The meaning of life is, of course, 42, for those familiar with Douglas Adams “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”. But all joking aside, it might very well be true that for some people the number 42 could be the purpose of their existence. And that is because every living being defines in a different sort the way they see and experience life.
Searching the answer to “what is the meaning of life” has us trying to see beyond the mere survival instinct and evaluate our belief system, in order to make sure we add value to ourselves, to society and life itself.
Considerations on the meaning of life
Talking about one singular meaning, simple phrased and common to each and every human is an impossible outcome to obtain. We, as individuals, share a common range of traits, given by the same shared fears, common gene pool, and a collective social imposed order. However, despite having the same definitions of good and evil, along with other notions universally valued, the question is bound to receive a large number of different answers. On account of the fact that the way we view our existence is influenced by a wide array of factors:
- First, the meaning of life is influenced by our own consciousness, personal perception over the concepts of good and evil, as well as the free choice we make on how to create a balance between them
- The part of our personality inherited through our genes plays a big role in the way we acknowledge the purpose we’re searching for
- Our personal development and evolution have an effect on answering the question. Education and the amount of knowledge we receive, shape the direction of our desires.
- The society and the culture we were born in, both have a great deal of influence over us. They can impose severe personal restrictions, or they can put an accent on the complete liberty of being. They can offer wealth, or they can generate poverty. The meaning of life as seen by each citizen could become the search for freedom, the pursuit of happiness, being socially interested or, perhaps, fighting for survival.
You might as well get different reactions from the same person if the question is asked at distinct moments and phases of our lives. It changes on account of personal evolution, new knowledge gained, new interests, changed social context or commitments made. For example, when they’re little, everybody wants to become a spaceman, firefighter or superhero. College students dream of getting a Ph.D., becoming investment bankers or specialized surgeons with their own practice. Thus, the meaning of life suffers transformations for each of us, throughout our lives.
When talking about what the meaning of life is, we’re seeing all sorts of possibilities such as winning at a sportive competition, discovering new places, taking up extreme sports, raising your children, creating unimaginable wealth, uncovering philosophical truths, feeling closer to a deity or creating unseen before art. All of these are constructive actions, bound to increase value in some area or contribute to self-fulfillment. They are representative of the positive side of human nature. We can’t consider an affinity towards the dark side of life as a purpose worth mentioning. The need to destroy can’t be seen as anything but pathological. Furthermore, the meaning of life can’t be the opposite of life itself, as to destroy anything means just that.
Another consideration on life’s true purpose takes into account that it cannot be considered as a feature or a trait of a specific object, but it’s rather focused on the relationship between a perceiver and the object of his study. So, in the same way, poetry has a different sense depending on the person reading it, the meaning of one’s life is revealed to the people who are around to appreciate it.
Existentialism versus Creator appointed purpose
This is a debate that needs to be discussed in a separate manner. It all comes down to faith and religion against philosophy.
At the center of any of the large spread, religions stand the concept of purpose given to humanity by a Creator. This supernatural force guides the destiny of people and therefore sets the goal of people’s existence. In order to reach that objective, all anybody has to do is follow some guidelines, also set beforehand by our Creator. Life becomes the short period of time in which a person needs to show his worthiness, by following the preset rules, before being granted access to eternity.
Not the same could be said of existentialism. Much more focused on what can be accomplished during a lifetime. Instead of waiting for guidance from an outside decider, the adepts of this theory care more about expanding their amount of knowledge. This could widen their views on the world and all these information they hope using to understand one’s self better.
Differences between these two opinions are just at the detail level, as both have a similar outcome. Both enforce mankind to adhere to a set of values and common sense rules, which create better premises for living together in a community. Just the motivation to do so differs.
Scientific perspectives on the meaning of life
The various domain of study define the concept in concordance with their own object of research:
- Psychology sees it as being a part of something greater than one’s self, but contributing this whole while to this, through the best use of personal abilities
- Biology studies it through neurotransmitter activity and endorphin release when experiencing fulfillment emotions
- Philosophy and ethics suggest that some ethical judgments are universal across cultures and societies, making it plausible that they are inherent to mankind’s common gene pool.
- Sociology examines the expansion of the same values and norms at a social level and the effect they have on inter-human interactions
- A new and controversial field, neurotheology is hoping to find a correlation between neurological activity and experiences of religious nature.
The meaning of life is intensely sought after, highly theorized and variously defined. But in the end, given that life is so short, each must take whatever action deemed fit, in accord with the personal principles and system of values, in order to make the most of it.