Hidden Function of Procrastination: When We Fail To Process

Man sitting procrastinating

“If there is meaning in life at all, then there must be meaning in suffering.” — Victor Frankl

One of the strongest predictors of happiness in life is the presence of close, meaningful relationships with others. This is supported by the longest research study on human happiness to date. Conducted by Harvard University, the study spanned nearly 80 years, providing compelling evidence that social connections are crucial for a fulfilling life. Findings from the study have since been discussed in the book The Good Life: Lessons from the World’s Longest Scientific Study of Happiness.

Even though these findings speak volumes, I cannot help but feel that meaning in life almost trumps all else — relationships, health, vocation, and purpose. My reasoning is that if you do not believe your life is meaningful, and that there is meaning to your existence, then why on earth would you care about doing things like building close relationships, looking after your health, or pursuing a purpose-driven career?

Unfortunately, I do believe we are heading for a meaning crisis. The lack of meaning people are experiencing today, particularly the younger generations, is a key contributing factor to the profound unhappiness, loneliness, disconnection, distraction, and increased addictive behaviours in the world today. What has changed? What is contributing to this profound lack of meaning in people’s lives? 

As with most human-related things, there is no one simple answer — it’s complex. I would argue some of the key contributing factors are the overemphasis on individuality and the disentanglement of our religion/spirituality

In the 1960s people actively pursued meaning, whereas today, there is little attention given to meaning in life. In fact, the message today is, hustle hard, find your purpose-driven career, make your millions, set those boundaries, make “no” your stock standard answer, choose your own category of what you want to be and if anyone objects, stand up for yourself, take them down. Individuality breeds tribalism, and tribalism breeds hate and “otherness”. But I will try not to go down that rabbit hole today — it is deserving of its own article! 

In addition to all this, we are now, more than ever, so distracted from ourselves, each other, and life. Unfortunately, through our constant need for excitement, distraction, stimulation, and busyness, we run further and further away from our meaning. You cannot find meaning in seeking it externally from yourself. You have to go inwards first. Become quiet. Listen.

I fear that with technology advancing at such a rapid pace, we might be losing our grip on what truly gives our lives meaning. Don’t get me wrong — life with AI does excite me (I’m a geek at heart, so no judgments here). But I worry that in our enthusiasm for the ease and comfort that AI promises, we may not fully understand the trade-offs we are making

Take, for example, an AI app designed to replace a menial job. At first glance, this seems like a fantastic innovation, freeing people from repetitive tasks. However, that “menial” job might have given someone a sense of purpose, a routine, and a way to contribute to others. Picture an elderly janitor who finds pride and fulfilment in keeping a school clean. For him, it is not just a job — it is a meaningful part of his life. One through which he feels valued, connected, and seen.

But what really is meaning? Is it not the same as purpose? Nope, it isn’t. 

Prof Arthur Brooks, a lead researcher and academic in the field of happiness, explains meaning as comprising three key elements:

  1. Coherence — a reason for why things happen in life. It does not have to be true, but you need to have a reason for explaining the inexplicable things in life.
  2. Significance — you need to feel that you matter.
  3. Purpose — is having intentional directionality in life without any attachment to the outcome. In other words, you have a clear goal and direction for your life, but you are not hung up about whether you end up achieving that goal.

Starting with coherence, this is where religion comes into play. What matters here is not so much about the specifics of your belief, but rather the act of believing itself. Religion provides coherence by offering explanations when life doesn’t make sense, giving hope, inspiration, motivation, connection, and direction.

Religion also reminds us of our mortality. Unlike other animals, we are conscious beings with the unsettling awareness that our lives will one day end. Imagine if animals had this awareness — deer constantly hiding from lions or birds too scared to fly. It would be chaos! But as humans, we are not so lucky. We know we’re “growing old” and “running out of time,” and this awareness can lead to a fear of loss or not achieving our desires “in time.” To truly enjoy life, we need to let go of this fear. If we want to savour our relationships, we must let go of the fear of losing them. Similarly, if we obsess over achieving success, we will never appreciate the successes we do achieve along the way.

Unfortunately, today’s world worships achievement and success above all else. We churn out high-achievers and failure-avoiders, haunted by a ghost that constantly reminds them of what they have not yet achieved. A ghost that fuels social comparison, whilst at the same time pushing us away from focusing on the things that actually bring us meaning. Sadly, most people still believe that meaning will come after achieving accolades, wealth, success, and recognition

Just as success takes time, effort, and sacrifice, so does meaning in life. There is no way you are going to biohack yourself into a meaningful life. Any hack is just a way to escape effort, and nothing worthwhile in life comes without effort. But then again, we know this! We know we get so much more enjoyment from doing difficult things. In fact, achievement cannot be experienced in the absence of difficulty. Read that again! You cannot feel like you have achieved anything in life if you were not challenged by it. Despite this, we believe happiness is ease, comfort, and success. 

Being human is not about chasing happiness. It is about the hard work of giving your life meaning. Hate to break it to you, but Mother Nature couldn’t care less about your happiness. She’s only interested in you passing on your genes. Yet, despite all our advanced knowledge of psychology and biology, we cling to the delusion that we are meant to be happy, that life’s meaning comes from achieving this elusive state of happiness. Spoiler alert: this belief will only lead to misery.

You will never achieve a constant state of happiness. Why? Because happiness is as fleeting as sadness. It is not a fixed state. Happiness is a byproduct of a meaningful life. You are not entitled to happiness; you can only strive to become happier. But when your life has meaning, happiness becomes irrelevant. As Viktor Frankl famously said, “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.

Therefore, while close, meaningful relationships are indeed a cornerstone of happiness, they are but one piece of the puzzle. The foundation of a fulfilling life lies in finding and nurturing a sense of meaning. In a world that increasingly prioritises individual success and technological advancement, we must not lose sight of what truly enriches our lives. It is through understanding our own coherence, significance, and purpose that we find the strength to build lasting relationships, pursue meaningful careers, and look after our physical and psychological health. As we navigate this new world we find ourselves in, remember that true happiness is not a goal to be achieved but a byproduct of living a life deeply rooted in meaning.

If you liked this article, let me know by giving it a clap or drop me a comment below. You can also connect with me on LinkedInInstagram, and Medium, or join my weekly NewsletterLessons from the Couch — where I share nuggets of wisdom, psychological research, personal insights and lessons straight from my therapy couch.


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