This question about the meaning of life might seem to be answered many times. So what is the meaning of answering it one more time? The reason is simple – most of the answers are not applicable to our everyday life. This “meaning” becomes a highly philosophical word that becomes useless when you start thinking what to do next.
I want to be able to measure the meaning of things I do. How can you tell, is what you are doing meaningful or not? Is your job meaningful? Was your weekend meaningful? The answer I will provide might not be the most accurate from the philosophical point of view, but it will be useful for your life. If you want to transform your life to a more meaningful one – start adopting the principles you will find in this article, and observe slow but amazing changes in your life.
Answers to the most fundamental questions
The question about the meaning of life is probably the most fundamental. Dalai Lama, for example, has an immediate answer to this question. He says it’s happiness. Do you have an immediate answer? One my friend said, that the meaning is to have family and raise children. Do you agree?
Now let’s find a logical answer.
First of all, let’s answer what is life.
Let’s say that human life is a time period between birth and death, without any deeper thoughts about what is the moment of birth, and what happens after death. That is life.
Also, you can see that there is no life as itself without a human being. It is someone’s life – your life, my life, life of Donald Trump. No abstract or universal “life”. If a human is born – he is alive already, no need to do anything. No matter what they say – “If you have never failed – you have never lived“, you only need to be born to live. But if you die – your life stops. No matter how many businesses you have started, how many pieces of art you have created or how many children you have raised.
Sometimes I hear such speculations as “life is a battle“, “life is a game“, “life is a theater” and so on. No. Life is a period of time, it is measured in years, minutes, seconds. The question is how you spend your life (read: time)? There is no such thing as no-lifing, because even if you play computer games you are alive. There is no such thing as a work-life balance because you never die when you go to work, and never reborn after it. You see? The right definition explains many things.
Next question: what is the meaning?
If we want to know what is the meaning of life, we must know what is the meaning by itself. It is simple – the meaning of something is just a difference between the world with and without it. Let’s see a simple example.
What is the meaning of light bulb? To answer it – compare the word with a light bulb and without it. Is there any difference? Are there any lightbulbs on right now in you room? Can you turn them off?
What is the meaning of money? Business? Love? Happiness? Things you own? Friends? You can find an answer to any such question just by comparing the world with and without them. What changes? What you cannot do? What should you do differently? That was done in a classic movie “It’s a wonderful life” by showing to a suicidal guy how the world would look like without him.
Let’s go back to the light bulb and ask a tiger living in Africa how his world would be different without a light bulb. If the tiger is not hungry, he might not eat you and answer: “I don’t care”. And probably he is right. For him there is almost no difference is there a light bulb or not.
It means that the meaning of a thing is different for everyone. The world with or without something is different for everyone. Look – if someone’s relative dies, for her or him it seems like an end of the world. But what is the difference for you? Someone dies every few seconds, and it does not affect your life at all.
Now we understand the underlying principles and can start answering the big question. But at first, we need to decide what meaning we will try to describe, who will see that difference with or without? Let’s look at the person himself, other people and the world as a whole (universe). If we had different points of view, we would have different answers – but these seem to be quite practical ones.
The answer – What is the meaning of life?
What is the meaning of your life for you? It depends on what do you do. If you harm yourself by your actions, then the meaning is negative. If you create happiness by your actions – then the meaning is positive. If you ceased to exist you would lose all the happiness you created, all the suffering you created and you could not do all the things you are doing. What would you like to keep, things that make you happy or things that make you suffer? Here we have discovered the first meaning:
The meaning of life is to be happy and enjoy life.
What’s the point of things you do if they are not making you happy?
What is the meaning of your life for other people? Again, it depends on what do you do. If you harm others by your actions, then the meaning is negative. If you create value to others by your actions – then your meaning is positive. If you ceased to exist what would others miss – the things you did to make them happy or the things you did to make them suffer? Here we have discovered the second meaning:
The meaning of life is to create value to others.
What’s the point of things you do if they are not useful to anyone?
What is the meaning of your life for the universe? The point is the same – how can you benefit the world? But what is useful to the world? Well, it is a wide topic. The world is always evolving, there are always appearing new things – at first, it was stars and galaxies, then planets appeared, then living creatures appeared on them, then humans evolved, then those humans created paper, book, computer, phone and so on. Everything what helps to create something new, to push the boundaries of this world further is useful. Humans benefit this world by creating new things. For it they must learn new skills, improve themselves, learn about the world and only then they are able to create those new things. Here is the third meaning:
The meaning of life is to learn, improve, create and move forward.
What’s the point of life if you die in the same situation you were born?
One more remark. As you see there might be positive meaning that is useful or causes happiness. Or there might be negative meaning that is harmful or causes suffering. You cannot say that lives of Hitler and Stalin were meaningless, but those of Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King were meaningful. They all had meaningful lives: Hitler, Napoleon Bonaparte, Stalin, Alexander the Great – they all changed lives of lots people (by simply killing them), shaped the world as it is now. But not always in a positive way.
Congratulations! Now you know the meaning of life! So what?
First, I hope you understood that you are the one who creates your meaning – is it having a nice family, creating a business or traveling the world. If you do nothing, then there is no difference are you alive or not. If you upload funny cat pics on Pinterest, there is more meaning than if you did nothing at all. But you can choose to do more meaningful things. You are the one who decides.
Second, the meaning of your life seems different to everyone. It depends on what is valuable to them. For ones Napoleon Bonaparte is a greedy slaughter, for others – great strategist of war, for everyone else – the creator of Napoleonic code. For ones Steve Jobs is a psychopat boss, for others – business innovator, for everyone else – the creator of iPhone.
What is important to you is not an absolute truth. The meaning of your life is not absolute to everyone. You might be creating an empire, but your very existence is the meaning of your life for those who love you. You might consider yourself the kindest person in the world, but your boss wants you to be tougher.
The absolute truth will not be born in a discussion because there is no absolute truth.
Now you can measure the meaning of anything you want. Now you have a way to choose the most meaningful activity out of options you have.
Which hour is the most meaningful – the one spend on facebook? in a gym? volunteering? sleeping?
Let’s try to evaluate meaning marking each option from -3 to +3.
Value to others: +1 (if you upload really funny cat pics)
Moving forward: -1 (this is not improving your life I guess)
Value to others: +1 (you will inspire others)
Moving forward: +2 (you are improving physically)
Value to others: +3
Moving forward: +2 (maybe you are learning new skills)
Value to others: 0
Moving forward: +2 (improving your health and mental state)
Which one got the most points? Which one would you choose? Are the points helping you to choose?
If you want to try evaluating the meaning of different things, try this beautiful and functional spreadsheet for Evaluating the Meaning. I believe you will find it useful and fun.
(Works best with Excel)
I am not saying that you must do only meaningful things. I am saying that you can understand what is meaningful and decide how much meaning do you want in your life. If you think it is not meaningful enough, let’s transform it. We can do it quietly.