Finding Meaning by Serving Others - The Federalist
While the recent presidential election shone a light on the alienation and disengagement many Americans feel, the signs have been evident for some time. A growing number of men are idle, neither working nor looking for work. The opioid addiction crisis, which killed four times as many people last year as it did in 2000, rages on. Just last spring, the Centers for Disease Control announced that the suicide rate in this country had reached a 30-year high.
These trends have been attributed to everything from income inequality to declining religious attendance, and social scientists will continue to puzzle over them in the years to come. But their research has made one thing clear: our country is facing a crisis of meaning.
Human beings are creatures that seek and yearn for meaning. We all want to know that our lives amount to more than the sum of our experiences, that we are significant in the grand scheme of things. Unfortunately, though, millions of people are struggling today to understand what makes their lives worth living. According to the CDC, four in ten Americans have not discovered a satisfying life purpose, and nearly a quarter of Americans do not have a strong sense of what makes their lives meaningful.
Despite all this, there is reason to hope. Social scientists have found that our society is in the middle of a major cultural transformation, moving from a focus on “material” concerns like money and consumer goods to “spiritual” ones like purpose and community. All across the country, medical professionals, business leaders, educators, clergymen, and ordinary people are changing the institutions in which we live and work in order to help us lead deeper and more generative lives. They’re building “cultures of meaning” that bring people together, keep them engaged, and help them contribute to their communities. And their work is paying dividends.