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The Importance of Finding Meaning In Life: An Existential Crisis

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Jan 10th 2013

The Importance of Finding Meaning In Life, An Existential CrisisWhy has there been an epidemic of mass shootings in recent years? Why is there so much gun violence? Why are so many people addicted to drugs while others sell and distribute those substances? In the last blog these questions were connected to the way we raise our children. What was raised as a particular factor was that children are being brought up without learning any concern about the well being of others. In actuality, the problem is deeper than this and pervades the lives of all of us. The problem is that, for some people, there is no meaning to life. The great 19th century sociologist Emile Durkheim called the feeling of meaninglessness "Anomie. To be more specific, this term refers to a society losing it's norms and values. What develops out of this normlessness is that there is a disregard and violation of the law.Ethics and standards of behavior and belief disappear. People feel alienated and disconnected from other people.

Anomie is connected existentialism in which people feel lost because there lives are found to have no meaning. The famous existentialist writers, Albert Camus, wrote a novel existentialist novel called "The Stranger." In the opening scene the main character states that "Today his mother died...or was it yesterday...I don't know." How could he not know? Because his life and that of others has no meaning. He is in a state of anomie. Later in the book he shoots and Arab man and is brought to trial. The prosecuting attorneys are more concerned that he does not cry than about the death of the murdered man. Again, the reason for this is that life has no meaning.

Thought about this way, there should be no surprise that there are mass shooting and violent crimes. For many people in this modern world, life has lost any meaning.

This does not mean that everything is hopeless. Positive Psychology teaches us that people can build meaningfulness into their lives. There is a wonderful psychology web site devoted to positive psychology called "Greater Good." "Greater Good" explores the "science of a meaningful life." What they do is to publish the latest findings with regard to a meaningful life. For instance, one of the pieces of research that they reported found that compassion and kindness help build an inner sense of morality and a moral self concept. Basically, kindness, generosity and compassion make us happy. Included in this is gratitude because it helps build stronger relationships.

It's important that children be trained to show these positive characteristics and behaviors. In this way, children need to learn cooperation and service to others who are less fortunate.

More of this will be discussed in later blogs. The main concept to be taken from this article is that it's vitally important for all of us to build relationships to others and to society. This connectedness could go a long ways to overcoming anomie.

Would the recent tragic mass shootings have occurred if gunmen had a sense of belonging and meaningfulness in their lives?

Your comments are encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD


Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

Existential crisis for sure - Kevin - Sep 6th 2014

Most of the people I know who are depressed and on SSRI medication for their depression insist that it's a "chemical imbalance" in the brain, and for that reason they need corrective pharmaceuticals. Yet they are just repeating a marketing line, a nifty justification for taking "happy pills."

All of the depressed people I know are upper middle class, employed, and in relationships. Generally, however, I've noticed that they are far from fulfilled. They hate their work, and have become distant from their significant other. Usually they've chose the wrong kind of work, and the wrong spouse, but don't want to change any of that. So they mope around and believe that there's something "chemically" wrong with their brains because they hate their jobs and their significant others.

In other words, their lives have no meaning because they've failed to give it any. The only meaning their lives have is to try to be happy in spite of the bad decisions they've made.

That's my two cents' worth on depression.

Interesting article - Bunny - Jan 15th 2013

I believe that a sense of "anomie" has plagued our world, furthermore persons who engage in violent behaviors most times don't value life or don't know how to deal with personal problems. I believe its a chain of unfortunate events that lead people to commit crimes. It is up to the family members and teachers to take up the mantle of teaching children how to deal with all aspects of life. Its true that not all individuals will willing accept proper socialization but we could only hope that whatever teachings or positive life experiences that they had, would be imprinted in their conscience and would later serve as a moderator or guide for whatever situation they encounter.

Logotherapy and Meaning in Life - Batya Yaniger - Jan 11th 2013

I agree with your assessment of the situation in society today. Logotherapy is a psychological approach that is focused on helping people find meaning in life, a topic psychology generally stays away from. I'd love to write a guest post about it. Thanks for writing about this important issue! Batya

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