3 Paths to Meaning

I often hear in my therapeutic conversations questions about meaning. What does this event mean? After all these years of effort, what does all this amount to? Was it really worth it? Does it add up to anything?

Legitimate questions.

But most of the the time, these questions are not asked directly, maybe out of a fear of sounding pretentious or from fear generated by the questions themselves. So they are generally left hanging there in the air, unvoiced, like dark clouds threatening to break into a nasty thunder storm.


When the questions are voiced, the speaker is often confronted with the sudden discovery of a disquieting emptiness within. The temptation on the part of the therapist is to rush to the speaker’s rescue with a variety of readymade answers which inevitably fail to convince and dispel the speaker’s growing sense of unease.

But such questioning is not limited to the therapy room. In fact it is an active layer underlying all our daily actions and conversations and which breaks through the surface of awareness from time to time demanding our attention. Have you not caught yourself engaged in some past event or experience and concluding that it finally made a lot of sense, or to the contrary, that it made no sense at all?

3 Paths to Meaning

Attributing meaning to our lives is a necessary and deeply human characteristic. Viktor Frankl, the creator of logotherapy and author of the best selling “Man’s Search for Meaning” maps three ways of how we generate meaning.

1. Action

The first way we generate meaning according to Frankl is by doing something. This can be quite simple like brushing your teeth or something more elaborate like painting a work of art. It is through the doing that the meaning emerges in the doer. For many people, their professional activity provides them with ample ground to exercise what Frankl refers to as creative action, action which fills people with a sense of meaning and purpose.

2. Experience

The second route to towards meaning is through experience. For example, being in a loving relationship is an experience which in and of itself is a source of meaning. This experience can become a source from which a person can draw and discover new meanings over time even when the relationship is over and in the past. Listening to a piece of music or looking out onto a landscape which moves or touches you are other examples of an experience which can give meaning to life.

3. Attitude

The third route towards meaning is through the attitude we have or develop when facing some kind of difficulty or suffering. No human life with without difficulty or suffering. So the question is what kind of attitude or posture do you take when faced with your own or someone else’s suffering. Suffering here implies some kind of limiting factor on one’s life or potentialities. The way in which a person accepts these constraints and develops courage, dignity or some other quality becomes a measure of their human fulfillment even in the most apparently hopeless situations.

So how have you cultivated or restored meaning in your life? Have you followed one or other of these paths? Or have you found some other way?

Working with the body-mind-brain continuum

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