Purpose and Meaning

Depression and Spiritual Growth


How as one proceeds along the road away from mental illness and toward wellness, one must learn new skills, and make some important high-level policy decisions about life.As one proceeds along the road away from illness and toward wellness, one must learn new skills, asfying to the individual and which contributes to the common good?", perhaps I can offer a few observations.nd make some important "high-level policy decisions" about life. For the depressive, this means forsaking incapacity, despair, and dependence. For the manic, it means forsaking arrogance, aggressiveness, and the desire to control. In both cases, at some point the very general question, "What is life all about, anyway?" is raised. This question leads to philosophical discussions that will fill heavy tomes which, in turn, fill whole libraries. Not being a philosopher, I certainly cannot answer the question as posed. But if I am allowed to rephrase it as "How can one lead a life which is sati

First, each of us unique. Except for identical twins, each of us has a unique set of genes in our chromosomes, and therefore a unique biological map for our development from infant to adult. In addition, the development of each of us is influenced by our environment. Even identical twins, raised in the same homes, will necessarily have slightly different life experiences, and will, by the time they are adults, be identifiable individuals. Each of us will have an in-born set of talents or gifts. We may view them as inherited from our parents, or we may realize that for unknown reasons these gifts may be expressed in such a way that some of us seem especially gifted in certain areas, while others have quite different gifts. My own view is that while the genetic component is critical, so is opportunity for growth. How many potential Issac Newtons may have existed, over the centuries, in the warring tribes of Huns and Mongols, and never had the intellectual ambiance in which to flower? And even then, given both similar genetic and cultural influences, why do their gifts blossom into full growth in some individuals and not in others? We do not know (and, in my humble opinion are unlikely ever to know). My own view, supported by years of personal experience (and history!) is that to a very large extent we do not individually control our lives, and that the perceptive person will recognize the almost constant intervention of chance, or, as I would prefer to say, the Hand of God.

Second, although we are unique, we are part of a collective. By that we may mean something as narrow as a language-group, religious-group, ethnicity, biological race, or something as broad as being a member of Homo Sapiens. The larger the collective we consider, the greater variety of individuals are included. The base of talents (gifts) becomes larger, and the culture becomes both richer and diverse. The inevitable consequence of a demand (criterion) for quality in each area of human activity leads to specialization. Such specialization gives each of us an opportunity to excel in what we do, but it simultaneously implies that more and more people must depend on us for that excellence. Therefore society is like a tapestry of our collective interconnections and interactions. If it is to hold together, then every thread must be strong.

My answer to the question posed above is contained in a very illuminating remark someone made to me some years ago.

The purpose of life
is to find ones gift
The meaning of life
is to give it.

This is not a simple "jingle". It is a deep statement, it is our responsibility to search for, and find, our gifts. Then it is our duty to give them, not only so as to honor our responsibility to the community at large by supplying it, but, more important, to get meaning in our own lives.

Let me offer my own life as an example: As a child, I found that in school I seemed to have a talent for "science", and then decided I should like/try to be "a scientist". By the time I got to college, this goal had narrowed to being "an astronomer", and expanded slightly in graduate school to being an "astrophysicist". (Today I have dropped the "astro"part, and work as a physicist.) But as I found, starting even as undergraduate, I also had a talent for teaching: I found I could organize a body of knowledge well, present it verbally in class in a manner that students could (with effort, of course) grasp. Further I found that I could write well, and express even abstract ideas clearly. These days, I think of myself as primarily a teacher. I have taught in universities for 40 years; I tried to teach my research students how to do research by direct contact and example in my own research work; I try to teach my colleagues when I write a paper or book in my fields of study; I try to teach in Meeting by telling those present, truthfully, whatever significant glimpses of the Light I have seen, and what they have meant to me; I am trying to teach you, my reader, at this very moment. I did find my gift, I have spent my life giving it, and despite the pain and chaos of my illness, as described earlier in this essay and its companion, my life today is full of meaning for me.

I end this section on finding purpose and meaning with a quote from T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets.:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
(Emphasis added.)

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APA Reference
Staff, H. (2008, November 22). Purpose and Meaning, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 16 from

Last Updated: March 28, 2017

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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