In my 25+ years as a clinical psychologist at the Smart Therapy Centre I have seen countless people struggling to find meaning in their lives.
When we lack meaning it is easy to become unmotivated, flat, anxious, envious, angry and despairing. These emotions really get in the way of having an enjoyable life.
In my experience, the problem is that people often look for meaning within themselves and their own ambitions rather than looking for meaning out in the wider world. As Archimedes said ‘rise above yourself and grasp the world’.
There are huge contributions to be made out in the wider world that provide massive amounts of meaning if we get stuck into cooperating and helping. For example, here is a cause that I believe is extremely meaningful and important.
Our closest living relatives, Bonobo chimps are barely surviving in the Congo and are almost extinct. Bonobos are so very similar to us, smiling exactly as we do, often walking upright, having friendly face-to-face sex, and they can make stone tools and use them for cutting.
There are many other tasks that Bonobos can easily do if they are simply raised within human culture. For example, they can gather firewood, as well as light, maintain and put out fires. They can draw symbols to communicate through written language, and they can easily respond to complex human language by taking instruction over the telephone. Perhaps they are something similar to what used to be called the ‘missing link’ in evolution showing huge resemblance to early hominids like ‘Lucy’.
It would be a huge travesty if Bonobos became extinct on our watch.
But there are countless causes we can get involved in – from saving Bonobos to preserving the Amazon rainforest, from improving renewables to narrowing the economic divide, and so on. With our large brain, I believe we have a huge ethical responsibility to protect other species and people who are unable to advocate for themselves.
Meanwhile, when we look wider than ourselves as individuals and help create a better world we find real happiness and meaning derived from our cooperation and contribution. And sure enough, when I work with people who have found ways to contribute to a better world, I am always impressed how this enhances their own lives and happiness.