What Is The Meaning Of Our Life? Philosophical Point Of View
Every person asks the question at least once in their lifetime — what is the meaning of life? It is an age-old question that has been contemplated by religious and philosophical people for millennia.
After all, with the level of consciousness and awareness human beings have, about themselves and the universe, it’s only natural to wonder why we exist. And there seems to be as many answers as there are people.
What Does the Meaning of Life Mean to You?
There are many scientific, religious, philosophical, and popular views about the meaning of life. These views endeavor to explain the meaning of life on one of two different levels. On one level is the meaning of life in general. Why does life exist at all? What is the purpose of life in the universe? Where is it going?
The other level is to look at life meaning on an individual level. This is what the average person tends to wonder, particularly during mid-life. This is when people tend to ask questions like, “Why am I here? What is my purpose in life? Why have I been put on this Earth?”
The question is, is each way of looking at the meaning of life important? Or is one more accurate than the other? With these questions in mind, let’s take a look at the different views people take.
Science Doesn’t Have all the Answers
Scientific views on the meaning of life tend to focus more on the grand scale of the existence of the universe and how the existence of life fits in with that. Right from the Big Bang through the development of the universe as we know it, the nature of the universe has been studied.
Of specific interest is how life began in a universe that otherwise seems vast and lifeless. Many in the scientific community feel that the meaning of life is nothing more than to replicate DNA and pass on genetics.
Others have the view that life and humanity don’t exist for any particular reason, but is simply a product of evolution. That doesn’t leave us with much to strive for.
But while the laws of physics guide the existence of the universe and life within it, there is still the question of consciousness and free will. It is that consciousness that allows us to contemplate our existence and exert free will. It is that consciousness that allows us to consider the meaning of life. But how did that consciousness come to live inside our brains?
Neuroscientists have suggested consciousness is somehow the product of the workings of the brain and its neurons. Theoretical physicists have suggested consciousness is related to spacetime and is held in place by the electromagnetic field generated by the brain.
When it comes down to it, no one really knows how the consciousness came to exist. Science has not been able to determine the meaning of life—at least not yet. And it is for just this reason that many religious and philosophical views have been brought to life over the millennia.
The Need for Religion and Philosophy
Religious views on life meaning vary with the form of religion. But they all pretty much have to do with being good in the eyes of God, preparing for the afterlife, and living based on the core beliefs of the religion that is followed.
What is really interesting is that early philosophical views on the meaning of life are very similar to the religious views. They are not necessarily centered on God and specific religious beliefs, but they are concerned with the grand scheme of existence, the universe, and how we get on as part of the world community.
From the days of ancient Greece to modern times, philosophers have contemplated the meaning of life. Plato suggested is was to attain knowledge, but his pupil, Aristotle, felt it was to use that knowledge to do good in the world.
Ultimately, the focus of these philosophies, as well as Eastern philosophies, was on something otherworldly or on the greater good of humanity.
And while these views still exist in these religious and philosophic communities, today the view of life meaning has become far more personal.
The Pursuit of Purpose
The age of enlightenment brought the focus from the universal good and God to individual rights and freedoms and the use of reason.
With this, individuality was born! These days, particularly in Western societies, people are very individualistic. As such, their view of the meaning of life is centered on the nature of their own existence, their own life, not how it fits in with God or the cosmos, but how it fits within the bounds of their personal reality.
For this reason, people in the 20th and 21st century tend more toward asking “Why am I on this Earth? What is my purpose in life? What do I want to do with my life?”
Chances are, you have asked yourself these exact questions, whether you were struck with it while sitting in the middle of another boring work meeting or sitting on your front porch with a cup of tea. Some of us are even asking what we want to do with our lives when we are in our 40s or 50s!
In our modern age, there are two aspects to the meaning of life. Each of these is important and the two together create a fulfilling life that is full of meaning. These two aspects are Passion and Service.
Here’s the thing. If you ask different people what is important to them, you will get many different answers. This goes beyond the answers of children, spouse, and career. Yes, these are important to anyone, but these are base needs. They go right down to the very basic biological needs of nature.
But the meaning of life is about more than family and earning a living. It is about passion. It is about what drives you to get out of bed in the morning other than the cat sitting on you waiting to be fed or the teenager you need to wake up and get out the door.
When you are asking “What’s the meaning of life?” what you are really asking is, “What am I passionate about? What makes me truly happy and at peace with my life?” You might already know what you are passionate about and you might not.
But this begs the question, if you do, then why aren’t you doing it? If don’t know what you are passionate about, then you need to figure it out.
Here are some questions to ask yourself when you are wondering what the meaning of your life is:
What have you always loved to do, even when you were a child? This might be something that fell by the wayside when you became grown up enough to give up passion in the name of practical pursuits.
What captures your attention so much you forget life is going on around you. These are the things you get so wrapped up in that you forget to eat and sleep.
What is worth so much to you that you are willing to endure the bad that inevitably comes with the good. Remember that nothing is always good and enjoyable. When you are willing to stick it out no matter what, it’s a passion.
What do you love doing so much, you are willing to go through the initial phase of not really knowing what you are doing? This is when you will make more mistakes and sometimes feel like you are moving backward instead of forward.
How do you want to be remembered at the end of your life? As the next great novelist? Movie director? The person who cures cancer? The next Babe Ruth? Remember the time we have is limited. What do you want to do with yours?
Ultimately, you need to get out there and try different things. You need to take action because only with action will you know what you love, what gets your mojo going. Only through action can your passion grow.
Follow your heart. Do something that moves you, that is unbelievably earth-shattering. If you don’t know what moves you, then experiment. But get up off your couch and get out the front door. Pretend you don’t have cable TV or the ability to stream movies and TV shows. Instead, experience the world first-hand, whether you want to try skydiving or quilting.
At the heart of many religious, philosophical, and personal perceptions of the meaning of life is the concept of service. In fact, most people would agree that to get the most satisfaction out of life and feel the most fulfilled, we have to be of service to others in some way. This might be other people, animals, or the environment in general.
Again, this is about determining what you are passionate about and diving in. Whether you want to help starving children in Africa, stand up to end shark finning, or prevent the destruction of the rainforest, being of service brings a satisfaction that cannot be achieved in any other way. It also connects the meaning of life on a personal level with that of the religious and the philosophical.
And Don’t Forget the Story
One last word about finding meaning in life—a word that takes us back to science. Research shows that human beings find more meaning in life when it involves story. Perhaps that is why religion is such a fundamental part of so many people’s lives. It provides the foundation of story that gives us meaning in our lives and that story is the history of humanity and survival.
However, even without religion, story can be an important part of anyone’s pursuit of meaning and purpose. That’s why we all love books and movies. It’s why we sit enraptured when our grandfather tells stories about our family from long ago. And it is why it is good for us to view our lives in terms of a story, with a beginning, middle, and end and with a goal for which to strive. (Check)
In fact, the story might not even be more than our own perception of ourselves. The key is that through the story we feel we know ourselves. It is when we know ourselves that we have a stronger sense of the meaning of life.
How can you make that story the drive behind finding meaning in life? Imagine your funeral. It might sound like the last thing anyone wants to think about, but if you can picture what you want people to say about you at your funeral, what you want to be remembered for, it will help you find the passion and meaning in your life.
At the End of the Day…
When all is said and done, life has meaning because human beings give it meaning—whether through religion, philosophy, or story. Our consciousness and the awareness of our existence make it possible to give meaning to that existence.
Yet, a dog or a deer or a cow does not have that ability, even though it is also a living being. The ability to give life meaning is unique to humans and each individual person sees the meaning of life in their own way. So, it is up to each and every one of us to consider the question “what is the meaning of life” on our own terms. But remember…
The great scientist, Albert Einstein, believed in some form of the spiritual and he believed that the meaning in life involved both science and religion, that one could not exist without the other.
Both ways of looking at the meaning of life—on the larger scale and on a personal level—are valid and perhaps do go hand-in-hand. And maybe, just maybe, we all need to ask what’s the meaning of life on a personal level because without that, all we are left with is a vast and empty cosmos, in which we aren’t entirely sure of our place.
Best Wishes, HapTips Team!