Determining the Meaning of One's Life
Purpose is the animating force of life. Animals in the wild that no longer have purpose often are forsaken by their own or taken out by predators.
One of the most remarkable illustrations of the irreplaceable role of purpose in our lives is the cellular process of apoptosis – what biologists often refer to cell suicide. When a cell in your body ceases to have a purpose it literally ends its own life.
Jung’s sixth task of aging, “determining the meaning of one’s life,” is about gaining conscious awareness of one’s purpose for being. It is a profound dimension of human behavior mostly ignored by marketers.
Search for life meaning first begins in adolescence when people begin to continuously monitor their social environments for clues to behavior that best insures acceptance by others, especially peers. Life meaning among the young is framed by styles of appearance, language, material acquisitions, and social affiliations in the quest for a solid footing in the external world.
This worldly search for life meaning makes young consumers easy targets for marketers because the criteria of life meaning are determined by social consensus, which isn’t too hard to figure out.
However, the search for life meaning undergoes a major shift in the second half of life. Whatever people’s material success, many find less and less meaning from “things.” So, they begin to look inward rather than to the outer world in their search for life meaning. This substantially changes their consumer behavior.
Metavalues generally play a significantly larger role in buying decisions in the second half of life. Metavalues frequently transcend economic and even functional values. Metavalues have little or no intrinsic functional relationship with a product. The taste and nutritional value of eggs bought for $1.19 at Safeway may be the same as eggs priced at $3.29 at Whole Foods, but to many customers it is worth paying $2.10 more to support farmers who let their hens roam free. There is no moral value served in buying Safeway’s cheaper, industrially produced eggs. For many, buying free-range eggs at Whole Foods does serve a moral value.
O.K, so hens laying Safeway’s eggs have been fed growth hormones, while eggs sold at Whole Foods come from hens not fed growth hormones. But that is less of a concern for many than the fact that hens serving Safeway are locked up 24/7 in a windowless barn, in cages with a floor area about the size of a piece of copy paper.
As people shift their search for meaning from the materialistic outer world to the more experientially grounded realms of the inner self, they become less subject to marketers’ entreaties to buy a product because of its alleged superiority over competing products. The evolving midlife personality depends increasingly on his or her own counsel in making buying decisions.
I’m astonished by the dearth of attention to Jung’s sixth task of aging in marketing aimed at people in the second half of life. While older faces may appear in ads, values projected more often than not are those of younger people who are still on a worldly quest for a sense of meaning in their lives.
If you have any doubt about the overarching importance of purpose in people' aspirations and behavior in the second half of life, simply reflect on the fact that Rick Warren's Purpose Driven Life, with more than 30 million sales is the most successful hardback in American publishing history. As said often before in this space, the aging of the marketplace is dramatically changing the zeitgeist, and an important element in the zeitgeist is the search for life meaning in the second half of life.
Next: Rebirth – Dying with Life