President's Column

Discovering Meaning and Personal Significance

Paul T. P. Wong
Paul T. P. Wong, Ph.D., C. Psych.
Trent University

What is your aspiration for the New Year? Will this be a break-through year for you? Do you still dream of wealth, fame and power? Do you plan to achieve greater success? Or do you yearn for meaning and personal significance in a chaotic and uncertain world?

More than ever before, people are openly talking about their quest for meaning and purpose. These include individuals who are at the top of their games, who are wildly successful in their chosen field. Sept.11 has made them realize the emptiness of having too much to live with, yet too little to live for; they no longer want to be like the proverbial fool who has gained the whole world, but lost his own soul.

The beginning of a new year is a good time to take stock, to reflect. I challenge you to explore five fundamental existential questions: Who am I? Why am I here? How I can find happiness? Where am I going? What is the meaning of suffering and death?

You don’t have to be philosophically sophisticated, nor do you have to be spiritually oriented. At one time or other most people have at least entertained, no matter how fleetingly, one of these questions.

Here is my proposal to you: try to discover satisfactory answers to these questions —answers that will fundamentally change your life. You will not regret embarking on a quest that is as ancient and universal as the human race.

The tendency to wrestle with these existential questions testifies to your humanity and separates you from animals. Answers to these very questions hold the secrets to a fulfilling life, which people all over the world are yearning for.

Who am I? What defines me as a unique human being? What is the true nature or essence of me when I am stripped of all my social roles? What are the core elements of me, which will remain the same even when I have undergone all sorts of changes? What kind of character am I in the unfolding story of life?

Your ability to answer this question is important for safeguarding your integrity in times of rapid change. It can also help maintain your sanity in a personal crisis.

Why am I here? What is the purpose of studying hard and working hard in order to make a living? What is the point of it all?

Your affirmative answer to this question can make life more enjoyable and make pain more bearable. To paraphrase Dr. Frankl, “Those who have a reason for living can endure any adversity of life.”

How can I find happiness? How can I live a life that is worthwhile and fulfilling? Most people have tried to respond to the question “Why am I here” with the answer: “I am here to enjoy life, to find happiness.”

But this answer begs more questions: What is happiness? How can I find it? Why is it that I still feel so empty when I already achieved everything that is supposed to make people happy?

If you can answer this six million dollar question, you will be the envy of the town.

Where I am going? Am I getting nowhere, just like a rat in a treadmill? Which way shall I turn at this crossroad? Am I heading in the right direction? Is there any danger lurking ahead?

These self-doubts even trouble individuals, who are ahead in the race by virtue of their enormous talents and ambitions. If you have a clear sense of direction and purpose, you will be farther “ahead” than the fast but misguided “runners” because these winners will be disillusioned by what awaits them at the end.

What is the meaning of suffering and death? Why this tragedy? Why me? Why should I live and endure suffering and pain? Why should I strive when death will reduce all my achievements to nothingness?

Such questions have haunted all human beings. It would be a real accomplishment if you can find something, some belief that will transcend suffering and death. Then and only then will you be able to stare into the maw of hell and say: Death, where is your sting?

If you search the literature of mainstream psychology, I am afraid that you will not find much help. It is a shame that psychologists have not paid much attention to the larger fundamental questions about human existence.

INPM has been created to fill this void. Our main purpose is to provide helpful information and road maps to all seekers of meaning. More importantly, we want to cheer you on with words of encouragement and songs of hope in your lifelong quest for meaning and fulfillment.

I want to wish all my readers a blessed New Year – a year of recovering your lost dreams and discovering your unique calling.