It’s the eternal question. All religions, scientists and anyone with a curious mind want to know the answer.
As yet, no one has come up with a definitive reply. Sure, many theories and possibilities have been offered about what the meaning of life is. We can have a look at some of those. Perhaps one will resonate with you.
Image source: Savio Sebastian on Flickr
1. According to the Christian Bible, people are here to worship and glorify God. There is no other reason for human life. Christians can glorify Him by pursuing personal goals to their highest ability. For example, to be a top brain surgeon or the best trucker ever. As long as followers keep God in their hearts, then everything they do is for the purpose of God’s will.
2. Islam says it in a similar way. Followers of Islam are to worship Allah and glorify only Him. They can do this through obedience, kindness and good deeds for others. Muslims must also pray several times daily, and respect Allah by observing the fasting month of Ramadan.
Image source: Bashar Al-Ba'noon on Flickr
3. Hinduism has a different take, In fact, Hindus have four fundamental meanings for life. They are:
- Dharma – Fulfilling one’s personal purpose; usually refers to career or job. Dharma also means repaying five lifetime "debts"; to the Gods, parents & teachers, other people, and all living creatures.
- Artha — Prosperity. It is the duty of Hindus to do well financially so that society will also prosper.
- Kama — Desire and sexuality. Procreation.
- Moksha — Enlightenment. Self-realization or union with God. This can take several incarnations to achieve.
Image source: Kuntal Guharaja on Flickr
4. Scientists have varied views on what might be the meaning of human existence:
John Stewart, author of “The Meaning of Life in a Developing Universe”, thinks that we are evolving into ever more co-operative groups. Therefore, the ultimate purpose of human beings is to cleave together in oneness. Those individuals who refuse to cooperate will be shunned or punished by society.
Darwin would say that the meaning of life is survival. The atheist, Richard Dawkins, agrees with that viewpoint. He said, “Life has no higher purpose than to perpetuate the survival of DNA. Life has no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.” Oh dear.
Image source: Charis Tsevis on Flickr
Many scientists are less bothered by the "why" of life than the "how". Jeremy England, a physicist at MIT says this. “You start with a random clump of atoms, and if you shine light on it for long enough, it should not be so surprising that you get a plant.” Even so, no-one has been able to replicate this simple process, or tell us what it all means.
5. The Dalai Lama says that the meaning of life is happiness, but not the sort that depends on lots of money and a big house. Instead, it is about compassion and kindness toward others.
Image source: Giandomenico Ricci on Flickr
6. The author Douglas Adams postulated that the meaning of life is 42.
Image source: John Johnson on Flickr
Your Personal Meaning of Life
There will never be agreement on the meaning of life. Not in our lifetime, anyway. What is important is not all these opinions and theories about the meaning of life, but what it means to you as an individual.
You could make your work be the meaning of your life. If you like to teach or heal or help in some other way, fulfilment will follow.
Image source: bark on Flickr
Perhaps having children is the true purpose? When you look into your newborn's eyes and smell his or her skin, there is no other meaning at that moment.
Image source: Cary and Kacey Jordan on Flickr
Other people will say it is taking care of life in general. Looking after the Earth: conservation, protecting animals and the oceans.
Image source: Harminder Dhesi on Flickr
Then there are the creators among us: the writers, artists, and musicians. They would argue that what they do gives meaning to their lives and others'. Life would be empty without their contributions.
Image source: Images by John 'K' on Flickr
Religion may be the way for you to find your life’s meaning. Whatever denomination you are born into or choose, the meaning of life is bound up with its ultimate source, The Creator. Thinking, praying, serving, doing good in the community can all be part of the true meaning of life when you join a religious group.
Image source: Dalibor Tomic on Flickr
For many, charity is their reason for being. Working tirelessly to help the less fortunate, they discover that they are rewarded and fulfilled by the experience.
Image source: enki22 on Flickr
Finding Meaning in Everyday Life
There is no need to fret about your life’s purpose or your true calling. You can find it right where you are. This "meaning" is not given to you; instead, it’s you who imbues your life with purpose and meaning.
We always measure the value of our lives by comparing ourselves to others. “I should be doing better at work, but at least I’m making faster progress than that guy over there.” Comparisons are meaningless. What matters is how well you do your work in the next minute. The next hour. Compare yourself with you and see if you can be better.
Image source: TheBusyBrain on Flickr
Be observant. We live our lives in such a rush. There’s always too much to do. You pull your phone out to check your email, your social media sites and the latest news headlines. Who’s mentioned you? Who "liked" your last post? You are walking quickly with your eyes on the screen. You just missed the most beautiful blue-purple flower growing out of a crack in a wall. You won’t even be able to see it on your way home because you’ll be checking your phone again, or some passing child carelessly pulled the bloom off the stem. You missed your chance to fill your soul with a moment of beauty, and your day will be the poorer.
Image source: Bruno on Flickr
So take a moment to appreciate what is all around you. Notice the pattern of shadows the sun makes as it peeps through a curtain. Listen to the sounds accompanying you to work. Smell the scents of the busy street; the coffee, the wafting smell of onions from the hamburger stand, the fumes from passing vehicles. All these tiny details give your life meaning because only you can experience them from your unique perspective. The more appreciative you become, the more meaningful life becomes.
Image source: BK on Flickr
Of course, you may feel drawn to a higher purpose – the need to make your mark on the planet or to simply feel useful. But don’t forget where the real meaning of life is – in your soul.
Image source: Martin Gommel on Flickr
What is the meaning of life to you?