“What is the Meaning of Life?”
For millennia humans have been asking this question. But here’s the thing, it’s the wrong question.
The search for the meaning to life is a red herring. The search for “meaning” is actually a desire to understand the context of our existence. We understand the nature of things by comparing them to other things, and the context within which all these things exist. However, we cannot know the context of the Universe (or the Multiverse, if that’s what we’re floating in) nor can we know God’s context (assuming S/He exists). Where does God live? In a world of other gods? If so what is the context of that world? Is it in a solar system? A galaxy? A universe?
It soon becomes farcical and in practical terms, futile. So this is clearly the wrong question, in that it is useless and unanswerable.
To me, given our limited understanding of the context of our lives, it seems a better question is: How can I be happy and content in my life? And the answer to that question is to try and be the best (most functional) version of ourselves that we can be.
What Are You?
This requires understanding who we are. What our concept or function actually is. So you must ask: who am I, or better put, what am I?
Take me for example:
- I am a human
- A man
- A father, partner & friend
- A contributor to society
- An artist/creative (ok, “creative” is not strictly a noun…)
For these categorisations to have any meaning, we need to break them down, here is my attempt to do so this morning. I listed these while two four year old boys were raising hell around me, hopefully they make sense!
What is the concept of a human? How does a human fulfill its function well?
The function of a human is to survive and, where possible, thrive. This means to be healthy, fed, safe and spiritually/mentally content. This involves acceptance by the wider tribe that is society, which requires many skills and traits. It may also require fulfilling the breeding urge and also the Will to Power, although these can be overridden or tempered to an extent (and in the case of Will to Power, should be, by compassion, empathy and kindness).
What is the function/concept of being a man?
Interesting question. Here’s what I came up with: To be a man (as distinct from a woman) means to fulfill the innate desire to be respected by others. How to achieve this? Fulfill other functions, where possible, thrive – and be seen to do so.
This may be a very poor definition for you, but it felt right to me.
What is the function/concept of being a father, partner & friend?
To be a father firstly requires fathering kids. (Done!)
The next function is to love and protect these kids as much as humanly possible. Then to provide for the children. Providing for the children means being able to earn enough money to thrive as a family, but it must be tempered by the ability to be present within the family (not at work all the time, which is destructive to the family unit, perhaps dependent on your personality). This means providing enough value to the company/organisation (that one owns or works for) and its customers/beneficiaries to be rewarded with the money you need.
Another function of fatherhood is to be a role model, which to be done well, means to be an exemplary human being (hmmm … some work to be done).
All of this is done in partnership with one’s partner (husband/wife, de facto or otherwise). To be an effective partner means to love, nurture and co-operate with the other partner to be the most effective couple possible, building a loving, nurturing home and life together, both for the benefit of ourselves, our children and society in general.
To have friends is important in achieving the goal of becoming content as a human. To have friends, we need to be a friend, by which is meant reach out and commune with others and willingly help others.
An eco-system of personal value
All of these value functions are circular in that they feed back into each other. It’s an eco-system of personal value. Without friends, we may not be content as humans, nor contribute much to society. When we do not contribute, we feel less valuable (and in reality, are less valued by society). This leads to being a malcontent, which feeds into the ability to be a good parent, to be healthy … and so on and so forth.
What is the concept/function of a contributor to society?
Again this is circular with the other facets of “me” and has already been addressed somewhat. It requires contributing value to society at large, rather than just one’s immediate circles. This is fulfilled through work (and the value your work provides others) and through one’s ability to function well as a member of society. This means:
- not contravening the laws and morals of society where they are reasonable,
- not harming others or the planet, within reasonable parameters,
- actively adding value to other people’s lives through acts of kindness, service and/or monetary contributions to individuals or charities.
What is my function as an artist/creator?
I know myself well enough to know that I am inherently wired up to create: I compulsively write books/articles/songs. I compulsively perform music solo or in bands. I love to come up with and execute creative business ideas. There is latent ability to create visual art, movies, whatever.
Conversely I am well aware of my shortcomings in other areas, for example, number crunching, physical trades or administrative tasks.
In order to fulfill my need as a human to experience spiritual/mental contentment, I need to make as much time as possible to create and get these creations out into society.
Again, it gets circular: Ideally, this is where my vocation should lie, if I can find a creative expression/market fit. Where is the sweet spot where I can create the greatest value for all the parties discussed in these notes, while fulfilling the creative urge?
Summary: Asking “what is the meaning to life?” is the wrong question because what you’re really asking is “what is the ultimate context of life?”, which we can never really know. A more practical question is “how can I be happy and content in this life?”
This requires understanding what you are as a bundle of concepts and then figuring out how you can function best to fulfill your concept/s ie. how you can be the best possible version of what you are.
This post was directly inspired and informed by author Richard Koch’s post about “what is good?” and by my friend and employer Steve White (who’s willingness to stop work and discuss the nature of existence is a wonderful thing) and his ideas about the right and wrong questions to ask re. the meaning of life.