Ponderings

What is the Meaning of Life?

People have likely pondered this question since we began to think in complex ways. Determining the meaning of life remains a lightening rod for debate and conflict especially in the fields of philosophy, religion, politics and psychology.

What Eminent People Have Said About the Meaning of Life

Social scientists at Arizona State University analyzed 238 quotations from 195 eminent people regarding their beliefs about the meaning of life.  

They emphasized the critical importance of this issue by stating:

Albert Camus, Viktor Frankl and Leo Tolstoy all believed that whether life had meaning was the most important question in life.  For them all human endeavors hinge on the issue of meaning - without meaning, nothing matters.  Frankl viewed meaninglessness as the primary neurosis of our time and Carl Jung claimed that all of his clients over 35 years old had problems that were related to the question of meaning.  In empirical studies the subjective experience of meaninglessness has been linked to depression, substance abuse and suicide.

Cosmic meaning refers to meaning that transcends the individual and is usually viewed as divinely inspired. Terrestrial meaning refers to that which is deemed by any individual to be personally meaningful in his or her life.

Among the best known positions on the meaning of life are the following:

  1. Life has no cosmic meaning and humans are doomed to insignificance and inevitable extinction.

  2. Life has no cosmic meaning but humans can create their own meaning.

  3. Life may have cosmic meaning. Through honest and intensive search humans can discover truths in life.

  4. Life has a cosmic meaning but humans are incapable of comprehending the complexities of it. 

I strongly believe in (c), the perspective advocated by Victor Frankl who believed that it was part of human nature to search for the meaning of one’s existence.  Frankl believed that transcendent meaning is not something that can be arbitrarily created by a person.  It can only be discovered.  

Study Victor Frankl’s life. You’ll be amazed at how much mental and physical punishment a person can take and still retain one’s humanity. As living proof of this fact Frankl is one of the most inspiring humans who has ever lived. 

Fortunately research carried out by Dr.Martin Seligman and others has made the task of self-discovery much easier and is summarized in the Positive Psychology chapter. 

In summary, a person who preserves and promotes the most altruistic qualities of humanity such as compassion towards others is living a meaningful life. 

Combined with the deliberate pursuit of quality in nearly everything one does endows one with the means to advance civilization in a tangible fashion. 

Perhaps the “growing tip” of civilization is comprised of those who seek to imbue quality into everything they say and do and thus become role models for those whose lives they touch. 

Reference: What Eminent People Have Said About the Meaning of Life.  Richard T. Kinnier, Jerry L. Kernes, Nancy Tribbensee, Christina M. Van Puymbroeck. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, Vol.43 No.1, Winter 2003.

 


A person always doing his or her best becomes a natural leader, just by example.
Joe DiMaggio

 

Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.
Aristotle