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The Discovery of Meaning and the Search for Purpose

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Throughout my freshman year in college, I have struggled in an endless quest to define myself and to search for meaning in my life. In most cases throughout this endless quest, I provoked internal tension by comparing myself to others who have achieved what I hope to achieve in the future. Such tension is an intrinsic occurrence that many believe is vital to our development as human beings. I discomforted myself in an effort to discover this undisclosed meaning and to better understand the reason for my existence. I had not realized, until now, that such comparisons were unnecessary. Rather than searching for meaning in my life by comparing myself to others, I ought to have found solace in the realization that each and every one of us is unique by nature.

Bearing in mind this realization, we ought to discover our undisclosed purpose from our unique responsibilities, experiences, and attitudes toward debilitating circumstances. We can discover this meaning, firstly, by assuming the responsibilities we have to our faith, partner, or community and fulfilling the tasks resultant of these responsibilities; secondly, by devoting ourselves to a greater cause; and thirdly, through our experiences in difficult times.

Each of us has a certain obligation to his or her faith, partner, or community. No matter what we believe in, we all strive to achieve a spiritual outcome in life, whether it is an eventual afterlife, reincarnation, or other form of existence. By striving to achieve this outcome, either through our actions or prayers, we are able to discover the unique meaning in our lives. Through our faith, we are better able to realize that we have a certain place in history, that we have a purpose and reason to live, and that our unique personalities and abilities serve to supplement the discovery of meaning in our lives.

However, this meaning in life is undiscoverable without that which results from love. Through our love, we are enabled to realize the traits and features of the beloved, as well as his or her potential which is not yet fulfilled. As a result of this love, the potential of the beloved becomes actualized. Furthermore, those who love each other are prone to attain, through their relationship, that which results in the discovery of meaning. Love helps us realize that our lives have purpose - that there will always be someone there for us, and that we are similarly responsible for being there for him or her.

Such responsibilities to faith and partner transcend to those one has for his or her community. In the same way that faith gives us purpose and a reason to live, our communities likewise do the same; in the same way that love renders us responsible for being there for someone, our communities likewise do the same. All of these are means by which we can discover our unique reasons for existence. Our fellow community members, friends, family, and companions see in us what we fail to see in ourselves.

Additionally, we are better able to discover the meaning of our lives by devoting ourselves to a greater cause. More often than not, we focus our energy on the immediate and tangible consequences of an action rather than the enduring effects of that action. The challenge is to surpass the discrepancy between 'self' and 'others' in an effort to become aware of how our actions can influence a greater cause. For example, I am continuously inspired by our country's veterans, all of whom sacrifice time with their families, delay their education, and risk their lives for the greater cause that is the preservation of our freedom. A greater cause may be anything from pursuing an education to serving our country. Devoting ourselves to something bigger than life - by contributing our time, effort, and sometimes safety - brings us to the realization that we have the potential to make a difference and that our uniqueness functions to aid a certain cause in ways that could not have been possible without our devotion.

Such devotion gives us a reason to live and results in the unique discovery of meaning as to what life is truly about.

We may also find meaning in life even when challenged with a despairing situation or when confronting a fate that cannot be altered. In such scenarios, we are compelled to realize our unique potentials and to translate misfortune into triumph. Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, reflected on his experience in Auschwitz with the following: "Has all this suffering, all this dying around us, a meaning? For, if not, then ultimately there is no meaning to survival; for a life whose meaning depends on such a happenstance - as whether one escapes or not - ultimately would not be worth living at all." Frankl's experiences allowed him to realize the value of discovering meaning in all forms of existence, even the most repugnant ones, and thus a reason to endure his situation. Accordingly, we are able to find meaning in suffering through the way in which we respond to it. Everything is able to be seized from us except our will to choose how to respond to a certain situation. Though we are not able to determine what happens in our lives, we are able to control our feelings and our reactions to what happens. Controlling our reactions and reflecting on dire situations is another means by which we can discover the unique meaning in our lives.

The knowledge that there is a reason to live effectively helps us endure the unfortunate circumstances that destabilize our emotional and physical well-being. Such wisdom is prevalent in the words of Friedrich Nietzsche: "He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how." Thus, rather than comparing ourselves to others, we ought to discover our purpose and reason for existence through our unique responsibilities and obligations, our devotion to a greater cause, and our reflections on and reactions to difficult situations.

Looking back at this year thus far, I realize that I had undermined my uniqueness by conforming myself to others who had that which I was lacking - a stellar GPA, a prestigious internship, or an amazing opportunity abroad. Unfortunately, I never realized that I possibly had what they likewise could have been lacking.

Isn't this the purpose of uniqueness?

After all, who would want to live in a world where everyone is similar and no one is different? There's no reason to compare ourselves to others because our lives do not deserve such degradation. We are not meant to live similarly, but rather differently than others. Instead of comparing, we ought to contrast. Each and every one of us is a unique individual. Our responsibilities, commitments, and experiences are unique in every shape and form. It is this uniqueness, not the comparisons, that allows us to realize the meaning and purpose of our lives. We all have our ups and downs, make mistakes, and have regrets, but rather than succumbing to unnecessary comparisons and self-absorption, we ought to realize that our unique differences serve to further the discovery of our purpose, whether we know it or not.