Colegiul National "Moise Nicoara" Arad

NOWADAYS’ TEENAGERS AND THE MEANING OF LIFE

Phd.   Anca Mustea

                                                 “Vasile Goldis” Western University, Arad

Introduction

            The meaning of human existence is one of the oldest issue put forward by various religions, philosophies or other thinking systems. From a psychological perspective we are interested in the significance people attribute to both, the life course, and the daily activities and events. The confrontation with the lack of meaning of life as well as the lack of meaning of life events is leading to the development of „noogenic neurosis”, as Viktor Frankl calls them. (2008).

Levels of meaning

            The concept of meaning has multiple levels. We can talk about a meaning of life as the ultimate goal of the whole human life. The meaning could refer, as well, to the significance of daily activities, the significance of life events, the coherence of the universe functioning. A special attention should be given to the meaning of the suffering.

            Crystal L. Park (2005) differentiates between (1) the global meaning and (2) the meaning making process. For her, the global meaning refers to the general significance of life, including beliefs, goals and subjective emotional experiences. The global meaning is important for the daily activities as well as for overcoming periods of adversity. According to this global meaning people interpret daily activities, evaluate the achievement of their goals and the satisfactions that comes with this accomplishment.

            Global meanings refer to those ideals, states and objectives that are most important for humans and which they tend to attain and keep. Such goals concern relationships, work, wealth, health, knowledge and accomplishments. From the global goals are then long and short term goals derived.

            Usually, the global meaning systems are involuntary build, acquired from the cultural environment (through parents, teachers, mass-media, and other cultural agents) and through the personal experience gathered in time (Park, 2005).

            The second component mentioned by Park (2005), the meaning making process, is extremely important for the understanding of the dynamic of meaning. Usually, people think they have control over their own lives, that the world is just, that other people are also good people, that bad things don’t happen to good people, that God is good and he is protecting them from harm. They also have, most of the time, the impression that they are on the good track in attaining their goals and achieving the things they consider the most important. According to daily events, people assess and sometimes reformulate their daily goals, relating them to the global goals the current circumstances (expected or unexpected). Therefore, the goals we set and the feeling of having a meaning in life and of being significant are permanently assessed and reformulated according to what happen to us.

            The greatest difficulty and challenge faced by man in relation to finding a meaning is the suffering. The occurrence of traumatic events (diseases, the loss of a dear person, the loss of an important thing) leads to the violation of global goals and beliefs (fairness/ justice or invulnerability). In suffering, people face the loss of meaning (Park, 2005; Frankl, 2008).

            In this context the process of reestablishing the significances is necessary (Park, 2005). Sometimes only the restructuring of the significance of an event is necessary. Other times it is necessary to reestablish the significance at the life meaning level as well as those concerning the life events, different activities or objectives.

The meaning from the perspective of the existential analysis

            From the perspective of existential analysis, whose father is the Austrian psychologist Viktor Frankl, previously mentioned, there are two ways of considering the meaning (Furnică, 2004).  On one hand we have the ontological meaning, „the meaning in itself”, proposed by Frankl, and, on the other hand, we have an existential meaning „the meaning for me”, proposed by Alfried Langle.

            According to Frankl, the meaning of each one derives from a super meaning, that for him is God: „… so as the meaning derives, in Frankl’s conception, from a «super-meaning», from a supreme meaning, so do the values, in the same conception, only gain «the value» by reference to the  «absolute value» which is the divine itself.  In other words, God is as well the «super meaning», as the «absolute value», and still from him, in the form of «a voice of transcendence», we are given the consciousness  – «organ of meaning» – with the help of which we find meaning in each individual situation, by fulfilling values.” (Furnică, 2004, p. 83).

            If Frankl’s perspective is an idealist-Platonic one, where „at the beginning is God and God is the meaning” (Furnică, 2004, p. 84), Langle has a rather empiric-Aristotelian approach. For Langle the man is the one to create the meaning: „the human being is the one who can attain the meaning, the meaning being conceived from this perspective as aposteriori, and in the end there remains the openness towards God.„ (Furnică, 2004, p. 84)

            Whatever option is adopted, from an existential perspective the meaning is inextricably linked to values. The access way to the meaning are the values. The discovery of the meaning is possible through the discovery of values.

Description of the project

            The Psychological and Transdiciplinary Intervention Center from Western University  „Vasile Goldiş” of Arad, Faculty of Educational Sciences, Psychology, Physical Education and Sport, in partnership with „Moise Nicoară” National College from Arad, have organized the project „Today’s young people and the meaning of life”. The project took place during the period 14.11.2011-18.12.2011 and included five workshops where topics such as the following were debated: the need for meaning and the danger of „existential vacuum” that today’s young people are confronted with, the meaning of suffering, the search for personal and universal meaning, and a search for meaning project proposal realized by the all the participants.

The motivation of the project

            In the current society, based mostly on materialism and consumerism, the crisis due to lack of meaning is more and more accentuated. In these conditions, the young people are more often confronted with the „existential vacuum”, as the Austrian psychologist Viktor Frankl used to call it. Frankl emphasizes the idea that the existential vacuum cannot be filled neither with material good, nor with entertainment activities, that our current society is oriented toward, but its persistence could lead to the development of a neurotic disorder.

            Teenagers and young adult in Romania today face, on the one hand, the age specific emotional roller coaster, and on the other hand, the lack of meaning and living difficulties of the current crisis. However, the higher risk for the youth, in confronting the lack of meaning, is represented by suicide thoughts and attempts.

            The project „Today’s young people and the meaning of life” aims to develop the youth’s orientation towards the search for meaning in life, as well as in all activities carried out, respectively in the positive and negative events that life puts before us. This project was constructed and organized following a transdisciplinary view on knowledge. According to this perspective, the authentic understanding is the result of combining external knowledge with the inner experience of the person.

The objectives

            The project „Today’s young people and the meaning of life” has pursued the following objectives:

  • Students to acknowledge the importance that searching/ finding meaning of daily activities and life has in order to live a healthy life;
  • Students to acknowledge the danger represented by the lack of meaning in today’s society;
  • Students to develop an orientation towards searching and finding a meaning of life events and daily activities.

The participants

            The participants to this project were ten high school students from „Moise Nicoară” National College and ten college students from the Faculty of Educational Sciences, Psychology, Physical Education and Sport from Western University „Vasile Goldiş” of Arad, department of psychology.

The venue

            The project activities were conducted at the Faculty of Educational Sciences, Psychology, Physical Education and Sport from Western University „Vasile Goldiş” of Arad, 1-3 Praporgescu Street, room 5.

Activities

            The activities were based mainly on self-awareness exercises. They have targeted the active involvement of the participants in discovering the meaning. The exercises aimed:

  • Identifying the values of young people
  • Identifying the meaning of various activities
  • Identifying the young peoples’ global objectives, as well as the short term ones
  • Identifying the meaning of unpleasant or traumatic events
  • Creating links between different levels of meaning.

Project coordinators

lect. univ. dr. Anca Mustea, Faculty of Educational Sciences, Psychology, Physical Education and Sport, Western University „Vasile Goldiş” of Arad

lect. univ. drd. Radiana Marcu, Faculty of Educational Sciences, Psychology, Physical Education and Sport, Western University „Vasile Goldiş” of Arad

professor Mirela Mureşan, „Moise Nicoară” National College from Arad.

Results

            Since the first meeting there was a very good collaboration between the high school and college students. All participants were very seriously involved     in solving exercises, debating and discussing what is important for youth today. At the end of first two meetings, we can say that all participants have come to acknowledge the fact that all activities and events we face in life have meaning, even if we are not always able to realize this.

Another challenge for participants was the question of the meaning of the suffering. After discussing some examples, the students were able to identify, in their personal life, negative events that proof to have a meaning and which were source knowledge about themselves and others.

            The end products of this project are the project written by the students in order to be applied among their colleagues. Thus, all students realized a project aiming to stimulate the search for meaning among their fellows. The project realized by the students from „Moise Nicoară” National College will be implemented by them in master classes of ninth grade, enrolling in the wider program of value education. The project undertaken by the college students will be implemented during extracurricular students’ activities from Western University „Vasile Goldiş” of Arad.

References:

Frankl, V.E. (2008). Teoria şi terapia nevrozelor (Introducere în logoterapie şi analiza existenţială). Bucureşti: Editura Trei

Furnică, C. (2004). Evoluţia conceptului de „sens” în analiza existenţială. Analiză existenţială: Culegere de texte de analiză existenţială, vol VII, nr. 4, pp. 82-85.

Park, C.L. (2005). Religion and meaning. In R.F. Paloutzian & C.L. Park (eds.) Handbook of the Psychology of Religon and Spirituality. New York: The Guilford Press

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