Shooters have been killing a lot of innocent people in recent years. It’s likely many if not most of them wanted to make a name for themselves – to become famous, even if it meant their deaths. They were searching for meaning, even if it was achieved by committing atrocities.
Suicides have been increasing at an alarming rate. Many people have become discouraged at the lack of meaning in their lives or their own failings, so they choose to end it all.
Most of us crave meaning. Psychiatrist Victor Frankl was imprisoned by the Nazis in various concentration camps during World War II. After the war he wrote a book entitled, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” in which he demonstrated that those who endured their suffering did so not because they were physically strong, but because they had a reason to survive. Their reasons might have included the desire to reunite with their spouses and children, to kill all Nazis or, as in Frankl’s case, to rewrite his book manuscript that had been destroyed by his captors. His realization was that we often find ourselves unable to control what happens to us, but we can control how we respond.
Some follow bullies and dictators not because it makes them happy, but because they gain a sense of meaning from obeying someone who seems so certain about what he wants.
Fortunately, most of us will never have to endure a mass shooting or be so discouraged that we take our own lives. Many people find meaning through their religious beliefs, the need to care for others or to complete some project or purpose.
One reason for the rising depression in our culture is the inability to set proper priorities. Some have sought meaning by piling up wealth or becoming famous. Yet, when rich people are surveyed as to what would make them happy, a high number say that happiness would come if they made a third more money.
Look around your neighborhood. You are likely to see some of your neighbors buying enormous motor homes, or boats, that sit in the driveway, unused for months at a time. Many Americans rent storage rooms that are stuffed with goods, a lot of which they will never use again.
Studies have found there is a set point of wealth that gives people a sense of security. After that number, happiness does not increase much with more wealth.
I have a list of my own priorities that have brought me the deepest satisfaction and have given me a sense of meaning. These priorities are informed by my faith. When I have to choose between conflicting people or issues, I use this list: my spouse first, then my children and grandchildren, then my job and, finally, all the other activities I participate in.
I see a lot of people who put their jobs over their spouses and children. I’ve observed others who choose their children over their spouse. These choices actually send a wrong message to children. Children feel more secure when they know their parents have a strong relationship.
I know a high-powered couple who know how to make money, but they have hired a nanny to care for their children. From my perspective, they have skewed priorities that will not bring them joy and satisfaction when their children reach adulthood and strike out on their own. They are failing to develop the deep relationships and trust necessary for long-term connections.
The Declaration of Independence has given Americans our national thesis statement: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” These are our national priorities that give us meaning as a nation.
We need to set goals and priorities that give our lives meaning and purpose. Many have not done so. As a result, their lives have little meaning. The result is mass murderers, a high suicide rate and growing depression. Victor Frankl was right: “Life is not primarily a quest for pleasure (contrary to Thomas Jefferson’s assertion), as Freud believed, or a quest for power as (Alfred) Adler taught, but a quest for meaning. The greatest task for any human is to find meaning in his or her own life.”