“About eight months ago," Caroline Zielinski writes in an opinion piece for ABC news, "I did a very scary thing. I quit my job to search for meaning — and it dramatically improved my health."
She goes on:
Friends couldn't quite understand why I was so miserable and so sick: you have a good job, they'd say. It pays well. You can travel.
Logically, I agreed. So, I tried to tell myself that it wasn't so bad, while every day wondering: "Is this all there is?"
As it turns out, I wasn't alone.
Experts are calling this feeling of meaninglessness a "modern malaise that if left unresolved, can lead to symptoms of anxiety, depression, hopelessness, or physical decline".
Since the 1950s, psychologists and doctors have been increasingly interested in how living a purposeful life affects our wellbeing.
Many experts attribute our preoccupation with meaning to the fall of traditional religion, which seems to have left society with a collective existentialist gap.
It's actually difficult to find (Western) ruminations on the meaninglessness of existence before the 19th century, a time when the world was understood to possess intrinsic purposefulness and meaning.
With the absence of organised religion and increasing isolation from community, we're often trying to fill the vacuum with what we think defines the 21st century: work, productivity, efficiency — and money.
The problem is, it doesn't seem to be working.
Isn't that telling? Christianity used to infuse Western society with a deep sense of purpose and destiny, letting people know that they were here for a reason, their lives had meaning and they were eternal creatures with an existence beyond physical death.
Our modern, secular society offers no direction beyond the bleakness of you are here by chance, evolved from pond scum, there is no God, your life has no meaning and your soul has no future – in fact you probably don't have a soul.
No small wonder that people are committing suicide in droves, making selfish decisions that harm others in their desperate fight for happiness, and experiencing depression and anxiety on an epidemic scale.
Without God, none of life makes any sense and none of it matters.
Like King Solomon discovered thousands of years ago: "Vanity, vanity, it all is vanity." All the money, all the pleasures, all the opportunities, all the intelligence don't give your life meaning unless you have a deep sense of belonging, the security of unconditional love and an awareness of your eternal destiny.
This is what Christians mean about the "God-shaped hole in your heart" that can't filled by anything else.
True satisfaction can only be found in relationship with your loving Creator.
"I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind," Solomon explains (Ecclesiastes 1:14) but by the end of the book he concludes, "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter:
"Fear God and keep His commandments, For this is man's all.
"For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil." (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).•