Self-Transcendence as a Source of Meaning

Having a purpose to live for can enhance meaning in life. Countless books and article have been written on this subject. Perhaps the most famous "religious" book on this subject is the The Purpose-Driven Life by Rick Warren. (I don't endorse this book for everyone; my research over ten years has shown that many people do not need a purpose to achieve a meaningful life.) One thing that can make purposes so meaningful for some people is that they are transcendental in nature—the purpose or mission is more important than we are as individuals. This means we turn away from a primary concern for ourselves and toward a concern for something or someone else. In his book, Viktor Frankl's Contribution to Spirituality and Aging, Melvin Kimble tells a story about a group of Jews fleeing Germany during the holocaust:

Having to cross a mountain pass to reach safety, some of the older members began to tire and give out, asking that they be left behind rather than slow down the group. A number of younger people, fearing their own safety, were willing to agree. A wise young person responded by saying, "We realize that you are tired and infirm and that you just want to sit down and rest. But we have these young women with their babies and they are so tired from carrying them this far. Will each of you take a baby and just carry it as far as you can before you give out? Then we'll leave you there." Everyone in the group made it across the mountains.

Those of us who choose to live for a purpose may believe that we have a special mission or calling in life. Some of us even may view this mission as constructed for each of us by God. In this sense, we do not create a mission, but rather we try to discover the one or ones already created for us by God. The question becomes not what we expect from life, but what God expects from us. The negative aspect of this view might point toward an uncomfortable idea of predetermination, but the positive aspect is its optimism that our mission does exist and "all" we have to do is to find it.

The Practice of Love

The meaning-power of love is obvious if we take a moment to realize how uncommon it is for someone who is deeply in love to say that his or her life has no meaning. So, if we love God or a higher power, we may experience increased meaning in our lives. Furthermore, there is another meaning-producing benefit from this "sacred" love. If we love God with all our heart as advocated by some religions, this love often does not stay confined to God—it often extends to other areas of our lives. Moreover, when this happens, often the love is returned to us, thus increasing the meaning power of the original love we had for God.

Part Two of this article will emphasize how you can increase meaning in your religion by applying knowledge of your culture and personal psychological characteristics such as personality.