By A.J. Drenth
In my recent post, The Problem of Truth and Meaning in Modern Life, I discussed the fact that, in modern life, the task of discerning or creating meaning has in large part fallen on the shoulders of the individual. I also described the daunting nature of such a task, especially when rushed, inter-rupted, or impeded by the demands of modern life. What I failed to do in that post, however, was explore how we, as individuals, might practically approach the task of finding purpose and meaning in life. In this post, which is the first in this series, we will explore two important elements in finding meaning, identity, and purpose in life. These include formulating a metaphysical/ religious stance and discerning/ understanding one’s personality type.
The Role of Metaphysics/Religion
Humans have long been intrigued by questions about our origins. We are curious to know where we came from, what our essential nature and purpose is, and where we might be headed as a species. To address such cosmic questions, no small number of creation myths, religious narratives, and more recently, scientific accounts, have been proffered for our consideration.
While theories such as the Big Bang and Darwinian evolution have in certain ways supplanted traditional religious conceptions of human origins, many thinkers have noted that scientific accounts do not necessarily resolve metaphysical questions. The question, for instance, of exactly what drives or directs evolution is (and may always be) debatable, and how we answer it is largely dependent on the metaphysical assumptions we bring to the issue (e.g., Whether we consider consciousness/ mind a fundamental feature of life versus a by-product of certain arrangements of matter. Whether we believe in free will or determinism.).
Regardless of one’s particular orientation, the fact remains that we are disposed to consult metaphysical or religious explanations for the sake of clarifying our identity and purpose in life. Moreover, metaphysical notions can provide some degree of moral support, inspiration, and sense of wonderment toward life. For some folks, this is true of even broad (or some might say “vague”) ideas such as “the life force,” “the will to life,” “the creative advance/ impulse,” and the “courage to be.” Such notions have proved of great importance to thinkers like Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Hegel, Bergson, Whitehead, and Tillich; Jung also seemed sympathetic to such ideas. More recently, the popular theorist Ken Wilber has continued work along these lines.
In the end, while not always the most critical element in finding personal meaning and purpose, where an individual falls along the theological or metaphysical spectrum (e.g., theism, atheism, panentheism, pantheism, agnosticism) cannot be dismissed as irrelevant or unimportant.
The Role of Personality Typology
Although many people have not studied typology and do not know their personality type, I have argued that typology is a helpful and expeditious means of understanding ourselves, our strengths (and blind spots), and the sorts of roles, careers, and relationships that might suit us. I have likened personality type to a roadmap, a guide to understanding the basic structure and propensities of our personality. Myers-Briggs typology can expedite our search for self-knowledge in a way that few other tools can, preparing the grounds for cultivating a deeper sense of meaning and purpose in our lives.