According to a survey conducted by Austrian research psychologist Tatjana Schnell, an unexpectedly large proportion of Westerners feel that their lives have little meaning, and they don’t really care, reports Miller-McCune. Sampling more than 600 Germans, Schneller’s research found that “35 percent [of the sample] were ‘existentially indifferent,’ those who ‘neither experience their lives as meaningful nor suffer from this lack of meaning,’” and only 10 percent of that group were bothered by their own existential apathy.
Schneller identified variables that did and didn’t correlate. Gender, education level, and employment status don’t seem to be good predictors for indifference, but age does. As reported by Miller-McCune, “the indifferent skewed younger, on average five years younger, than those who found meaning in their lives.” On the other hand, if you’re looking for someone who feels that their life has meaning, look no further than the married couple down the street. The study found that 70 percent of married people find meaning in their lives.
What can replace meaning in an otherwise dispassionate soul? “Surrogates for meaningful commitment abound,” Schneller explains in the study. “They range from material possessions to pleasure seeking, from busy-ness to sexuality.” One famously reflective Westerner knows all about surrogates for meaningful commitment: