From a young age we begin to build up an image in our minds of who we want to be, how we want to be it and what our life will be like when we have ‘made it’. The struggles we encounter along our course can shake these ideals to a point that they may no longer be or feel achievable. It is at this point that we can sometimes experience an existential vacuum that can suck the very lifeblood out of our own individual life experience.
Victor Frankl, a Viennese psychiatrist wrote of his life as a prisoner in Nazi concentration camps, identifying his survival philosophy as
“He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how” (Nietzche)
This maxim can be seen to underpin the existential funk endured by many people suffering in our society today. When we lose our ‘why’, our lives (the how) become meaningless.
Some examples of an existential funk might be
· The person suffering with depression asking ‘what’s the point in continuing with life?’
· The couple that struggle to come to terms with being unable to conceive children and wondering what their role might now be that they cannot pro-create.
· The person that struggles to come to terms with a new world view after his/her feelings of safety and security have been decimated by a traumatic incident.
· The newly retired/redundant person wondering what use they are now that they have no task to center their lives around.
· The newly bereaved asking what meaning life holds without their loved one.
Discovering the ‘why’ in one’s life can be seen as the foundation of any individual’s therapy in that it constitutes the central drive (conscious or otherwise) for the changes one wishes to make.
In the therapy room, we therapists ask ‘Why did you choose to come?‘ This elicits an answer of what ideals are driving an individual forward through whatever hardships they have been negotiating. Reminding them of their ‘why’ aids them in staying the course when encountering any of the painful subject matter that they may have to confront in the therapy process.
In such circumstances, therapy becomes a forum, inviting one to explore, perhaps deconstruct the assumptions that underpin their world view, enabling them to construct new meaning in their lives that can nourish them while also reflecting their new life circumstances.
Philosophy has been plagued by the meaning of life since its inception. This question is too expansive for any one person to answer. That said, we are all capable of searching for the meaning in our own lives, asking ‘What am I striving for?’ and ‘What or who drives me to push forward whenever I struggle?’.