As I write out and post this particular blog, I want, if I may, both to acknowledge and, if possible, and catch a glimpse of that “something ayont”, with which Robert Louis Stevenson’s “byersman” (see blog dated ) to be on such familiar terms. Maybe – and in spite of what I ‘penned’ in earlier blogs on “Why Me?” and “Not so much “Why?” as “How?””, we have somehow or other arrived at a point where those tentative “whys?” in life not only demand but are capable of receiving an genuine acknowledgement and a meaningful response. Moreover, is it not just possible that such an approach may well take us forward into an entirely new realm of comprehension and understanding about this life, with which in the day-to-day affairs of being and living, we are on such familiar terms?
For one thing, there is growing evidence pointing to a significant reduction in both psychiatric and ‘maladjustment to disaster’ symptoms, among those finding confidence and inner fulfilment in some (to them) credible philosophy of life. For another, it makes for more “quality time” where they can sustain a perception of a thread of purpose holding – and indeed binding – life’s experiences into a meaningful whole. Of course, statements and assertions such as those offered above can be taken seriously only when they are shown to patently possess relevance and value, i.e. where they are evidence-based. So what is out there in the form of empirical support to justify the claims made in the opening paragraphs of this particular blog?
Well, although the idea is by no means a new or novel one, it was the psychiatrist Victor E Frankl who in relatively recent times laid special emphasis upon the thesis that where an individual can be shown a “why?” he/she can endure almost any “how?” Much of Frankl’s account and explanation· found its basis in stark reality; in fact amid the Holocaust of World War II, with which, as a concentration camp prisoner at Austwitch, he was, over a period, so directly and painfully caught up. During those years of torrid and torturous experience, Frankl underwent an abrupt and undiluted initiation in the business of how man could, on the one hand, invent and condemn innocent men, women and children to the gas chamber; yet on the other hand enter it uprightly, boldly and triumphantly, with the Lord’s Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on their lips and with inexhaustible hope in their hearts. Thus it was and is that relatively modern writers and thinkers, e.g. Maslow, Rogers, Jung, Allport, Bart, Tilloch, among many others have come to regard positive psychological activity as a function of perceived meaning and purpose in life. Although such studies are by no means extensive, meaningfulness or purpose in life, is now being related to key aspects of health; physical, psychological and spiritual.
Work recently carried out on behalf of the Economic & Social Research Council reports evidence of a strong positive correlation between poor personal adjustment to bereavement and low scores on both personal meaning and what the researchers refer to as “existential transcendence, i.e. rising above failure, disappointment and loss in life. Studies have also been/are being carried out, which suggest that a lack of meaning in life may be linked to psychopathology, while positive personal life meaning is associated with strongly held religious beliefs, spiritual values, group membership, commitment to some cause or mission and extraneously held interpretations of and values in life, although not necessarily in any hierarchical order. (C) SB.
- Such as “Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning”; “The Doctor and the Soul…” and “Recollections: An Autobiography”.