What is the meaning of life?
Unfortunately, the answer to this eternal question is probably not 42 (brownie points for everyone who catches the reference).
And, while you can choose to subscribe to a particular perspective, the reality is, there’s no answering a question like that with certainty. Hence why we’re still fascinated with discovering an answer after all this time.
However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t paths we can walk to attain higher knowledge and search out our own answer to this age-old question.
For the past 10 years, I’ve devoted the lion’s share of my time to discovering an answer to the big questions: “Why are we here?” “What is the point of it all?” “How do we find true happiness?” and, of course, “What is the meaning of life?”
And, while I’ve yet to find an answer to that last question, I have discovered a sense of meaning and purpose for my own life. Which brings me to my main point…
Life is without meaning. You bring the meaning to it. The meaning of life is whatever you ascribe it to be. Being alive is the meaning.
– Joseph Campbell
Discovering the meaning of life
It’s impossible to know what our purpose is on this one lonely planet, far away– as far as we can tell– from any other form of intelligent life– if there even is anyone else out there– in this vast universe, so all we can do is make educated guesses.
But an educated guess only does us any good if we’re trying to answer the question from our own perspective. There’s no use trying to answer that question for all people because life is far too complex. What makes sense to you might not make any sense to another person halfway across the world, in another culture, or who lived in another time period.
However, what we can do is attempt to answer that question as best as we can for ourselves. This is, in my opinion, our one and only path to wisdom. Instead of presupposing that the meaning and purpose which we find applies to all other people, and force them to believe what we do, we seek to find our own sense of meaning while being mindful of our place in the world and respecting that, on a fundamental level, we’re all doing that very same thing.
How to attain higher knowledge
So then, what are the best tools available to us for attaining higher knowledge and discovering our own sense of meaning?
We make discoveries by taking in new data. And, as far as basic human experiences are concerned, that comes down to two primary efforts:
- Venturing into the mind
- And venturing out into the world
A few notes on each:
Venture into the mind
Venturing into the mind is the most common of the two paths, which includes spiritual practice of all kinds from Buddhist and Yogic meditation and other mental exercises to Christian and Jewish prayer and contemplation.
My advice here is the same that is often given in Buddhist circles: find the path which calls out to you most, experience it, and see if it is a fit for you. Sometimes, what we believe is our path doesn’t end up fitting us. Continue to experience different approaches to the inward discovery of the self until you find something that resonates with you and then pursue that with dedication.
Venture out into the world
However, it’s well-documented in various spiritual traditions that experiencing the outside world in an intimate way is another powerful method for discovering wisdom, especially when in conjunction with venturing into the mind.
Most of us know of the positive impact that traveling the world can have on us, experiencing other cultures, ways of life, and types of people. We feel more connected to the world around us and can deepen our understanding of life as a whole, giving us the ability to pull common threads out of our collective experiences to distill out key pieces of wisdom to live by.
Another method that can have a lot of value is exploring the latest scientific discoveries. Science often lacks heart, so studying it without the right perspective can leave you feeling empty and, often, very depressed (if you don’t believe me, watch some Kurzgesagt videos. I’m obsessed, but they take a toll on you). For that reason, make sure you’re supplementing this with ample self-discovery.
Just make sure you’re not using this as an excuse for being afraid of, or lacking the patience to, turn inward. Traveling the world over, in and of itself, isn’t enough if you still have demons hiding in your closet.
It’s time to find your own meaning, something only you can do. And, as a result of these two efforts together, you can do just that.
I still have much to learn and discover but I’m confident in my direction and the sense of meaning I feel deep within myself is more than enough to fill me with an energy to live a fulfilling life.
We make our own meaning, the best of which I believe is simply to realize our potential, to see how far we can go, and continue to move forward always striving to embody the best version of ourselves possible.
Perhaps, then, “What is the meaning of life?” is the wrong question. Maybe “Why do we search for meaning?” is more fruitful and the question we should really be asking. We all want our life to mean something, to be able to pass feeling as though we contributed in some way, having “made our mark.”
We feel a void in our heart that we want to fill but we don’t know how. Search from within and without, but never forget that meaning is found in the little things– a hug, a kiss, the written word of a passionate writer, and the swish of a paintbrush in a lifelong artist.
Perhaps, the meaning we strive for isn’t some complex construct which we must piece together to unlock an ancient secret but so simple and obvious that we often miss it. Hiding right under our nose all along.