Finding Meaning

2020 has not been my year.

Last week Spouse and I were discussing the state of the world and its problems, and in our personal universe, Cancer now occupies the #3 spot on the Terrible/Awful List.

#3!

That’s how bad 2020 has been.

(If you’re curious, Racism and Global Pandemic “won” the top two).

I don’t think we’re unique in our opinion of 2020. Perhaps you feel the same.

The General Awfulness of 2020 has led me on a quest for meaning.

And I’m determined to figure it out. Here’s a place where I started:

This academic manuscript is old but remains relevant for 2020. Full text is available; the citation is above.

Ostensibly, it’s about cancer, but the messages can be applied to so much more.

Here’s an excerpt from the introduction:

According to theorists, human beings have a “will to meaning,” a fundamental need to seek meaning and fulfillment in life. Meaning has been equated with purpose in life, life satisfaction, and positively valued life goals. Others view meaning as a sense of purpose and coherence in one’s life, and awareness of the value, fragility, and preciousness of life, or the personal significance of a particular life circumstance … Reker has come closest to synthesizing these diverse conceptualizations by defining meaning as “the cognizance of order, coherence and purpose in one’s existence, the pursuit and attainment of worthwhile goals, and an accompanying sense of fulfillment.”

The authors also differentiate between Global and Situational Meaning, using a framework described by Park and Folkman.

Of the two, Global Meaning is the bigger concept. It refers to “people’s basic goals and fundamental assumptions, beliefs and expectations about the world.” Examples of Global Meaning include an individual’s personal beliefs encompassing religion, spirituality and the order of the Universe; these ideas provide a philosophical structure for interpreting the world, adverse events and life purpose.

Situational Meaning is more personal: it’s the interaction of one’s global beliefs and the immediate circumstances of their life, i.e. where the Venn diagram overlaps.

After studying cancer survivors, the authors of the above study developed a Meaning in Life Scale composed of four elements:

  • Harmony and peace: Positive emotions and thoughts connoting a sense of tranquility, serenity and comfort
  • Life perspective, purpose and goals: This is the individualized meaning assigned to oneself and one’s own life. Optimism about the future is a common thread.
  • Confusion and lessened meaning: This is the bad one on the list, and hopefully this is a temporary state. Per the authors, this is “a decreased sense of value to life and a belief that life is a negative experience.” They go on to say that many cancer patients (read: human beings) experience periods of meaningfulness and also periods of meaninglessness.
  • Benefits of spirituality

For me, 2020 has provided more than ample opportunity to search for Meaning.

Perhaps you relate.

And while I don’t have any answers yet, I’m here to learn.