Find Meaning – Even Kids Seek It
By Shlomo Maital
Writing in the New York Times’ Sunday magazine (Oct. 19 issue), KONIKA BANERJEE (Yale grad student in psychology) and PAUL BLOOM (Yale psychology professor) make a powerful, simple point. It is a basic fundamental human drive, to seek meaning – to find meaning in the events that happen to us, right from early childhood.
In research to be published in the leading journal Child Development, the scholars found that: “even young children show a bias to believe that life events happen for a reason — to “send a sign” or “to teach a lesson.” This belief exists regardless of how much exposure the children have had to religion at home, and even if they’ve had none at all.” Other studies confirm that our search for meaning is independent of religious belief. Atheists, too, need to find meaning.”
The researchers caution us that this desperate search for meaning – the belief that there is order and purpose in the world, that it is not ‘aleatoric’ (random) – can lead us into error:
“But it can lead us into error when we overextend it, causing us to infer psychological states even when none exist. This fosters the illusion that the world itself is full of purpose and design.”
Sometimes, life is indeed random. Take the stock market, for instance. A lot of its movements are random. But ‘experts’ always find an explanation, mostly wrong.
In his book Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor E. Frankl showed how finding meaning in the most desperate context (in his case, a concentration camp) can keep us alive. I often quote Apple guru and VC Guy Kawasaki, who counsels entrepreneurs to “Make meaning, not money”. In other words: Create value in the world, and the money will probably follow.
People who have serious illnesses, for instance, often seek (and find) meaning in their suffering. They emerge from the illness resilient, strong and hopeful. Meaning creates hope. And hope creates strength, often beyond what we could previously imagine.
So, continue to seek meaning. Find meaning in your life, in your relationships, in your startup. And frankly, it doesn’t matter that much if you’re right or wrong about your theory. And recall the two scholars’ last line — finding meaning does not mean you become passive. The opposite – we MAKE meaning by our actions:
“ … the events of human life unfold in a fair and just manner only when individuals and society work hard to make this happen.”