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Alain Giguère

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Do you have a goal in life? 30% of Canadians say they don’t! (And Winterreise by Franz Schubert)

Categories: On my radar this week

Posted on 05-01-18 at 3:10 p.m.

Every year, CROP conducts an extensive survey of the values and hot buttons of Canadian consumers and citizens (our Panorama program). In the midst of our analysis of the results of our 2018 edition, a social phenomenon, as sad as it is disturbing, caught our attention: nearly one in three people in the country admit to having no goals or purpose in their lives!

The statement used to study this phenomenon is itself troubling and moving. We ask people if they agree that ... "Generally speaking, I feel that I don't really have any goals in life." To such a question, 30% of Canadians say they agree (with no significant regional variations from one coast to the other): 6% totally agree, 24% somewhat agree. Even being somewhat in agreement with such a statement is deeply depressing!

What is even more disturbing is how this indicator has evolved. Over almost 15 years, the number of people in the country who feel they have no purpose in life has almost doubled! From 2004 to 2018, the percentage of people in agreement with the statement in question rose in a disquietingly linear way from 16% to 30%.

I constantly repeat in my posts that for some of us, life, society and the world around us are changing too fast, and that not everyone can keep up. Our new results unfortunately confirm this trend. A growing social divide continues to widen year after year between those who find our era stimulating and a full of opportunity, and those who feel increasingly out of place, excluded and cast aside. This feeling of exclusion can take many forms. Aimlessness - an inability to find a mission, a calling or goals - is one result of having trouble coping with the times.

Young people and low-income earners

The social divide is most pronounced among younger people. While 30% of Canadians tell us they don't really have any goals in life, this percentage rises to 40% of people under 35. We tend to believe that Millennials are changing the world. However, we need to recognize they do not all feel that way, nor do they all have the same feeling of control. Two out of five feel aimless, unable to find meaning in their lives in today's world.


People at the lower end of the wage and education scale also contribute enormously to the numbers who feel that life is futile. Agreement with the above statement is 40% for people whose family income is less than $40,000 a year, falling to 25% when family income is $60,000 or more. The same obtains for education, where agreement with the statement drops from 36% of those who only completed high school to 24% of the university-educated.

Although socio-economic conditions clearly play a part in this feeling of aimlessness, they do not explain the entire phenomenon. Even among the wealthiest and best educated, we still find that one in four say they have no purpose, no goals. This is not insignificant.

A lack of control over their lives and feeling socially disconnected

This type of aimlessness is reflects mindsets that are quite paralyzing for these individuals. They subscribe to a very fatalistic view of life, believing that their fate is set and following its course; that everyone has a designated place. They have the impression that their lot in life is immutable and feel that they have very little control over their ability to eventually improve it; that their destiny is controlled by societal forces over which they are powerless.

They also feel disconnected from others and from the society around them. Nothing much connects them to the life they are forced to participate in. They believe that society is a ruthless jungle, that the rich and powerful benefit from all of the era's opportunities and that there is nothing left for them. They are very cynical about society's elites.

Consequently, they espouse a very conservative view of life, one that values social codes, family and very traditional gender roles - a nostalgic conservatism for a bygone era where they would have had a place. They believe that are being excluded by an ever-changing world dominated by social, ethnic and sexual diversity


Projects of social inclusion or a relentless divide?

We can only hope that social-inclusion projects will be created to enable more citizens to benefit from the opportunities of today's world. Community initiatives can make a difference by integrating people, giving them a place in society, helping them find a purpose or goals. Our hope is that such initiatives proliferate. It is more crucial than ever that governments, institutions and businesses recognize the situation and commit to alleviating the problem through their policies of social responsibility.

Some initiatives are already underway but, given the trend, more needs to be done. Much more. Otherwise the social divide will widen, encouraging the rise of the far right and the populist movements we see growing in many democracies around the world. Is a Canadian Trump on the horizon?

Winterreise by Franz Schubert

Winterreise (Winter Journey), a song cycle for voice and piano, is a metaphor for aimless wandering. The story is about heartbreak that leads to wandering. The grief-stricken protagonist takes flight after being betrayed by his beloved. But, very quickly, the work's tragic beauty transcends its sentimental despondency, which is represented by a long journey that leads to nothingness, to wretchedness for all those who have lost the meaning of life.

The musical clip, "Gute Nacht" (good night), begins the journey (night), when the protagonist takes leave of his beloved. A magnificent production for the 2014 Aix-en-Provence Festival.

Franz Schubert: Winterreise – Matthias Goerne (baritone), Markus Hinterhauser (piano), William Kentridge (visualisation), Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, 2014.