Monday, March 23, 2009

Thinking About Life's Meaning Again (Part 1)

Late yesterday, I read a comment on last Monday's post by oneofsixbillion (signed cravinglife) that truly touched me. Because it's been a week, and you probably won't see the comment without my mentioning it, I've decided to write a post in response.

Cravinglife had written that my writing and Gianna's (as well as others) have been very helpful, and quoted Viktor Frankl, who's always been an inspiration to me, although I didn't remember reading this particular quote (or the one that follows).
"The purpose of life is to find one's gift. The meaning of life is to give it."
Cravinglife also wrote: "I honestly believe that you all write with such clarity and deep meaning that you truly have found the purpose of your life, and by means of your public writing and of all the readers who benefit from it, you have also discovered your true meaning in life. And for that, I thank you all."

CL ended with a second Frankl quote: "...man's main concern is not to gain pleasure or avoid pain but rather to see a meaning in his life. That is why man is ever ready to suffer, on the condition, to be sure, that his suffering has meaning."

What CL couldn't know was that every time I go through a depression, I dwell on whether my pain and suffering has any meaning whatsoever, and more recently whether I should be writing this blog, or concentrating my energies elsewhere.

And, in fact, it seems like the search for meaning has been my quest ever since my first depression--41 years ago. For most of my life, I have wondered why I can't just be happy, like other people seem to be, and why I have had so much difficulty finding meaning in my work.

As I've mentioned before, when I was younger I had a number of very prestigious jobs, none of which provided meaning. In fact, when I was 27, I was the Art and Antiques Editor for Architectural Digest, one of the most prestigious magazines in the world. It was one of those jobs that when people asked what I did for a living and I told them, their mouths literally dropped open. It was "oh so glamorous" and "oh so unimportant" to me.

After three years, I couldn't stand it any longer and quit. I couldn't imagine that my purpose in life was to work for an art and antiques magazine--no matter how impressive. But, it's not like I had lined up another more meaningful job before I resigned.

The truth is it took months to get my next job. I decided I may have made a mistake in quiting prematurely (another unfortunate pattern) My next few jobs were far less impressive, and didn't have anything to do with a calling. In fact, no one understood why I'd quit, and it seemed to be the beginning of a downward spiral.

Sequeway to the present...When we were in Santa Barbara, I picked up a book, U-Turn: What If You Woke Up One Morning and Realized You Were Living The Wrong Life? by Bruce Grierson.

"Oh, my God," I thought. "Maybe that's my problem. Perhaps I suffer from depression because I'm living the wrong life. I wonder if my quest for meaning is a bipolar symptom or just a personality flaw that I should have come to terms with years ago. What in the world is wrong with me?"

(to be continued)
P.S. Today would have been my father's 88th birthday. "I love you daddy and miss you so much. I imagine you and mama are in heaven together smiling down on me."

12 comments:

Gianna said...

no wise words for you today, Susan...just keep on trucking...I think it's gift that some of us care why we're here...and I think it's normal for some of us, who are not content with the sorts of success most ordinary folk are to take a lot longer figuring out our purpose.

I do feel like in writing and researching and fighting the human rights battle I have found my purpose and I, personally, see you living yours too!

but of course, you need to see that for it to mean anything to you...so I'll leave it to you to tell me if and when it feels like you're living your purpose!!

love to you.

Mariposa said...

Susan...this is such a meaningful post...and I have to read and re-read...because I feel like you were writing what't in my mind. Talking about having the most glamorous job which is so unimportant to us...and I just ranted about my job...just a few minutes ago.

Then, I couldn't describe the emotions that rushed through me reading just the title of the book, then, boom, the next lines...were the exact thoughts running in my head reading that title...

I will look for that book...and hope to find it soon!

And yes, your parents are together now watching over you...so proud of the person you have become...strong, sensitive...intellectual....survivor...and is lving a meaningful life! :)

(((HUGS)))

Not that I think you need it, but I need it...sometimes we have to give what we need to get it, hugging is one! :D

Wellness Writer said...

Dear Gianna,
Thank you. It may well be my purpose. Perhaps I just need to figure out how I fit into the scheme of things. We'll see.

Susan

Wellness Writer said...

Mariposa,
Somehow, I think this issue may resonate for others as well. When I continue writing about it tomorrow, I have some interesting quotes from experts.

But, I'm glad it's helpful to you, and I'll explain more about it tomorrow.

And thanks for the kind words about my parents. No matter what age we are, I think we may always need to get what we give. And a hug feels quite good this morning!

Love,
Susan

marja said...

Hi Susan, This is probably my favorite topic of all - how to find meaning, and especially how to find meaning in a life of struggles. Love that first quote from Frankl. I wasn't aware of that one either, though I've read a lot by him.

I will watch your blog closely as you examine this topic. I myself have been asked to write an article on how I found meaning in my life with bipolar disorder for a mood disorder website. Have started but need to do a lot more work on it. Maybe now I will have the motivation to keep going on it. I'll post it on my blog once it's done.

Glad for you that you had some relaxing time away.

Love, marja

Wellness Writer said...

Dear Marja,
Thanks so much. Santa Barbara was wonderful. I know that your faith provides meaning for you, but I think these quotes may provide some new insight. At least they did for me.

Susan

marja said...

Me again, Susan. One reason I like this quote:

"The purpose of life is to find one's gift. The meaning of life is to give it." - Frankl

...is that it's in total agreement with what my faith is all about. My faith encompasses such thought. It's not a "different" insight at all.

And to give, means giving it your all - perhaps even your life to it.

What juicy things to ponder, eh?

- marja

Wellness Writer said...

Dear Marja,
I completely understand. What I meant was that the quotes I'm going to write about tomorrow may provide insight. We'll see!

Susan

marja said...

Ahh! I see. I'm looking forward.

Oh, you know what? I just emailed my pastor telling how interesting I'm finding it that I get oodles of hits from people googling "meaning of life." It's a topic people hunger for. It's one of the solutions that people with mental health problems are especially searching for. So many of us aren't able to have a career and want to be "something" and do something meaningful. It's a puzzle for everyone, but even more so for those of us who aren't able to work, don't you think?

Wellness Writer said...

Dear Marja,
I absolutely agree about the importance of people finding meaningful work--whether it's for a salary or not.

I didn't realize this is a topic of such great interest, but it does and doesn't surprise me. I'm surprised because it's rarely been a topic of conversation with the people I know. I seem to have been "the only one" who struggled with this.

But, I'm not surprised because it's such a critical question in life. And truthfully I was always surprised more people didn't talk more about it!

Susan

Wendalyn Love said...

Susan,
Wow, this is exciting and I will follow with interest! Maybe this is why "The Purpose-Driven Life" by Rick Warren was on the best seller list for so long. I personally found the book a bit too much for this old depressed gal. Sometimes self-help books leave me worse, not better. They make me think "you mean there is even more I should be doing that I can't do? You mean there is more that I am failing at?" Anyways, keep going Susan!
Wendalyn

Wellness Writer said...

Dear Wendalyn,
You're right about that. We sure don't need to feel worse about ourselves, do we? But, I hope this series doesn't do that!

Susan