Where does meaning come from?
The yearn for meaning seems like a reaction to suffering. For me at least, I don’t want the suffering I go through to be meaningless.
And even though I’m not worried about being chased by a lion or my family going hungry, the suffering of chronic stress and mounting performance pressure is still real.
So what can make the suffering worth it? For me it comes down to four things: making a contribution to other people’s lives, having love and intimacy with others, having special experiences that touch the essence of my humanity, and being a person of good character. Not necessarily in that order, of course.
It’s also possible to try to minimize suffering or its impact, which makes sense because less suffering overall leads to less suffering that can be meaningless. This could be through detachment, as eastern philosophy suggests. A more western idea is expressing gratitude for the blessings in our lives.
But reducing suffering can also be done more dangerously, by trying to increase control, elevating our status, or moving toward isolation.
All of these are rational reactions to suffering, but I don’t think they’re all worthy choices.