You may experience down periods in your life where you wonder what it all means. A tragic loss, a major failure, or a brutal setback can deflate your enthusiasm and hope for your future and success. Alternatively, you could just enter a lull period where you lose your zest for life and motivation. Let that deflation consume you, however, and you can just give up on trying to see any kind of meaning or purpose in your existence.
It can be hard to turn this around. If you have been down for a while, you might be wondering, "Where would I even begin to surface what's causing this sense of dread and despair?" Well, fortunately, there are eight main causes that you can diagnose:
The great news is that you are almost in complete control of the above root causes. In other words, your life will be insignificant and meaningless because you deem it to be, and it can be significant and meaningful if you address the above issues.
Significance and meaning are completely relative and subjective. For example, you might think that the planet Earth is significant because it’s so big and you’re so small...but Jupiter is much bigger, so does that make it less significant? And why would size determine significance? Shouldn’t Earth be more significant because it has life growing on it? And is that significance objective, or just relative to the criteria the observer is using to judge significance?
Nothing has inherent significance or meaning, but everything can have the significance and meaning that you assign to it. If you believe that anything in the universe has significance and meaning, then you bring that meaning to it. What that means is that you can also bring the meaning and significance to your life through the same means. If your criterion is size, then you can contribute to building the largest structure on the planet. If your criterion is impact on humanity, then you can study to enter a field that has that kind of impact, such as the medical field to invent new vaccinations or the field of business to create a revolutionary product or service that everyone wants to use.
This raises the fundamental question: which criteria are best for determining significance and meaning? You’re probably thinking that it’s that what you do matters, and by that you probably mean that what you did had impact. But rocks run into other rocks in space all the time—monumental impacts light years away that no one cares about but astronomers. So it’s not about activities that occur or the impact that something has. Like the scene in Dead Poets’ Society where Robin Williams’s character tells his students to tear out the page with the “objective” assessment of how great a poem is, rip that idea of objectively measuring significance out of your mind.
Meaning and significance are completely up to you. Yes, you might use popular opinion to sway yours, such as judging the people you read in history books as completing great feats. But you could also just as easily tear them down if you wanted to: Newton didn't invent calculus and so isn't so great, Freud was wrong about many things, and Tesla wasn't the unsung god-like inventor that had all of his inventions accredited to Thomas Edison. You can choose to agree with how society attributes significance or not.
However, as you might have guessed from the eight reasons above for why life might seem meaningless, there are eight components that you can master to determine what your meaning in life is that are objective, scientific, and as certain as math or physics (at least in formulaic, cause-and-effect terms). Feel free to take the free online self-assessment of these areas here on the site (online or download) to get a baseline for yourself and then either get the book or practice on your own to develop those areas.
Choose to have meaning or choose not to have meaning. It’s up to you, but why live in despair when you can live feeling happy and fulfilled just by changing your worldview?