March 20, 2016

A Simple, yet Difficult Exercise to Find the “Why” to our Existence.

question mark trees why

“The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.” ~ Fyodor Dostoyevsky

I had always had a hard time setting personal goals.

It was always easier for me when I had to set goals that were work-related, or for a group in which I was one of several participants. Not only did I find it much easier to set those goals, but it was also infinitely easier for me to accomplish them.

When it came to setting goals for my own personal growth, the task had always seemed much more daunting. And furthermore, I would find myself revising or simply eliminating many of my goals before I had actually achieved them.

It turned out the reason was simple.

The goals that I had been setting for myself weren’t bringing any joy into my life. There was no satisfaction from working toward them, or even from achieving them on the few occasions when I actually reached my target. But I couldn’t understand why. The goals made sense; they had to do with things that “I should be doing” and that “everybody else was doing.” If these goals worked for them, then why didn’t they work for me?

Ever since I was a child, I had always tried to “do the right thing.” How come now doing the right thing felt so wrong?

Learning the Importance of Meaning

I struggled with this question for years. Then I read one of the most powerful books I have ever come across. This book literally changed the way that I view everything in my life. I am talking about Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. In it Frankl describes how he developed his theory for achieving happiness. It arose from his experiences and observations during the years he spent as a concentration camp prisoner in World War II.

His theory is based on the belief that finding a meaning in life is our best source of longevity and sustainable happiness. Frankl discovered that finding meaning will provide us with:

>>> A strong sense of purpose
>>> A set of values by which we can evaluate our decisions and actions
>>> A feeling of control over the events in our lives
>>> A belief in our own intrinsic value in this world

Frankl’s discovery is also supported by the observations and teachings of Friedrich Nietzsche who has been quoted as stating: “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” According to Nietzsche, the first step to finding sustainable happiness is to find something that is essential in our lives, that will not only support us emotionally, but will also help us overcome whatever struggles we encounter along the way.

Why did learning the importance of meaning change my life, and why did it help me with setting achievable goals? Because the reality is that our meaning is in fact our ultimate goal. Once we have discovered our meaning, everything else in our lives will make sense and fall into place. Additionally, every time we set a new goal, it will be aligned with our existing goals because the purpose of all our goals will be to support the “why” of our existence.

Discovering the “Why” to Your Existence

Some people have the good fortune to already know that they have something to live for every day. But if you haven’t yet determined what the meaning is in your life, you may be living without a true sense of purpose and self-worth. I was one of those people. I thought that I knew what I was supposed to be doing with my life. But I never knew what it felt like to really have a purpose to live for everyday. At least not until I set out to discover my own meaning, my personal “why.”

So how do you go about discovering your meaning? If you find yourself in the same situation that I did, start by asking yourself these questions:

>>> At what times in your life have you been the happiest?
>>> What were you doing during those times that made you feel so happy?
>>> What events, people or activities get you the most excited, or give you the most satisfaction?
>>> What topics are you always able to discuss with genuine enthusiasm, without ever getting bored?
>>> What are you doing when you feel the most useful? The most needed? The most appreciated?
>>> When do you feel the best about yourself and your contributions?

Answering all these questions may not be easy. It took me a lot of honest, in-depth analysis as well as a lot of time to find my answers. But once I was able to find the answers, my “why” became clear to me. As a result, not only did it become much easier for me to set personal goals, but more importantly I was able to start following through and achieving them as well.

Identifying my meaning made me certain that my goals would now take me exactly where I wanted to go. That certainty was what made it possible for me to start achieving my goals when that ability had previously always evaded me. I knew that so long as my goals were set within the framework of the “why” of my life, then I would always be moving in the right direction.


Author: Daniela Naidu

Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Evan Dennis/Unsplash

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