Man’s search for meaning: Part 1, in which we do not understand

I was recently talking with someone wealthy and somewhat famous (on the internet).  He mentioned that since he’s become wealthy he’s been searching for meaning.  I was all, dude, I’ve noticed.  Not really into that.

We are from the midwest.  That means we are pragmatists.  We generally keep our navels covered so we don’t spend much time looking at them.  I thought that, but didn’t say it.  We do things because they’re The Right Thing to Do.  Not because of some grand purpose or passion or destiny or whatever.

Back when I had a ton of free time (see:  K-8), I would sit around in the back yard and analytically ponder the meaning of life.  I decided that the only true meaning of life was that of reproduction.  We were put on earth to reproduce.  I thought as a species that we had done (more than) a fine job of doing that, and we were at a point at which the human race would be fine and people could make their own decisions about reproduction using their rational minds.  (This was before I figured out what made boys so interesting and got the urge to go through the motions of reproduction without actually, you know, reproducing.  Er hem.)

Given that our main duty in life was being taken care of by the race as a whole, that allowed us to pursue other purposes.  I decided that I liked hedonism as a guiding philosophy and I would do the things I liked.  Being from the midwest, of course, I also had a large lump of responsibility.  So to quote the Wicca, “An it hurts no one, do what you will.”

I’m pretty sure I haven’t really thought about my purpose since.  Maybe at 3am in a college dorm hallway, but I probably just related the story above.  I have generally had better things to do and think about (like how sexy my partner is!).

I do, however, sometimes wonder why some people spend so much time on the question.  I sort of understand the self-help gurus– they like to separate desperately unhappy people with money from some of that money.  It’s the unhappy people who have no real reason to be unhappy that I just don’t get.  If it’s chemical, then why aren’t they searching for solutions in a doctor’s office?  If it isn’t chemical, then why are they allowing themselves to be unhappy just because they can’t find their “purpose” in life.  Whatever that means.  It seems like pondering the question just creates more angst.  So why not stop worrying about finding meaning in life and, you know, live life instead?

But, as I said earlier, we’re from the midwest.  We are incapable of understanding this coastal melancholia.  Perhaps that means we’re somehow incomplete or there’s something wrong with us.  But you know, pondering that question might make us sad for no purpose at all, so why ponder it?  If a person has that kind of free-time, that’s why God invented the modern novel.  (Or Cervantes invented it, depending on your view.)

*Some women search for meaning too, but we’re mostly too busy.  Second shift and mental load, dontcha know.

Do you spend a lot of time searching for meaning?  Do you think doing so affects people’s happiness levels?  Do you think this is something mainly done on the coasts (particularly the West Coast), and if so, why are there regional differences?

78 Responses to “Man’s search for meaning: Part 1, in which we do not understand”

  1. moom Says:

    Well maybe that explains the recent discussion on this blog about “callings”, which you seemed to dismiss but also to only see in an extreme kind of way I think…

    I really wouldn’t have thought there were geographical differences that much in this, though cultures might frame the questions and the acceptable answers in different ways. I would also think this is something that a lot of academics spend a lot of time thinking about. But maybe not?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We dismissed academia as a calling and noted that “calling” is used to pay less money to women in areas like social work. Not really the same motivation, but I can see how they’re related in a grand theory.

      https://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2013/02/27/academia-is-just-a-job/

      • Anthea Says:

        I’d agree with our view that academia and a few other professions dominated by women are ‘a calling’…I’ve been wondering recently whether this view is just used to pay people ie women less in areas like social work etc. …I keep on hearing this people say this and I even wonder when people forget that women even do vote, have brains etc.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I’ll have to post about a really cool talk I went to by Linda Babcock and coauthors about “service”… they do a really neat experiment that shows how culture can make these things happen… and when you put just women all together or just men all together, they act like the average of the two, even though they separate out into women doing the service stuff and men free-riding when they’re pooled together.

  2. First Gen American Says:

    I never spent much time pondering but I do have this general need to give back and have the world be a better place because I am in it. People helped me get out of poverty. Mentors, benefactors, government, etc, so I feel the need to pay that back and then some, so I have a strong desire to pay things forward. If you have the capacity to change something for the better, I think you should, even if its just allocating 1 day a year.

    I don’t think I spent much time at all figuring that out, it just seemed obvious to me. I have a more difficult time answering questions like “if I were to start a business, what would it be” because there are so many options.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      It’s obvious because it’s The Right Thing to Do. :)

      Starting a business, and the kind of career thinking that Cloud is doing seems more likely to be productive thinking rather than directly leading to unease.

  3. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    I am mostly a hedonist in the same sense as you. Although at a certain point I realized that it was also important to me to conduct myself in such a manner that averaged on a weekly basis other people I interact with are happier than they would otherwise have been.

  4. Perpetua Says:

    I also cannot imagine sitting around thinking about the meaning of things, and I’m a very introspective person prone to navelgazing of many sorts. In some ways I fundamentally don’t understand what the quest is about – I wonder if it is a bad shorthand for trying to understanding something else (Why am I so unhappy? Why is there so much suffering?). It’s weird that I don’t search for meaning, because I would also say that it’s important to me to live a meaningful life. But I don’t need to search for that meaning, but it’s there, inside me, in some of the same ways you mention. All of this is probably the result of tragedy I experienced as a teenager, which led me to conclude that there is no meaning in life except what we construct for ourselves, and I went about trying to figure out what the meaning for my life was, or what I found meaningful. Wait – so maybe I already had that quest and resolved it, and now I don’t have to think about it anymore. Maybe that’s another version of what you guys are saying too? You don’t need to look for it when you have it.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We don’t understand the quest either. But maybe you’re right, maybe we just already know the (non-) answer.

      Not having a blog focused on searching for meaning probably also helps! (Because if you find it… then what are you going to write about?)

  5. NoTrustFund Says:

    The key phrase for me in this post is ‘since he became wealthy’. I think a lot of men work for the money, whether to provide for their families or for prestige, or what have you. Then when suddenly (or finally) have a lot of money and they no longer NEED to work, the search for meaning begins. Another gross generalization, but most is the women I know take a more wholistic approach in picking jobs- they try to pick jobs they like first and worry about the money second. I only have anecdotal info on this, but that’s what I’ve noticed.

  6. Jacq Says:

    The adaptive methods in this article are helping my niece with her “meaning of life” issues:
    http://mygiftedlife.org/page/dabrowski-s-theory-and-existential-depression-in-gifted-children-

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Great!

      Most of our existential issues deal with feeding and educating children (and providing video games for the sickest– more on that in Part II in a month or so). We can buy small relief from those existential pangs through donations.

  7. Liz Says:

    A Counter-Grump: I disagree with your dismissal of pondering the existential meaning of life, and of your dismissal of people who “have no reason to be unhappy but are unhappy.”

    To wit, “there is a season for everything under the sun.” The time to think and reflect is necessary to understand one’s situation. Would you have come to your realization about the meaning of life if you hadn’t thought about it when you were young? Maybe those adults who struggle with it never did think about it at that age, so they don’t have the advantage of having it figured out. Or maybe they’re in their twenties – a time of true struggle to find one’s identity and purpose, unlike the “practice round” of teenagehood.

    And maybe they really do need the help of “self-help gurus” – and maybe those self-help gurus are just trying to make their passion into a living – it is their “calling” to help people, but they still need to eat. Do we get mad at therapists for charging for their work?

    And as someone who has been unnecessariily unhappy, I argue that it can be just as frustrating for the unhappy person as it is for those who are observing hir. And have you ever read the side-effects of potential solutions at the doctor’s office? It’s not an easy decision for someone who is unhappy – and likely not sure who ze is, inside – to choose either to find a way on hir own, or to let someone mess with the chemicals in hir system.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We have experienced side-effects of potential solutions in the doctors office both first hand and second hand. There is absolutely nothing wrong with seeking therapy and chemical intervention if such things are needed. That has nothing to do with seeking meaning and becoming miserable because really you’re just bored.

      And seeking meaning in your life (or visiting South America or becoming a Minimalist or whatever is currently the “in” thing) will not fix or even help chemical depression.

      • GMP Says:

        That has nothing to do with seeking meaning and becoming miserable because really you’re just bored.

        I am guilty of this. When I am crazy busy and intellectually stimulated, doing something engaging, I am happy and I spend no time on navel gazing. When I am bored, especially of the crazy-busy-but-with-stuff-that-doesn’t-engage-my-brain-at-all kind, I tend to dwell on the meaning of my life a lot. I recognize it’s basically the idle brain trying to find something to do.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        What’s the saying, idle hands are the devil’s playground?

  8. investfourmore Says:

    I thought the same thing until I was forced to find a life purpose by my coach. He made me rework it until we were both happy with it. I was surprised how much I enjoyed having a life purpose once it was clear. Basically most life purposes involve helping others in some way. I thought I was too selfish to make my life purpose involve helping others, but I found a way to encompass both.
    My life purpose is to help educate people about real estate and the wealth it can generate( summary). At the same time that education helps me make more money as well by selling houses and buying investments.
    I never truly believed in my purpose until I started getting comments and emails from peor who loved my blog and said it motivated and inspired them. I didn’t realize how good that would feel.

    I am sure it feels pretty good to you to have followers and people who lie your blog as well.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We’re entertained and enlightened by the discussion from our highly intelligent readers, but I don’t think we’d want a cult following like MMM has. Some day we might ironically make a blog to see if we can get a cult following and $$, but that won’t be this blog.

  9. Linda Says:

    I think the “search for meaning” isn’t just confined to the coasts. Here in the Midwest and in the South, that’s one of the main reasons people attend church regularly. Thinking back (way, way back) to the anthropology classes of my youth, cosmology and an explanation of “how life came to be this way and your part in it” is present in all cultures, usually in the form of what we’d call religion. Probing at that and questioning it has likely been going on a very, very long time.

    Also, I think it is inherently a luxury to be able to do this, which is why it seems to be something more affluent people do. I very much doubt that people who spend most of their time eking out a living so they can feed and shelter their family spend time reflecting on the meaning of life. I could be wrong about that, though.

    I wouldn’t say I spend a lot of time questioning the meaning of life, but I do question whether I’m following the path I really want on regular basis. It’s this drive to be living a life I enjoy that pushed me to be where I am now, and will continue to shape my decisions. And I don’t meant to sound like I’m completely selfish, either. One of things I enjoy is helping people and connecting them with what they want and need, so that’s a big part of my life enjoyment.

    • chacha1 Says:

      I minored in anthropology (in the South), and one of the things I had to do was experience first-hand various local religious events. My observation is that poor people are, if anything, MORE religious than the wealthy. And my personal take on it was that they are acculturated to believe that they have nothing to look forward to, hope for, or aim for in this life, so best concentrate on the next.

      I don’t think poverty religion reflects a search for meaning though … deep in my black and cynical heart I think it’s a long-standing and well-constructed edifice of social control, with very little spiritual value because it expressly discourages the individual from examining his or her own faith.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      It is definitely a luxury. DH’s parents didn’t even have the luxury of trying to find “the perfect career”, much less a purpose in life. They had mouths to feed.

  10. Pamela Says:

    Honestly? I think of this stuff as navel-gazing claptrap. It brings out the snarky beast in me. “My purpose is to destroy Western Civilization as we know it.” “My purpose it to eat as many ring dings as my stomach can hold.”

    I mean, my life has meaning because I have family and friends who I love and live in a place that I enjoy. If I had the luxury of navel-gazing to that extent, I’d count myself very lucky indeed and I’m already very lucky. A lot of people are just trying to survive and that’s something I don’t have to worry about.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I don’t think my stomach can hold many ring dings anymore.

      We really are lucky! Ironic that some folks can’t accept that and make themselves miserable just because they want more but have no idea what that more would be.

  11. SP Says:

    I love midwesterners. :) I’m with you on this.

    That song in the video is the strangest combination of peppy-ness and extremely depressing. You mean I cannot live forever and ever?

  12. plantingourpennies Says:

    Can’t say I’ve done a whole lot of searching for meaning in my life. (I’ve always been a GSD kind of girl. Non-coastal west in origin if you’re looking to make geographic inferences.) I think the search itself is predicated by the idea that you think that there is something missing from your life, which would likely lead to further disappointment and unhappiness. So why bother?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      GSD is also a good philosophy! And you’re right, maybe it’s the idea that something is missing rather than the search itself… but maybe the need for the search reinforces the idea that something is missing (and often something that is never found).

  13. Foscavista Says:

    Yay for the Cervantes shout out! I’m teaching the “Quijote” this coming fall.

  14. Cloud Says:

    I don’t spend too much time thinking about the meaning of life, because I’ve thought since about high school that the best thing to do with life is enjoy it, and try to make sure that everyone else can enjoy it, too. But the devil is in the details on that… as my recent run of bloggy navel-gazing shows. In general, for me, I navel-gaze on my blog because something is bugging me and I want to figure it out without boring my husband to tears on the topic. I figure that if I bore my readers to tears, they can click away! So it isn’t that blogging about the topic makes me angsty, but that I’m feeling a little angsty and I’m blogging to figure out why- and (this is the important bit) to fix it! I don’t like feeling angsty. In general, my concern now is less in figuring out the grand purpose of life and more in making sure I live the sort of life that I’ll be happy to look back on when I’m on my death bed. I find a little conscious attention to my decisions is necessary to keep myself on the right track there, I’m not sure why.

    As for people who have a chemical imbalance… I’ve dated a couple guys like that, quite seriously. I thought I was going to marry one of them. (I didn’t. He dumped me, and then I landed with the guy I am actually married to.) One of the most difficult things about having depression is that it interferes with your ability to think rationally about getting help. It is a disease whose symptoms include an inability to recognize the fact that there is a problem that you could get help with solving. Even when the depressed person realizes that he or she has a problem that could be solved, depression also saps the energy and will to go and get the help. It is a really, really tough cycle to break. As difficult as I found it to deal with my boyfriends when they were in their deepest depressions, I could recognize that the solutions that seemed so obvious to me were almost impossible for them to see. It is heartbreaking to watch this in someone you love. With the guy I was really serious about, I eventually learned to recognize the signs of depression coming in. If I could point them out early enough, he’d go get help before he got so depressed he couldn’t think about the problem clearly.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Like we said in our comments to your recent posts (which we have enjoyed, and recommend everybody read!), the kind of navel gazing you’re doing about careers isn’t what we’re talking about here.

      • Cloud Says:

        I know! I was thinking about the more general case of navel-gazing, though. I guess if the meaning of life, the universe and everything was really bothering me, I’d probably try to work it out on my blog, because I tend to use the blog for working things out.

  15. chacha1 Says:

    “Do you spend a lot of time searching for meaning?” – Nope.
    “Do you think doing so affects people’s happiness levels?” – Yep.
    “Do you think this is something mainly done on the coasts (particularly the West Coast), and if so, why are there regional differences?” – Nope. My personal theory is that a) drug and alcohol abuse and b) religious fundamentalism (of any flavor) are manifestations of the search for meaning. These are displayed throughout the U.S., and take particularly repugnant forms in our rural areas.

    The search for meaning as exemplified by the so-called counterculture tends to get more, and more snarky, press because anything out of the mainstream is held up to ridicule. I personally find no less value in a crystal-gazing astrologist’s search for meaning than in an observant Christian’s, and typically the astrologist is more tolerant of others’ beliefs than the Christian. So I tend to come down on the side of the out-of-the-mainstream.

  16. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    I don’t think this “existential depression” shitte even exists. Rather, I think gifted people are just a kajillion times better at rationalizing their sadness and/or depression as being a consequence of their “deep appreciation for the intrinsic meaninglessness of existence” or whatthef*ckever, as opposed to the more prosaic reasons people get sad and/or depressed: shitte you are experiencing sucks and/or something is going on in your brain.

  17. Zee Says:

    For the record I am west-coast, latte drinking, hybrid driving, tree hugging, hippie who abhors ‘navel gazing’. I love me some west coast living, but it takes everything I have to not roll my eyes at people when they start talking about their new-age search for meaning blah blah. Life for me is pretty simple… have as much fun as possible, while doing the least harm and the most good.

  18. becca Says:

    I think I’m just inverted from you. I Do Things That Make Me Happy so that I have more energy to Define and Pursue Doing The Right Things (note that defining it is a process and there are many right things). I don’t do just enough good to alleviate guilt so that I can go back to enjoying things.
    The happiness is the instrumental value, doing good is more primary.
    I think it’s important to be happy because *once you have identified problems to tackle*, happy people are generally better at acting as forces for good than unhappy people. However, being unhappy can in fact be very useful in identifying problems to tackle. Being too happy can actually interfere with identifying The Right Things to do and being motivated to pursue them. The whole “My life is good, therefore the world doesn’t need fixing” blindness of most hedonists rubs me the wrong way. People who are sad/angry about the state of the world, and happy/optimistic about their own capacity to change it, are those that do the most good, in my observation.

    I also think it’s incredibly important to recognize that A) unhappiness can be functional and happiness can be dysfunctional and B) not everyone can obtain happiness via currently available methods. That said, depression will convince people they are *always* in one of those two categories, when they might not actually be. The trouble is, it’s *also* difficult to tell from the outside when it might be true.
    These are good reasons to assume unhappy people *might* be going through a necessary stage of growth (until proven otherwise), but also great reasons to pursue research into better mental health treatments.

  19. bogart Says:

    My late teen and early college years involved a conviction that The World Could Be a Better Place and I was going to (or needed to figure out how to) make it so. Since then it’s been closer to figuring that I can improve some things for some people (including myself, but recognizing that by any comparative standard myself is pretty darned well off already) and should do some amount of that. Which isn’t, actually, to say that I rule out the possibility of systemic change or improvement — I’d point to vaccines, the end of Jim Crow, and improvements in girls’ women’s access to resources and education, as examples of areas where there have been real, important, and sustained improvements. But it is to say that I suppose I’ve focused my own sights somewhat lower/smaller, I think. I’ve also become more open to the possibility that I’m not the only one with a clue ;) . Although at times the evidence on this still seems mixed!

    As for a search for meaning, not so much (though see above re: earlier). Though I have spent much of my life to date working toward “the next thing,” which included getting into a good college, then grad school, job, partner, baby (that last was at least a 5-year project and arguably a good bit more), and now I feel more like I’m “there” and it’s (somewhat) less obvious what I should be working toward, which is a bit muddling, but not necessarily morose-making (and does have some advantages).

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      “Although at times the evidence on this still seems mixed!”

      I know! It’s often disheartening realizing how many people could really use a clue. It would be a lot less work for the rest of us if clues were more readily available. (Especially in the grants office and IRB, please. But, you know, other important save-the-children kinds of places too.)

  20. bogart Says:

    Ooh. Unrelated, but here’s something that’s actually reasonably useful:
    http://tinyurl.com/37yan9o

    (A blog entry re: how to email a professor, etc. It’s not perfect, but compared to baseline …)

    On the “Cold War” bit therein (q.v.), it reminded me of, and you’ll appreciate, the question a coworker of mine working the cheese counter in a gourmet food store got once from a prospective customer: “What’s the difference between brie and cheddar?”

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      ooh ooh, I know this one! Pregnant ladies can eat cheddar (without getting dirty looks or having to worry about unpasteurized nastiness).

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      ok, it is surreal reading a blog and seeing one of my colleagues writing a comment (from two years ago)… will not be adding to that thread (!)

      Also apparently I use too many exclamation marks. Also I don’t mind quotes from famous people. And I don’t mind people asking for papers. (I don’t get that as much as I used to though, probably because Google.)

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      And of course, meaning is nuanced… as we will get at in our next post, there’s kind of a vacuous search for meaning and the kind where you actually go out and do things (often to make the world a better place).

  21. Mutant Supermodel Says:

    I try not to think about it too much because I find it overwhelming. I like to just putz around day to day with some planning for a future mixed in to a degree. You know what this reminds me of? The movie Melancholia which I just saw last night. Yeah people love to worry about life and purpose and status and it seriously means absolute shit if a wayward planet were to slam into us. I mean really.

  22. Debbie M Says:

    Your title is the same title as Victor Frankl’s book. I love the part where people come to him saying there is no meaning in their life and they feel depressed, so he asks them why they don’t just kill themselves then. And they look shocked and say “I can’t! I still have to …” raise their kid, finish a project, something like that. And then he tells them that this thing they still have to do is their meaning.

    As for me, I became agnostic and decided there’s not necessarily any meaning. Still, there is the miracle of life and getting to think and feel and taste and smell, etc. I try to appreciate that. I long ago decided that my goal was happiness, and that this goal has several aspects to it: physical, intellectual, social, creative, spiritual (charitable). So when I’m down, one or more of those aspects is probably lagging.

    I have also searched for my ideal job (which is sort of similar–it’s a thing to focus on when things aren’t going well), and I finally figured out what it was, though not how to get it. And now I don’t have to. Woo hoo!

    My antidote to the melancholy is remembering all the people who gave up (or at least risked) their lives for me–all those dead people in all those wars, plus all those great thinkers and doers like Harriet Tubman, MLK, and the American revolutionaries. Also, there’s two kinds of sadness: the kind where something bad happens to you, and this does still happen to people: getting abused, getting injured, etc. But then there’s the kind where you’ve lost something wonderful–like the love of your life breaks up with you. Some people don’t even get wonderful stuff in the first place. So, the second kind really is not so bad. But in general I’m grateful to be a gathering of molecules in this fantastic (if polluted and globally warming) place. I just really cannot be so spoiled as to not appreciate where I am. Also, I’m not cool enough to never smile (or whatever’s in these days), even if I do appreciate some Nine Inch Nail songs. Also, I’m just insanely lucky, and nothing really bad has ever happened to me. And I know about evil, but it hasn’t much entered my personal world.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We agree– there’s a lot to be said for the wonders of experiencing the world. Taste, touch, smell, hearing, sight. There are so many beauties out there. So many novels to be read…

  23. Meredith Says:

    I feel like I never have time to actually think beyond the immediate, so this doesn’t get pondered much by me, but I agree that it is very much a cultural thing–not just by location, but by age, stage, family environment and religion too. The degree to which we just accept what is around us without consideration is affected by so much. Thanks for giving me a chance to push the dirty diapers aside and think beyond the now, even if only for a second…

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I pondered suggesting having kids to this gentleman, but I figure that’s none of my business (and could be an underlying reason for recent choices he’s made concerning his personal life). Kids keep a person busy.

  24. frugalscholar Says:

    i had a colleague–now retired–who said this when I mentioned another colleague going through a “what’s it all about?” moment: “People need to find something to do so they don’t spend all their time thinking about themselves.”

    I feel lucky to be a teacher. That’s why I read all the early retirement blogs, but had no desire to early retire (I’m too old now for that anyway). I like having that structure.

    Perhaps getting rich suddenly (if applicable to the person you spoke with)–and at a youngish age (ditto)–gives one too much unstructured time.

  25. Eli Rabett Says:

    When grading gchem exams. Mostly fruitlessly.

  26. Flavia Says:

    Huh. I’m with you on disliking navel-gazing and people who think that we each have some deeply special purpose to fulfill, but at the same time I do reflect — rather often, though not at great length — on what kinds of things matter to me, what provides me with meaning, and what it means that my conception of the good life has changed over time. And I’m constantly aware of how short life is.

    I consider myself fairly pragmatic and solution-oriented (my spouse had described me as “a fundamentally optimistic person who complains all the time”), so it isn’t about wallowing or mooning about. I think it’s about trying to remind myself to be grateful for what I have and to use my limited time wisely.

  27. rented life Says:

    I reevaluate a lot when I’m unhappy, but not always meaning of life as much as what’s making me unhappy. Diet and weight? Career? Certain relationships? And what needs to/can be done about those situations. (Changing foods I eat, Exploring career options, possibly ending relationships if they are unhealthy or unsupportive–I’m too “old” for useless “friends”) I also married another creative mind and philosophy major, so we spend time on walks, at dinners, in long car trips talking about the bigger meaning of life type questions, but 1) it kills time (6 hour car ride with right topic/questions can turn into a great conversation) 2) we enjoy exploring different views and looking at what makes people tick. We’ve both read different things/had different life experiences so we’re bringing something different to the conversation, which is also nice. A friend of mine described the meaning search as always looking for something new to learn, something new to expand our minds. Mind you, not everyone we know is approaching it that way.

    The guy who recently gave me tons of bad advice does the other kind of meaning searching. In fact he just paid someone $500 to give him life guidance in an hour session. So that he could find purpose.

  28. Laura X (@newrambler) Says:

    I’m a Midwesterner by birth (and still live here, a five year sojourn in the rural mountain West aside). I do sometimes think about life and meaning, sometimes in the context of religion and sometimes not. I still do this even though I have a fifteen month old who doesn’t sleep much. That may be the cause, I suppose.

    I’m confused, though, by your post, in that I can’t quite untangle what you are saying about people searching for meaning versus people with depression. I am also a person with depression, and I have availed myself of a full complement of medical and psychotherapeutic treatments, and sometimes they work, and sometimes they don’t. My mother, who is a psychiatrist, tells me that on average drugs work for about 2/3 of the people with depression. Drugs and therapy work for a few more; ECT for a few more, but there’s ultimately a class of people with depression who are simply very, very hard to treat. While some of them might perhaps benefit from less time spent thinking about meaning and more time in the garden, the nature of the illness means that’s simply not always possible.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Again, we’re specifically not talking about chemical depression, we’re talking about inviting angst in (probably because of boredom). You’re not going to find the solution to chemical depression by trying to find yourself or following some guru. Clinical depression requires real and professional help.

      • Laura X (@newrambler) Says:

        Yes, it does–and sometimes even that help will fail.
        It seems, then, that gurus and self-help and finding yourself are what you are really complaining about, then? That I get. The post read (to me, anyway–and I am chronically sleep deprived) as a blanket condemnation of anyone interested in the meaning of life. And I think the waters around depression are perhaps a bit muddier than you do, but, you know, whatever. I’m a Midwesterner. I can live and let live. :)

  29. Worth Mentioning #33 - I Planting Our Pennies Says:

    […] a somewhat related vein, Nicole and Maggie ponder Man’s Search For Meaning in Part 1 – Which We Do Not Understand.  As usual with Nicole and Maggie, the comments from their great readers are great reading as […]


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