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Life Mantra
Anu Goel
Attitude holds the key to meaning 04 July, 2013
How often do we come across young people going through the motions of their life with a meaningless given-up-all-hope sort of attitude? We all have to engage with the question of meaning, or the lack of it, at some point in time. The feeling of lack of meaning in life is at the root of a large share of psychopathology.

Many young adults are unaware of their need for meaningful living. These youth carry a feeling of deep emptiness and they undergo a period known as existential vacuum (Frankl, 1984). It is characterized by a kind of directionless boredom. This state underlies depression, aggression and addiction, suicide, anxiety, and delinquent behavior. Alienated from family, peers or society, adolescents often find that search for meaning becomes impossible.

Meaning refers to “making sense, coherence, or order out one’s existence and to have a purpose in life or a goal worth living and striving” (Reker, Peacock, & Wong, 1987). Young people find meaning in the efforts to form cherished relationships, create stable identities for themselves, and to be generative and genuine (Erikson, 1963). Adolescents can also achieve meaning by in the setting of goals and in anticipation of possibilities (Reker, et al., 1987).

A number of trials and tribulations that adolescents usually experience are similar to the existential concepts of increase in freedom, exercising choice, dealing with responsibility, awareness of their isolation and a quest for meaning. Also, there is a search for meaning which may result in increased anxiety and a sense of personal emptiness (Damon, Menon & Bronk, 2003). The compelling need for “will to meaning” is parallel to the sequence of developmental that a person experiences as he/she moves from selfish emphasis on pleasure (childhood), to interest in power (through young adulthood), and on to complete and healthy maturity, whereby the real origin of happiness are perceived to be meaning and value (Kruger, 2002).  

Adolescents need to be guided by counselors in achieving authentic purpose (AP) which is achieved from anything one has an authentic love or interest for (that does not interfere with others or compromise self). The lack of this purpose is manifested in several instances where adolescents engage in antisocial behavior, suicide, drug abuse, and premature sexual behavior (Hacker, 1994). The need to be a part of various clubs, groups, or cults to deal with feelings of isolation is also noticeable in quite a number of adolescents. In therapy, the counselors guide them by examining patterns of isolation and in exploring ways of dealing with those patterns in real life situations outside therapy. A counselor can be the medium for assisting the adolescent in learning how to establish healthy relations. Regardless of the causes for adolescents’ loneliness and emptiness, there can be no motivation to change until they realize that they are responsible for responding to and overcoming misery.  
Traumatic experiences that adolescents have can result in growth, just as distress and adversity can push someone to develop (Corbett & Milton, 2011). Research suggests that traumas may become a strong factor contributing to positive development, for example, cancer (Taylor, 1983); HIV infection (Schwartzberg, 1994); bereavement (Calhoun & Tedeschi, 1989) and disasters (McMillen, Smith, & Fisher, 1997). These crises give a person the chance to turn their life around and look at new possibilities (Jacobsen, 2006).

A counselor channels the client’s suffering into productive paths rather than alleviate the suffering. The counselor attempts to point out to the client how faulty behaviors and attitudes that they have are related to the suffering of the client (Fernando, 2007). Each time clients lament their life circumstances, the therapist inquires how they created the situation. Having the correct approach towards suffering and life is indicative of one’s reflection on life experiences and of the fact that the person has made sense out of the challenges, dilemmas, and paradoxes that life has brought them. Logotherapy (or existential analysis) tries to create a sense of realization in the client regarding the fact that every crisis makes way for an opportunity to transform oneself and develop a mature outlook.  
(This column has research contributed by Sreepriya Menon)

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
About The Author
Mrs. ANU GOEL is a Counselling Psychologist. She has practiced in Mumbai for 5 years, and is currently practicing in Delhi since the last 7 years. Goel, who can be contacted at 9313320146 and, is a member of the Counsellor's Association of India, and has been a guest speaker on several occasions.
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