Over the past year, I have read three books concerning the meaning of life. Interestingly, (for me anyway), two took a more psychoanalytical approach in answering this question, while the third was Christian based. I will summarize what each determined was the answer to this timeless endeavor, in the order in which I read the books.
1. The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck: This theme of this book surprised me as I was under the impression (due to the title), that this was a religious based book. Although it had an underlying spiritual element, it took a psychoanalytical based approach and argued that the meaning of life could be understood by accepting these truths:
· Life is difficult and contains a series of problems.
· Discipline is the basic set of tools we require to solve these problems.
· It is in the whole process of how we meet and solve these problems, that life has it’s meaning.
· How we meet the challenges of dealing with these problems is the basis of how we grow mentally and spiritually.
· The tendency to avoid problems and the emotional suffering inherent in them is the primary basis of all human mental illness.
· The set of tools that is referred to as “discipline”, are “techniques of suffering”: which are the means by which we experience the pain of problems in such a way as to work them through and solve them successfully, learning and growing in the process.
· There are four tools which make up the “techniques of suffering”: delaying gratification; acceptance of responsibility; dedication to truth; and balancing.
· Psychoanalysis is essential in assisting someone in mastering one or more of these four tools.
2. The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren: This book looked at the question from a Christian perspective. According to the author, we were all created by God for a purpose- His purpose…. and “it is only in God that we discover our origin, our identity, our meaning, our purpose, our significance, and our destiny.” Consequently, there are five purposes to our life:
1. To bring enjoyment to God.
2. To be a part of the family of God.
3. To be like Christ.
4. To serve God.
5. To serve others.
3. Man’s Search For Meaning by Victor Frankl: This book is based on the experiences of the author, a psychiatrist, who survived a number of Nazi death camps. Within this backdrop, he argues that how we choose to deal with experiences, especially “unavoidable” atrocities and sufferings, is the determining factor of whether we will live (survive) or die. From his experiences during WWII, he concluded that those who had survived the concentration camps, had the will to live through those horrible times, were those who found a deeper, even a spiritual “meaning” to what they were going through. He went on to develop a psychoanalytical “meaning-centered” form of therapy called Logotherapy. According to logotherapy, we can discover the meaning of life in three different ways:
1. By achievement or accomplishment.
2. By experiencing something or encountering someone.
3. By the attitude we take towards unavoidable suffering.
All three books were a good read and I recommend them all. Being a Christian, the second book had more of a lasting impression on me and my understanding of the meaning…. “purpose”…. of my life. However all three books gave me a deeper insight of how I live my life, the choices I make, the reasons I may make one choice rather than another, and more importantly, also an insight into what makes others “tick”.