Occasionally, I'll have a client say to me: "My life has no meaning. I need help finding The Meaning of Life"--or some variation of that question. My typical response usually solicits a raised brow, or a quizzical look--I tell my client:
Life's greatest gift is that IT HAS NO MEANING.
Think about it--life is basically just a series of events--"stuff" that happens throughout our life--experiences, right? Life has no meaning...
Until I ASSIGN MEANING TO LIFE EVENTS. Until I assign meaning to the "stuff" that happens in my life.
Here's an example:
You and I can be looking out the window of my office and both witness a car accident. An officer can arrive on the scene and make his way to my office and ask us to describe the accident, describe what we saw. You and I could give two variations of what happened, even though we both witnessed the same accident, the same event. This is because we all, individually, assign meaning, or our interpretation, on life events.
What influences our emotions, like anger, irritation, even depression, is not the "bad" event that happens, but THE MEANING WE ASSIGN TO THE EVENT. For example, a couple may get into a heated argument over leaving the top off of the toothpaste. In reality, the argument is not over toothpaste-- the husband happens to believe that his wife is consciously DISRESPECTING him by leaving the top off. In other words, the husband has ASSIGNED a negative meaning to the plain event, i.e. "leaving said top off of said toothpaste."
Another example is a real life issue brought to me by one of my clients. A husband reported that it irritated him when his wife would run over a small patch of their lawn every time she parked her car in their driveway. After taking a closer look, we discovered that he ASSUMED that his wife was purposely running over that small patch of lawn as a conscious show of utter disrespect to him. After all, she HAD to have noticed the meticulous care he took in making sure their lawn looked like a prize-winning golf course, right? So, we discovered that he really was not irritated at the event (driving her car over the patch of lawn), but that he had assigned a NEGATIVE MEANING to that event ("She's disrespecting me.") which triggered his negative emotion.
So what can we glean from the above information? How can we use this knowledge to attain happiness?
Well, for starters, we need to abstain from ASSUMING anything, especially the intentions of others, in the first place. It turns out that my client had never actually communicated to his wife the fact that running over the patch of lawn irritated him; as a matter of fact, he wasn't even 100% sure that she even KNEW that she was running over the patch. COMMUNICATION is crucial in negating the need to ASSUME, and gives people a chance to express their thoughts and feelings to one another, before negative emotions can get a chance to take root and fester within.
Another thing to take note of is the fact that we have a CHOICE in what KIND of MEANING we assign to otherwise meaningless events. Just as we many times choose negative meanings to events, we can just as easily assign POSITIVE meaning to events. We can CHOOSE to assume the best until proven otherwise. Or we can simply not assign ANY meaning to an event, and thus remain neutral. Many times, I will use the tenets of Constructive Therapy Counseling to help clients reconstruct traumatic events, in essence assisting them in assigning more POSITIVE meanings to otherwise painful events.
Life's greatest gift to us is that it has NO meaning, being a blank slate for us to potentially create wonderful organic Masterpieces of our individual lives.