The Meaning of Life
Oh, come on now! You didn't really expect to find the meaning of life so easily did you? At the very least, you'd have to climb the mountains of India and Tibet, searching for a holy man who has spent his life meditating on that question.
Suppose You Had the AnswerBut suppose you found him and he gave you an answer. What if he said, "the meaning of life is the search for God." What would be the best way to search for God? To pray? To meditate? To visit churches all over the world? To learn Greek, Hebrew, Egyptian, Mayan, Arabic, Hindi, Zorastrian, and Chinese, so you could read the world's holy books? Should you take a vow of poverty, give up your job, and dedicate your life to doing all those things?
What if he told you, "the meaning of life is to enjoy yourself." Would you then ask him, "What makes me happy?" How would he know? Obviously, only you can answer that question and you'll have to spend time trying to find the answer. Perhaps you could do something different every day to find out if it makes you happy. But in some cases it can take years to find out whether you enjoy something. Would being a doctor make you happy? Well that would take at least six years to discover (maybe less if you realized you didn't like the site of blood :-) To enjoy something takes practice, and the practice and study may not always be enjoyable; you'll make mistakes along the way.
But even when you find something you enjoy, it won't be enjoyable all the time. Even if you have your dream job, it's not always going to be fun. For example, I love being a dad, but I don't love doing all the things that go with it: changing diapers, telling you "no," seeing you when you're sick.
The Answer Won't Guarantee You Perpetual Happiness"No pain, no gain" is a common saying among athletes, but it applies to education to. Think about riding a bike. When you first learn to ride, you're going to fall and get hurt. When I was learning to ride a bike I fell into my mother's cactus patch! But I didn't give up. The lesson was painful, but the joy I got from learning to ride that bike was worth it.
Skills take time to develop, and only after you have those skills will you know whether you enjoy them or not. My mom loved to knit, and I'm sure she made a lot of mistakes at first that made her unhappy. But after she learned to knit, it was something she enjoyed and did all the time. She could even do it while watching TV. (She knitted your pink sweater, my gray, blue, and white sweater, and your purple triangle blanket).
Life isn't fair - Some cheaters and murderers don't get caught. Sometimes the job goes to someone who isn't as qualified as you. People make mistakes. Accidents happen. Bad things sometimes happen to good people.
Learning Versus DoingSometimes the learning can be fun, too. I enjoyed learning to ride a unicycle even though I fell down a lot. The reason was because I could see that I was improving. Each time I got on, I could ride further before I fell off again. And then I began to learn new tricks -- riding backwards, riding with only one foot, hopping up curbs. Therefore, sometimes the joy is in the learning. The journey itself is often more fun than completing it.
But there are other times where the end of the journey is more enjoyable than the journey itself. The climb up a long, steep, winding trail of switchbacks is agony, but the view from the top makes it worth it. Likewise, reading a book is more fun than than buying it.
Getting Versus HavingThere is a difference between getting something and having something. For example, collecting something is more fun than owning it. For some people, buying shoes is more fun than wearing them -- that's why they own so many. But using a tool may be more fun than buying it. And cooking may more enjoyable than the eating, especially if the food turns out bad :-)
For the last five years, one of my dreams was to remove the dirt from my backyard so I could have a walk out basement. And I also wanted a hole cut between the basement walls, so I could walk from one basement to the other. Everytime I went down to the basement, I saw the wall where I wanted the doorway cut. It was like an itch I couldn't scratch. This year I finally completed the job. And once it was done, I was very, very happy. It felt like I was living in a different house. But after a few weeks, the happiness wore off. I got used to the doors. That's the way it was supposed to be. But I still remember the itch I couldn't scratch and how uncomfortable I was.
The Answer Can Only Serve as a GuideSo, you see the answer to the meaning of life won't tell you how to live your life, and it won't make you happy all the time -- it can only serve as a guide, pointing you in a general direction. You will have to find the path yourself. And every person's path will be different because everyone has different desires, different strengths, and different interests.
Consider yourself lucky that you can even ask that question. In the past, you did what you had to. You were not free to choose what to do. Don't waste that gift.
Be a Complete HumanThe meaning of life means is to live. Make the most of all your abilities. Evolution has given humans the largest brain, pound for pound, of any animal in the world. Use it!
What makes us uniquely human compared to the animals? Our social network. Our relationships. Our ability to communicate and learn new things. Humans use thos skills to help others in your group. Humans have the ability to cooperate.
To be fully human means to be like all the other animals and try to have children and raise them, watch them grow, teach them to become useful to the group, and good parents. To provide for them.
Find someone to love and share your life with. Human society is based on a pair bond. Usually one man and one woman. But each person is different. Some people will be happier by themselves. Some people will be happier without children.
Try to enjoy life. If you have the time, search for what makes you happy. Life is short, and will go by quidker than you can imagine. Don't waste it. Try to find doing something you love. Some people know almost instantly. Some people have to search a long time (I was one of those). Some people who knew instantly, later realized they made a mistake (that can happen in careers, jobs or marriage). Some people never get the chance to make a choice.
If you are not enjoying what you are doing, try something new. And whatever you do, think about it. In the 70's, this search was called "trying to find yourself"
The goal is to lead a fulfilling life. One in which you won't regret what you've done later on. But life is a gamble. Doing what you love may meet with an accident. Suppose you like parachute jumping. Accidents happen. Think about the risks before you do something, so if an accident occurs you can accept what happen.
Know ThyselfWho are you? What do you enjoy? Only the wealthiest people in the richest countries of the world have time to ask this question. Most people of the world are locked into the place they are born, doing what their parents did. The Caste system in India is the best example of this.
If you knowing yourself and what you like, that will help you focus on what you like to do, both for the classes you take, and the people you date. Unfortuntely, the only way to learn what you like to do, and who you want to be with is to try many different things and talk to many different people, which means you need to balance.
BalanceThe secret of living life to the fullest is to seek a balance. For many people to become an expert in something, they dedicate their lives to it. Some succeed, others fail. But in all cases, they've given up a balanced life. Remember, everything in moderation.
TimingThe right decision will be different at different times. For example, you might want to raise a family, but having a child when you are a teenager will probably a mistake. Your life, and the life of your child, will be better if you wait until your twenties or thirties.
My favorite book of the Bible is Ecclesiastes, in the Old Testament:
For everything there is a season...
A time to be born, and a time to die;
A time to plant, and a time to harvest;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to seek, and a time to lose;
A time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew;
A time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate;
A time for war, and a time for peace.
Make your decisions using cost-benefit analysis. Compare the costs to the benefits and choose those things where the benefits outweigh the costs.
Benjamin Franklin advocated weighing the pros and cons of a decision and Charles Darwin used the same method to decide whether to marry.
Questions1. What is the Correct Relgion?
2. How can humans sometimes be evil and sometimes good?
3. How can wealth and poverty exist side by side?
4. What are the reasons for the rise and fall of civilizations?
5. Why is the desire to have a religion (faith) so strong?
6. How should one balance "live for today" against preparing for the future?
7. Who is happier, the optimist or the pessimist?
I used to answer, "The pessimist because they can never be unpleasantly surprised. But after my cancer diagnosis, I realized pessimists are miserable most of the time.
When I asked my physician this, she gave me an answer I had never heard before, "The happiest person is one that has accepted their fate."
But I wonder, "Does that mean giving up?"
Home last update: Nov. 20, 2020