Humanity's top 5 searches

January 5th, 2015

My oldest brother has some experience in marketing, so I regularly ask him for tips on how to grow my audience as a writer. One exercise he suggested a while back was to look at Google Trends, where I could see the most popular search threads. I was to go there daily and look for new topics on which I could write. This would help me do two things: 1) keep my posts more relevant and likely to be picked up by searches, and 2) force me to diversify my writing topics.

So, I checked out Google Trends, specifically Hot Searches. Most of what I found was celebrity gossip. Occasionally, some important event would make it in there, such as the Olympics or Valentine’s Day, which did in fact inspire me to write posts about Lolo Jones and St. Valentine (two topics I probably wouldn’t have written on otherwise). Mostly, though, it was crap pointing to headlines like “Andy Dorfman Named New Bachelorette!”

Now, I know people (including me) kill time by looking at internet junk food. I don’t judge anyone for that. Still, after visiting Hot Searches day in and day out, I began to get a warped view of humanity.

Is this really what people are looking for?, I asked myself. Then I stepped away from the computer and reflected on my own family and my work as a pastor and community organizer. No, I thought, that isn’t reality. Real human beings have much deeper concerns than the latest news on celebrity scandals. So, I decided to create my own Hot Search List, a reminder of those things for which people truly yearn.

Humanity’s top five searches

1. Survival

I know that many people reading this probably don’t struggle to put food on their table. Still, it would be foolish to ignore the fact that billions of years of evolutionary history have hard-wired human beings primarily for the purpose of survival in what can sometimes be a very brutal world.

Why is this important? What does it mean? Here are some of the implications I see:

• Most of us are tougher than we think. Remember that the next time you or your loved one is in a crisis. Odds are you’ll get through it.
• Easy lives make us unhealthy. Evolved to survive lean times, our brains are programmed toward anything that keeps our energy stores full. We crave fat and sugar because they are high energy foods. We avoid strenuous mental and physical activity because it depletes us of precious resources. Our brains and bodies are not trained for a life of ease and abundance. It’s especially important for Americans to be aware of this, because in this land of plenty, our brains are still pushing us to consume the physical and mental junk food that now makes us sick. If you are overweight or spend much of your free time feeding your mind those things found in Hot Searches, pay attention to the next point. 
• Most of the world is still in survival mode. Perhaps you could give some of your excess energy reserves (or money, if that’s easier) to the 80% of the world’s population who live on less than $10/day. How does $3,650/year compare to your salary?

2. Belonging

Humans have also evolved to be social creatures. Not that we don’t need solitude, but ultimately, we have a strong need to belong. Research has even shown that belonging to a group is likely to increase one’s lifespan.

I remember once when I was hanging out with my then 13-year-old daughter, Anyssa. I mentioned that I had an eyelash in my eye, and she said, “Oh, if you get it out, blow on it and make a wish!” It’s a silly thing she and her younger sister do.

I offhandedly asked her, “What do you wish for?”

I expected her to say something like, “I can’t tell you that or it won’t come true.” Instead, she answered honestly with, “Oh, usually I wish for someone who I can walk home with after school.”

It took me completely off-guard, and it was a helpful reminder as a parent how powerful is my child’s need to belong. While it’s especially evident at age thirteen, we never stop searching for friendship and a people to whom we can belong.

If you ever get the chance, check out Brené Brown’s TED Talk in which she speaks about belonging and vulnerability. It’s great stuff.

3. Love

Love is, of course, the ultimate experience of belonging. To know that those who love you will be there when you need them, will support you as you pursue your dreams, will still be around when you fail, it provides an empowering sense of security that can’t be matched. Likewise, giving love to others throughout a lifetime can offer a sense of purpose that usually dwarfs any other life accomplishments we may achieve.

If human life has a higher purpose, if we were created for something rather than simply a product of this material universe’s expansion, then I am convinced we are here to love. In fact, even if we weren’t created for any purpose whatsoever, then I believe the activity of loving and being loved adds that purpose to what could otherwise be a fairly meaningless existence.

4. Purpose

Love may be the highest purpose, but there is other meaningful work to do in our lives. I once heard Mike Green, a consultant on Asset-Based Community Development, say, “If you want someone to belong to your community, give them an opportunity to contribute.” Even better, he explained, was to give them a way to contribute from their own special set of gifts and skills. No one wants to live a wasted life. People want to believe that what they do matters, that their contribution is valued and makes a positive difference to the world. They want to leave a legacy.

5. Legacy

Even at its most basic level, the process of evolution is about legacy. What survives is that which works long enough to be passed on to the next generation.

No one lives forever, but most of us wish that at least some small piece of ourselves will continue when we are gone. As Buddhism teaches us, nothing is permanent, but that doesn’t stop us from hoping to extend our contribution to the universe beyond our own tiny blink of existence. So, we search for a legacy, a mark to leave upon the world, whether it’s in our children, our work, or in the memory of our loved ones. No one wants to be forgotten.

So what?

The trick, I think, is to keep these things in mind. As people called to ministry, it’s also important for us to help others remain attentive to these most basic human needs. It’s so easy for us all to let ourselves simply run on autopilot. We allow vast stretches of precious time to slip by without being mindful of our deepest yearnings. But trust me, they are there, and if we fail to acknowledge them, to fulfill those most essential needs, our lives will feel as empty and shallow as Hot Searches suggests. Please, let’s not let that happen!

You can see more of Courtney's work at, or sign up to receive his weekly email, “Life and Depth.”

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