Life is Meaningless Without a Goal
Viktor E. Frankl was a Jewish psychologist who was imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp throughout World War II. His book, Man’s Search for Meaning, in which he writes of his time in the camp, is a marvel of non-fiction and psychology. Frankl makes the argument that the true difference between the survivors and those who died in the camp was that the survivors most times had a purpose or goal that they were clinging to. Some knew that they would have to take care of families after the war, others clung to the goal of finishing a book or scientific study, and some pushed through so that they could once again see the love of their life. No matter what the purpose, Frankl found that those who had some sort of purpose or goal always fared better than those who had given up hope.
In his writings summing up his experience Frankl writes the following;
“Mental health is based on a certain degree of tension, the tension between what one has already achieved and what one still ought to accomplish, or the gap between what one is and what one should become. Such a mention is inherent in the human being and therefore is indispensable to mental well-being. We should not, then, be hesitant about challenging man with a potential meaning for him to fulfill.”
Life is always more exciting and challenging when we have a purpose to strive towards, and as Frankl suggests, having a goal is imperative to our mental health. Think about the most exciting or meaningful times in your life and you will most likely find that those were times when you were striving for or had attained a worthwhile goal that was important to you.
In psychology there is a term known as Astronaut Syndrome. This is the term given to people who have achieved amazing things, like flying to the moon, and then have found that they lack purpose because they have nothing else to strive for. Some people, once they have reached a goal, struggle to find meaning in life without something else to strive towards. Many of these people choose to keep the high they were on by turning to alcoholism or drug abuse, and so they begin a downward spiral. This is also common among people who haven't achieved much in life and also lack any purpose or goal. What Frankl suggests is that life is more fulfilling when we cultivate a healthy yearning for some meaningful goal, and that we need to have the tension that comes with not having achieved what we are striving for. I would go further to say that the greatest joy that we can feel in life comes not from having achieved a goal, but from the striving towards that goal. Frankl goes on to say that “What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather a striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task. What he needs is not a discharge of tension at any cost but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.”
Don't we all long to feel like the goals and desires that we have are coming closer every day? Don’t we all yearn to feel that joy that comes with working towards something great? So the purpose of our lives is not necessarily to attain the goals that we are chasing, but in stead to be constantly striving towards some meaningful goal. People who suffer from depression, even in clinical cases, will tell you that even the most simple goal can get them through another day. Even if that goal is to get up in the morning, that is enough to give them a feeling of peace that will get them through their suffering.
A person who has lost 50lb will always feel more proud of themselves if they had got there on their own and not with surgery. So it is with our lives. We must fully experience the moments when we are endeavoring to realize our goals, for these are the moments that bring the true and authentic joy and meaning to our lives. Once you have achieved what you desire you must hastily find a new target to aim at after you have fully enjoyed the taste of victory.
There will be people who read this and believe that this is what’s wrong with our modern society. We are always striving for something new, something bigger, and something more exciting. I fully agree that this is true, and it is unhealthy to go about life trying to always get more. But what I am talking about here, and what Viktor Frankl wrote about, is not the striving towards unworthy goals like buying a newer car or a bigger house, but rather goals that have a worthwhile purpose. For example, don’t set a goal to become a millionaire just so that you can make all of your friends jealous, but set the goal because of the person that you will have to become, and because of the skills you will need to develop in order to achieve it. Set a goal to write a book, not for the fame that may come, but because you will find your soul in the writing process. Set a goal to love your wife or husband fully; that is a worthwhile goal. There is a big difference between a goal that will bring joy and a goal that will bring discontent, and most of that difference is in the reason why you want to achieve that goal. With every goal or purpose in your life you should check that your reason for chasing it is worthy and pure. If it is, then your feeling of happiness, excitement, and meaning will be far greater on your journey to attaining it.
So if you're struggling with a feeling of meaninglessness, just remember that even the smallest purpose can cure your ailing. Start by volunteering if that is what you have to do. Studies have shown that any job, no matter what the pay, can make a person happier in life. It is not the payment or the reward that makes our desires meaningful, but it is the journey and the purpose that comes with working towards something. Find that purpose as quickly as you can and soon you’ll experience the joy that comes with self-growth, the attainment of a worthy ideal, and the rise to the good life.