The 4 Basic Needs to Understanding the Meaning of Life

Here’s a couple of questions …

1. Who is the most free?

2. Who is the most happy?

… Someone who is not afraid to fail or suffer, and has done so … or someone who feels in control, aiming for and achieving success but living with the fear of failure?

Freedom, success and happiness are not necessarily inter-dependant, but if you can truthfully understand what freedom really means, and what your life means to you, then you can have freedom, success and happiness – combined.

All too often we can lose track of creating our own life, where we experience a sense of meaning and purpose, and all too often we find that time has passed us by, and we are not now where we thought we would be when we imagined it ten years ago.

In fact, we might find ourselves in exactly the same place, living an automated life, repeating the same patterns and behaviours, the same routines, with the same outcomes, and quite possibly we are psychologically, emotionally, spiritually and even physically shut down.

Experiencing depression, anxiety, feelings of guilt, anger, phobias or physical symptoms can all be down to not living a life of personal meaning, instead embroiled in simply trying to manage life.

If this is the case, then there is a need for a certain type of therapy, where you can get to grips with the very real need for meaning and purpose … Existential therapy fits this bill, and helps you consider your life in a refreshingly real way.

There is no lens of diagnosis when working in this way, but more so the possibility of an exploration, coming from the idea that …

  • Life is uncertain, and in learning to accept this you can live deeply and richly.
  • Finding out your philosophies of life, what you believe and value, can naturally free you to find answers and make profound changes.
  • Exploring the present and the future, and the meaning you give to the past, can change and free you up to future possibilities.

What is important is Existential therapy is understanding your meaning.

Roy Baumeister (1991) in his book Meanings of Life, reviewed theories of meaning and concluded that there were four basic needs in connection to meaning.

  1. The need for purpose: that what we are doing amounts to something. The sense that things are done for a reason.
  2. The need for value: what we do matters to us and to others.
  3. The need for efficacy: to feel capable and able.
  4. The need for self-worth: To feel you are a good person and that you do things that confirm this.

Good therapy should inspire deep reflection and help you make sense of these meanings of life, so that you can be ‘you’, and understand more of how you can live.

To learn how you can begin to work with your clients existentially, join us on The Existential Workshop, where you will explore the fundamental aspects of your own meaning and purpose, and in so doing, know from personal experience the way of working with your clients that will enable them to do the same.



Written by 

Sandra Westland is a Founder and Director of Contemporary College of Therapeutic Studies. She runs workshops and lectures across the world in a variety of psychological approaches. She is a bestselling author of 5 books and maintains a private practice in Essex, UK.

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