It is not about "winning" as against "losing". Life is not a competition and no-one is going to award us a prize for our life.
It is not about amassing wealth, for possession is a momentary pleasure that soon becomes empty. It is passive and does not engage us.
It is not about being powerful and telling others what to do, or imposing our way of doing things. This is just an ego-boost, and the ego does not make us happy in the long term.
It is not about pleasure either, as pleasure is momentary and we soon grow tired of it. It too is not really satisfying.
It is not about trying everything life has to offer, because that is simply not possible.
It is not about being famous or getting into the history books. Fame is at best a mixed blessing and is utterly empty anyway. As for history, none of us really matters all that much, especially when you think that there are 7 billion people on the planet. Even the major figures of the past will one day be forgotten.
I don't think it is about raising a family either. For if the meaning of our life is to create other human beings then what is the meaning of their life?
I think the meaning of life is something that is self-sufficient, something that does not point to, lead to, or prepare for something else. It cannot be a means to anything, but must be an end. (I'll never forget the definition of a "hobby" given in one of Robert Altman's films: "Something you do for no reason".)
Perhaps it is found in what I call a "Faustian moment". Recall that in Goethe's drama, the Devil made a bargain under which Faust would get to keep a moment he wanted to have for ever, in exchange for his soul. Things did not turn out well for Faust, but I think that life is about having such self-sufficient moments, when we do not want anything other than what we have at the time. Note that I use the word 'moment', as the experience, if we have it at all, is fleeting.
I know I still haven't answered the question.
I believe love is the key. I mean love in the broadest sense - not just the love for one person, but loving what you do on a daily basis, loving yourself, loving where you are, loving the people you share your life with.
Another way to say the same thing is that life is meaningful if you have something - hopefully many things - to feel enthusiastic about. It may be spending time with your favourite person, playing with your kids, or with your dog, or your daily work, or a project or hobby. Since each person is unique and different, there is no recipe for what will give meaning to every person. I am enthusiastic about things that are of no interest to other people, and vice versa.
So I would say that it is about finding and exploring what you most love to do. It is important to connect, be it with other people, animals, nature or even ideas. It is about being active and productive, whether with your hands, your mind, or in relating to other people.
Q. When do we think of the meaning of life, under what circumstances?
A. Usually we think of it when we realise that we are getting old (or older), when we feel deep stress or depression. In other words when we feel emotionally uncomfortable or afraid of death.
In our teenage years we usually ask that question in order to raise our self-esteem and to feel important.
Q. What is the reason for asking the question?
A. To calm ourselves down, to feel emotionally stable and comfortable facing unpleasant moments of life during stress and depression, as well as the fear of inescapable ageing, sickness and death.
The answer to the question of the meaning of life comes from the above-mentioned two questions:
The meaning of life is in finding how to escape emotional discomfort, depression and stress, and how to prolong our life, making it as meaningful as possible in order to keep ourselves happy. The highest manifestation of the meaning of life is the sense of happiness.
When you are happy you do not ask the question of the meaning of life. So long as you are happy there is no need to ask that question. This means that the question of the meaning of life is the product of our lack of happiness and emotional discomfort.
Be happy and make others happy, so that they would help you be happy in return!
Do not smile if smiling makes you feel bad; you can poison with your smile.
Do not laugh just to pretend that you are happy.
Try to generate happiness inside yourself by talking with people you like or love, and letting them enjoy their time with you.
At a less fundamental level, it is about the purpose of our individual lives, its relationship to nature and other beings with which we find ourselves entwined in life. It is also about the existence of God and his/her nature and relationship to us. At a trivial level, it is an outlet to deal with the depressions, failures and disappointments in our lives.
All of us ordinary people deal with the question at these two levels. There is also the possibility that life has no meaning at all, and it is the human mind which tries to ascribe meaning to it because of its inability to contemplate the possibility of leading an existence that is just a series of chance events. The idea that love and happiness are the answers to this vexing question is true only if you want to restrain yourself from asking deeper questions as to whether the love and happiness that we experience are illusions in themselves.
I feel that everyone who is bothered by this question must find the answers for themselves at their own level of development. It may turn out that one might find an answer that is at a trivial level but as far as he/she is concerned it would still be a real answer thereby reducing this angst. And the person may stay at this level for the rest of his life in which case the question has been 'solved ' as far as he/she is concerned. On the other hand, if the person develops further to a point where this answer is no longer an answer, then he can rejoin the search for an answer.
Summing up, I guess I am saying that there are no answers to the question, as well as that there are a million answers.
Meaning cannot come from outside oneself but from within. When people say, "This is boring, that is boring," it suggests that they are bored with themselves. Just as we have to invest interest in things, we have to invest or invent meaning.
We need to know ourselves and our needs in order to find meaning, for meaning is not 'out there'. This is why it is more difficult for rich people to find meaning; they think it comes from things. One may buy a nice house, but if one does not enjoy life then it will not make one happy. To find out what has meaning for one is to learn about oneself in a deep way.
For the majority of us fulfilment comes from having and raising children. In general, we derive much meaning from helping others. Though this is fulfilling, it might still not entirely satisfy us. But our meaning cannot just be centred on other people; we must also focus on our own needs, so as to realise our own inner potential. Sometimes we deceive ourselves when we are helping others, thinking we are "only doing it for them", whereas in reality our motives are mixed. An indication of this is when we resent it if the recipient is ungrateful. Such self-denial leads to resentment.
If our life is unbalanced then we are busy chasing after only one area of life and all the others suffer. I do not think we can derive enduring happiness from just one part of life, such as work or children. There is much to be said for the Greek ideal of balance. Workaholics lack the contrast because they do nothing but work. We need to find a balance.
Another vital element that gives us meaning is love - loving oneself and loving others. For many of us it is easier to love other people than to love ourselves. To realise and fulfil our own needs, as mentioned earlier, is part of loving oneself.
Happiness, in my opinion, is something that needs to be shared. I have read about how hostages, such as Anderson and Keenan, reflected on their lives while they were imprisoned and helpless. What sustained them were not their professional successes, but the love they had shared with their families and special moments, such as the birth of a child.
The choice of the right partner is also crucial, since it allows one to work on the relationship once the romantic 'in love' phase is over. This takes time, so if one is a workaholic then one's relationship will suffer. One needs to have a fertile ground on which happiness can grow.
Even if we have love, it may still not be enough to make us happy. The trap is that the more things we desire, the more voracious we are, the less happy we will be. The external trappings will not make us happy.
I think that it is harder for people who do not read, do not listen to beautiful music, or who are passive, to find meaning. Beauty, whether in music, art, nature or an activity, is an inspiration.
However, we should not think that what made us happy twenty years ago will continue to make us happy. This is like returning to the same place for a holiday, or to a piece of music that meant a lot to us in our youth. The magic cannot be repeated. We are harder to satisfy than it would appear. Meaning is not something we can capture and keep. It needs to be regenerated all the time.
Closely linked to meaning is having the right values, such as love, a connection with others, and not pursuing money as an end. It is easy to get trapped by materialism; then our ideals are compromised. If we have a high mortgage, this might adversely affect our life, inducing us to work unearthly hours and hence sacrificing family life.
If we choose the wrong partner, then our values become suspect. Because we are struggling with our partner, we might have to be dishonest. We will not even get to the question of what meaning is. The vast majority of people in the world do not have the luxury of thinking about meaning because their lives are a daily struggle for existence.
To help us find meaning it is valuable to discover what our passion is. As I see it, the difference between a passion and a hobby is that you steal time for a passion, whereas a hobby is just an enjoyable pastime. Many people in the West are happy to allocate their time to work and duties, but not to 'unprofitable' activities.
In my own case, my profession, teaching Egyptian and other Ancient History, has given me great fulfilment because I am teaching this fascinating material to students. I have also been fortunate to discover a passion for working in silver, which led me to develop myself in many other areas relating to design and manual skills. Many people profess to envy my creativity, but I am convinced that the potential to be creative is in all of us. Persevering with it, especially in the beginning, is the hard part, as it takes years to achieve really high standards.
Another important component contributing to meaning is contrast. For example, if trekking up a mountain is followed by a good meal, this generates a feeling of achievement and pleasure. Pleasure needs to be offset by contrast. It cannot be more and more, because ironically, it becomes less and less. The very nature of pleasure is fleeting. Similarly, happiness is momentary. One cannot expect perpetual happiness.
I envy those developed individuals who avoid the trap of prevailing values, living instead a life that is both meaningful and pleasurable; a life of service as well as enjoyment. Such people are "artists of life". They draw others to themselves, because of their capacity for fun and high achievement. They live their life in a creative way.
In my opinion, life becomes more meaningful as we become unified with God and the universe. I believe that God is n-dimensional, and our souls are n-dimensional also. Our souls seek to unite with God, and our bodies seek to become more familiar with the 3-dimensional space we inhabit. Thus we have a 2-fold means of attaining happiness and meaning in our lives: meditation and contemplation for our souls, and scientific study for our bodies. Through meditation we are able to guide our souls into the multi-dimensional "space" outside the physical world. God is omnipresent and omniscient; all we have to do is open ourselves to God. As we become unified with God, we become more like God -- loving, forgiving, creative, kind, gentle, peaceful. This process naturally results in helping others (perhaps through volunteering or other altruistic pursuits) and giving love (to our families, our friends, and even our enemies). From this point of view, spirituality becomes more important than religion. Religious doctrines are useful to the extent that they help the individual become closer to God.
Scientific study allows us to become more unified with the physical world. The more I know about this space I live in, the more I feel a part of it. One must understand something thoroughly in order to truly belong to it. Also, the world becomes less of a threat to me as I gain knowledge of it. Although all people are not suited for full-time scientific research, I think it is beneficial for all of us to learn as much science as we are able, and to keep learning about new discoveries throughout our lifetimes. Feeling connected to the physical world leads to conservation of resources, concern for endangered species, and interest in the problems of population growth as we begin to realise that whatever takes place in the rest of the world will eventually affect us in some way.
Those who ask the question usually find an answer that suits their disposition. Sometimes they find the answer in other people's beliefs, like religion. There is no "True" answer to the question, for each of us has their own world to search. Embryo fertilisation is a casual affair and to believe that a particular union of sperm and embryo has a particular meaning or purpose is to stretch the imagination beyond belief.
Truth is a point of view. Change you viewpoint, change your view.
email "tad@soler 7.com" - this email address has an extra space - please remove it if you want to email me.
I have done this little trick to avoid being targeted by automated spammers, as opposed to nice people like you.