What Are People REALLY Searching for?
I've been analyzing the search queries that people are using to search for answers around meaning. Here are a sample list of some of the top ones that get them to stumble upon this blog:
- i can't find meaning in life
- can't find meaning in life
- why can't i find meaning in life
- meaning of life blog
- the meaning of life.com (note: the actual themeaningoflife.com site is a domain name being held for sale)
- why am i here
- i don't find meaning in life
- who am i and why am i here
- finding meaning in life
- meaning of life philosophy books
- struggling to find purpose in life
- feeling that life is meaningless
- there is no meaning to life
The list goes on. First of all, it's interesting that I seem to be quickly becoming the go-to site for people who haven't found any answers elsewhere and are looking for honest-and-intellectual-yet-conversational insights. But, more importantly, you can start to see patterns in what people are looking for based on what they're searching for and how they're searching for it. Analyzing the above and many other search terms that lead people to the site, I've concluded that people who are doing these kinds of searches are looking for a few things:
- Validation – Anyone facing a problem or stressful situation first and foremost is looking to make sure that they are not alone in facing it. In fact, validation might be one of the Internet's main functions (after things like watching videos, gathering information, and shopping). It's good to know that you're not the only one, and you can learn a lot from the experiences of people who have faced it before you. When you wonder what the point is, you are not alone. Unfortunately, you often fall into whichever group holds your opinion about things at the time, which is why validation of thinking that life is meaningless has its risk. Hopefully, this site offsets that risk with a clear set of recommendations that get away from nihilism (i.e., the only philosophy I will come out adamantly against because it's objectively wrong).
- Ideas – Whether it's approaches to find meaning or ideas for what their meaning can be, people are looking for possibilities they haven't thought of. Is it love? Is it service to others? Is it learning? Why? What works for others? While many people would say that people are looking for definitive answers, the truth is that people are really looking for ideas that resonate with them. People pick the one they think is right or works for them. It's not so much about objective truth as it is about what seems to be best for the person.
- Goals/Desires – Most people searching for this are looking for something that gets them to look forward to the future. A goal. An achievement. Something to strive for. Unfortunately, when people are depressed, their desire is suppressed. That's why depressed people often need to be reminded to eat, exercise, etc. The drive is gone. So people need to jumpstart that desire, and the best way to do that is to find something so powerfully attractive that it overcomes the suppressive nature of their emotional state.
- Something to Believe In – Similar to wanting a better future, people have to believe that the future could be better. So people (like Rod Stewart) are looking for a reason to believe or (like Poison) are looking for something to believe in. A cause, a role model or leader, a movement, or a sign. Anything to believe that the future is something to look forward to and not to dread.
- Analysis/Reasoning/Stories – Similar to ideas, people are looking to understand the world around them. Logic, evidence, and stories are some of the most effective means through which people come to that understanding. Whether it's Chicken Soup for the Soul for stories to feel like life can make sense through others' experiences or Kant's Critique of Pure Reason to analyze and reason toward answers, this information can help someone process their experiences and see them through a lens that can help them find meaning.
- Happiness/Fulfillment – Let's face it: people only do anything in this world because they believe that they will be better off from doing it. The easiest indicator of "better off" in human terms is happiness or fulfillment. Unfortunately, many people conflate pleasure and fulfillment and so they take drugs or perform addictive behaviors thinking that they'll make them happy when they're down, but fulfillment comes from growth and thriving, which those activities cannot provide. As such, there are plenty of people looking for answers when what they've been trying to do to become happy isn't working.
- Direction – "Why?" has a few definitions relevant to the meaning of life: the cause, the goal/objective, and the benefits. The benefits, as we discussed before, are usually emotional in the form of happiness or fulfillment. The cause is sought when someone thinks that knowing how life was created will help them understand what their goals and ethics should be (note: this won't make the list because people usually only ask how life was created to get to the goals, so it's not what people are usually really searching for). But, most importantly, people need direction or guidance because life has so many options that it can cause analysis paralysis. This is inverse of the "goals/desires" piece above, which discussed not having any drive. This is more focused on having the desire to do something but having no idea which of the million options to choose from. Research here will help get someone the right direction in which to channel that drive. Note that "direction" can also include ethics because it's not just the right path but the best way to go about it that people want to know so they can make progress as quickly as possible.
- Support through Adversity – Everyone faces adversity in life, and it really does separate the people with the desire and belief in the outcome from those without them. However, no one is immune to feeling some uncertainty, and it can get difficult when a loved one dies, a major setback occurs, or a life path reaches an end (or, worse, a dead end). Many people are searching during that downtime, and it's not so much finding meaning as it is finding someone who has been through the struggle and come out okay on the other side.
There are probably many more reasons, but this is hopefully a helpful starter list to understand what people are searching for. As we've discussed in previous blog posts, the meaning of life is right in front of everyone: growth. Life is growth-centric in that growth defines life, is its purpose, and is how humans judge an achievement's significance (i.e. based on how much a person had to grow beyond all previous limits to achieve it). If that's what people were really looking for, they'd see it, go, "Oh, that's right. Of course. That's all I needed to know," and move on. But they don't. They keep searching.
Why? Because what they are really looking for is one of the above pieces. It's not the ultimate unifying purpose of all life on Earth but one of the many pieces of the puzzle that they're looking for. Growth, experience, desire, belief, emotions, ethics, support, choice. All eight factors are necessary to find meaning and fulfillment, and you can see from the above list that people are looking for things to want, things to believe in, the right experiences to choose, what will make them feel fulfilled, what is the right direction and the best way to go about it, and who or what can help them. They're looking to fill in whatever's missing from those eight components.
If you're one of the people who stumbled onto this blog post while searching for meaning, it's most likely that it's for one of the above reasons and not really because you wanted to know that growth is the point (since you probably already knew that). Hopefully, this will help you focus on which of the eight components you really want to understand in your own life and find answers for that instead of putting so much pressure on this vague, huge goal of "finding the meaning of existence". Chances are, what you're really asking for is much more precise than that.