“Why?”: The search for meaning


Humans. Wonderful, complex, delightful beings.

For all our joys and successes, one of the tough realities about being human is that we all face dark moments in life. We cover them up with forced cheer and programmed responses.  We try to color them in with nice things: a new car or pretty dress. Block them out with big plans: an island vacation or home remodel. Sometimes, some of them work better than others. Sometimes, when we’re really struggling to get by, what we’re often struggling with is to find meaning. The “why.”

“In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds meaning.”
— Victor Frankl, Austrian neurologist, psychologist, Holocaust survivor


Post-traumatic growth

For decades researchers have studied people who have not only survived trauma but thrived in its aftermath. They found that those individuals who fared better and experienced post-traumatic growth did so because they believed it was possible. Belief, known as “internal locus of control,” is based on a person’s belief that their efforts have a greater effect on their situation in life than external factors. As a result of this belief, they challenge themselves to find meaning and purpose in what had occurred. They learn new skills and look for new opportunities to grow.

Society has taught us to associate trauma and PTSD with events like war, violent crime, and natural disasters, but like we’ve mentioned before on Sanvello, trauma can be much more wide-ranging than that. It comes down to our perception of an experience. You might be thinking, “well I haven’t experienced trauma.” That might be true, but it also might not. So, set aside thoughts like, “I should be able to handle this,” or implications that you’re “being dramatic.” Instead, while there is nothing good about trauma or loss, something valuable can occur by being kind to ourselves and being open to self-exploration.

Here’s a journaling exercise to help you explore your own growth. Ask yourself these three questions:

What have you learned? How have you grown? More sensitive, compassionate, patient, grateful, open-minded, flexible?
What are you most proud of about yourself? Holding it together on a Zoom call? Mastering a new recipe? Getting the laundry done? Helping a friend? Exercising?
How has adversity effected your relationships? For the better? Are you closer? Are your relationships stronger?


Supporting others

Resilience and meaning can be achieved through finding purpose, and a great way to find that purpose is through helping and supporting others. We saw this recently as peaceful protesters came out in support of Black lives. We also saw this in the aftermath of the riots as volunteers took to the streets to repair shops, rebuild businesses, create art, host food drives, and offer community support. Meaningful work can help us adjust to a new normal by allowing us to focus on someone or something other than ourselves. Service to others helps gives our lives a sense of meaning and purpose, and it helps buffer against negative emotions like depression, emotional exhaustion, and burnout. Supporting others helps build resilience for the days ahead.

Have you ever stood and marveled at the beauty of a garden in bloom? When we support our communities, when we provide light and air, we create a rich and inviting place for all of us to grow.


Spirituality and faith practices

Religious practices and a belief in something greater than ourselves has been shown to help individuals who have gone through adversity to bounce back quicker and stronger. This may involve some element of forgiveness, staying hopeful, an ability to reject the permanence of suffering, and a knowing that “this too shall pass.”

While religion in the traditional sense may not resonate with everyone, spiritual practices don’t have to look like a traditional religious setting. In fact, that “something greater” could just be the wonder of nature. It could be the universal language of music. It could be art, or mountain biking, or the cosmos, or painting, or the transformation of simple ingredients into unbelievable meals. A spiritual practice can just be something you turn to for restoration and peace.


Creating joy

Meaning doesn’t have to be big. It can be and is often found in life’s smallest gestures. A few years ago, Patty Wetterling reminded the world of that. Her 11-year old son Jacob had been missing since 1989. In the fall of 2016, his remains were found in a Minnesota pasture. In a statement issued on the day of that heartbreaking discovery Patty said this:

“Light a candle. Be with friends. Play with your children. Giggle. Hold hands. Eat ice cream. Create joy. Help your neighbor. That is what will bring me comfort today.”

There, in her unimaginable grief and loss, she encouraged others to honor the memory of Jacob by finding joy in the small things in life. Patty found meaning in her son’s loss by becoming an advocate for children’s safety, as the Chair of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Yes, being human is complicated, heartbreaking, joyful and wonderous, sometimes all at the same time.

Discovering meaning by holding space for ourselves and each other, honoring our own adjustment and self-exploration process through intentionality and attention to what feeds our soul, and being ever so brave enough to look for those pockets of joy in the middle of it all — these are the things that will help us build resiliency, and hope for the days ahead, and maybe, just maybe, help answer “why.”


By Roxane Battle
Vice President Advocacy and Community at Sanvello

Roxane Battle works to raise awareness and destigmatize mental health issues. Prior to coming to Sanvello, she spent 20+ years as a journalist and writer, including work as an award-winning television news anchor and reporter for the NBC Minneapolis affiliate KARE-TV.

As a sought-after speaker Roxane presents on change, resiliency, and finding joy during times of transition. Roxane was named an Architect of Change on mariashriver.com and has been featured in Working Mother and Ebony national magazines, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and St. Paul Pioneer Press.

A Minnesota native, Roxane earned her undergraduate degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. She completed her master’s degree in journalism at the University of Missouri-Columbia

Her self-help memoir, “Pockets of Joy: Deciding to Be Happy, Choosing to Be Free” (Whitaker House 2017), became an Amazon best seller in multiple categories.

Roxane lives near the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes and has an adult son.

Follow her on LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook: @roxanebattle