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The Mending of a Broken Heart - The Origins of This Book

February 01, 2017

Meaning is not an optional part of existence, in the way that pleasure or power (authority, celebrity, wealth) are. If pleasure is taken away, life simply becomes less pleasant. If power is taken away, life merely becomes more challenging. Take away meaning, however, and what is taken away is nothing less than a reason for being and an important determinant of well-being.

It is my impression, from nearly thirty years of practice, that feelings of meaninglessness are the principal cause of most psychological and physical disease. Those whose lives are without meaning have difficulty coping with the realization of what is lacking in their lives. They tend, therefore, to engage in distracting pursuits, fill their time with trivial detail, or subdue their distress through various forms of self-indulgence or addiction. Moreover, because they find it difficult to live in and enjoy the present, they are drawn emotionally either to the past, becoming mired in regret, or to the future, where they are consumed with anxiety. They are restless, uncomfortable in their own skin, always desiring to be someplace other than where they are.

There came a point several years ago when life dealt me such hardship that I had to answer the question of meaning in earnest for myself. The literature is replete with discussions about how to live a meaningful life. It is virtually devoid of an explanation of what it is about meaning that makes it meaningful—or purpose, purposeful and hope, hopeful—what these emotions communicate to the spirit and why we have them. Consequently, discussions regarding "how" to achieve them often involve at best vague generalizations and lack important specificity.

For me, the investigation of these issues lead to faith in Jesus Christ. Victor Frankl, the great Viennese psychiatrist and founder of Logotherapy, was once asked how he reconciled his practice with his Jewish faith. He replied that the purpose of psychiatry was to heal the soul, while that of religion was to save it. I came to the conclusion, however, that the soul cannot be healed until it is first reformed and that the question of meaning will eventually, and necessarily, beg questions that invoke a consideration of faith.

I have been a behavioral anthropologist, cognitive psychologist and physician. Mending of a Broken Heart looks at the question of meaning from multiple perspectives including medicine, anthropology, humanism, Greek philosophy, eastern philosophy and faith. It shows where each can contribute, where some fall short, and where faith makes unique contributions.

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