Human beings don’t want to be happy. We want meaning.
This simple truth has changed the way I look at the world around me. And it has changed the way I understand others’ behavior—and my own.
The path to meaning is a path of struggle. I believe we instinctively realize this. We know deep down that in this crazy world, we’re not meant to glide through life. The movies we watch, the books we read, and the characters we root for are all centered around struggle.
We instinctively know we should fight. We know that things are not supposed to be easy. We know that true change comes through sweat and tears.
It’s easy to root for a character in a movie. They have a goal. Their goal is something that gives them meaning and a drive to move forward.
But struggle can be a double-edged sword. Struggle can lead us to deeper meaning—or it can cut us deeper than we ever could have imagined.
One of the ways we can strike out with struggle is not to set a goal. When you don’t have a goal… you will not struggle for the right things. Or, you will become apathetic, and you won’t struggle at all. You might think you want a comfortable life, but you don’t. You want meaning. And meaning requires struggle.
The second way we can strike out with struggle is in struggling for the wrong thing. Follow my logic: if you instinctively search for meaning, you will believe in struggling. If you are struggling, it’s easy to believe you are fighting for meaning. Unfortunately, that can often lead to unhappiness.
I believe we are unhappy when we choose to be unhappy, or when we let others take our happiness from us.
We thirst for meaning. But sometimes we can find ourselves suffering for something meaningless. A relationship that isn’t working. A friend who uses us. A career we don’t enjoy. A cause we don’t believe in.
Sometimes it’s easier to keep going. It’s easy to become addicted to suffering. Take an abusive relationship for instance. An abusive relationship is full of suffering. People in abusive relationships always develop coping mechanisms. These coping mechanisms become a way of life. For the victim, they are normal, even though they are not healthy.
It’s not easy to be in an abusive relationship. But it feels easier than leaving. And sometimes, it can even feel noble. The coping methods you develop seem to be struggle that points to meaning. Isn’t the pain worth it for the meaning of the relationship? Or, the relationship you could have?
My fear is that our thirst for meaning causes us to suffer unnecessarily. In an abusive or toxic relationship, a bad job, or a series of poor choices, suffering can masquerade as meaning. We’re all looking for meaning. We crave meaning. We crave a life that expresses purpose, a life that makes a difference. Don’t fall for unnecessary pain masquerading as meaning.
In the end, we know life will be a struggle. In fact, struggle can be an indication that we are on a path toward meaning. But we need to ask ourselves, “what am I struggling for?” and “will this struggle really help me accomplish a worthy purpose?” If you can’t answer those questions, maybe it’s time to get out of the relationship or the job. Maybe it’s time to make different choices. Maybe you’re struggling unnecessarily.