sized company in a small village in Holland that produced electronics for coffee-machines. It was located next to a cabbage-processing factory, so the air was regularly pregnant with the scent of boiled cabbage.
My job was to test the electronics and separate the functional from the defect.
Being there, what hit me most was the defeatist attitude of people within this company and being sensitive, it affected me as well. I hated the taste of coffee and to my opinion people were wasting their time doing a crappy job they did not like instead of searching for a purposeful and meaningful existence.
Lying in bed one night it hit me. I saw an entire chain of senseless industries. People getting out of bed, starting their car, driving to work, producing something lacking any sort of worth at all, having minimal to no influence to their environment and then go home again.
Another day wasted doing something useless. The first association I had was “this is just all occupational therapy”. Doing something, just anything, to feel useful.
Giving meaning to life
I boiled the entire train of thought down to one question: “what gives meaning to life?” It came down to two main values:
- To be valuable/meaningful/use to other people
- To be able to change / influence your environment
If any of the two is lacking, our quality of live drops.
1: To have value/meaning/use to other people
I made the assumption that most people fear to be useless. In their jobs, in their relationships, and so on. To do useless work is de-motivating. To be neglected and rejected is painful. To be void of appreciation makes us sad. It kills us mentally and emotionally on the long run.
To have value, be appreciated, be seen, be recognized, be awarded inspires us, makes us happy, fills us with energy. To understand what value you are contributing to someone increases your efforts in general and makes you understand why you are valuable as a person.
I believe that this is due to our genetic programming. Our origin is that of a group-species. To be part of a group means safety, sex, grooming, protection and food. Not to be part means struggle and death.
It is not so strange we measure people by their jobs, social groups, references and social influence.
2: To be able to change / influence your environment
Somehow we need the sense of control upon our own life. I specifically say “sense”. It is already soothing to know that you have the option to change something when required. When we have the feeling to be “stuck” we get uncomfortable. Rules and regulations can be experienced as limiting. But also peer pressure, social control and internalized rules and regulations.
The answer to “What is the meaning of (my) life?” is very divers. “Nothing” is one, since after your death everything will continue and: “What you make it” is another, since everything you value is valued by your own perception.
Using this model, life is about two main things:
- Being connected to others, sharing, being of value and making fun.
- Being able to change your personal situation either via your environment or by moving to other places and groups.
The main questions
- Is it good for me?
- Is it safe?
- Do I learn and grow from it?
- Can I add value here?
- Am I appriciated (by the group) for who I am and what I have to offer?