If you talk to older people, check with your parents etc., they say something different. They ALL say "Where did it (the time) go. I was just 50, 30, a teen. I can't believe how quickly it went by." They don't say what is the meaning of it all, what is my purpose? They have all the meaning and purpose they need...they just want more life to do more of what they have been happy doing their whole life. The biggest tzadik who believes the purpose of life is to be davuk bahashem will do anything to delay the onset of that "ultimate meaning."This is very insightful. However, I think that he falls into the same trap that many others fall into as well. One thing I believe is that it is impossible to generalize for everyone. For any human trait, there is a distribution of behavior, and many times the outliers in that distribution are significant enough to stand out from the herd.
Teen agers and belated adolescents want to know what they are going to do when they grow up (purpose) or what does it all mean (ideals and values worth living for or internalizing.)When you are grown up you generally almost by definition know what you are going to do or want to do, and hopefully you have a plan which integrates your ambitions and goals with your values and ideals.
The basic mistake imho in looking for meaning as if it is something in front of you that you find or discover or create is that for the most part, meaning is behind you. As you age you see, discover what you did and what you didn’t do, and you find out what was in fact important to you and what was not. Did you marry, did you have that last child, did you take risks for the sake of X. You read/ interpret your own life and discover or maybe create its meaning. Were people more important than books, was looking good more important than money, leisure more important than experiences, which experiences do you cherish and which would you rather forget?
What do I mean by this? Well, most people, religious or non-religious are not interested in "meaning", that is highly intellectual, theoretical, theological self-reflection or ruminations. Most people I've met in my religious community are just as materialistic and focused on living the good life as the people in the secular community I left behind. This is a MO community. If I went to a more frum neighborhood, I will probably find more people that are lerners, but I don't personally believe that they are intellectuals any more that an MO attorney is an intellectual. For the lerners, the Gemorah is just like a trade - it is just what they do. They may find it intellectually stimulating, but I don't get the sense it gives their lives any more "purpose" or "meaning" than the others.
On the other hand, you have people that volunteer in soup kitchens, and run "races against hate", and work with the sick in poor countries. Some of them are religious, some of them are atheist hippies. How many of each ETHS graduating class, the kids of the rich attorneys and doctors from north Evanston wind up joining the peace corps, or teaching English in Mali...
People fit into different groups. Some are meaning seekers and some are not. Some agonize over TMS and some don't. Some can live a lie, and some can't. To each his own...
And now a bit of Emily Dickinson:
- THE Soul selects her own Society--
- Then--shuts the Door--
- To her divine Majority--
- Present no more--
- Unmoved--she notes the Chariots--pausing--
- At her low Gate--
- Unmoved--an Emperor be kneeling
- Upon her mat--
- I've known her--from an ample nation--
- Choose One--
- Then--close the Valves of her attention--
- Like Stone--