If you have reached this post, you may have wondered one of the most fundamental questions: what is the meaning of life?
Unlike other living beings on planet Earth, it is a doubt humans are obsessed about: Does life have a meaning? Does my life have any purpose at all? Or even… does life actually need to have meaning?
Here, by life, we mean human life, all its organic, moral, philosophical, and ethical dimensions, to its fullest extent. Our purpose is to give a universally valid answer, in an apprehensible, practical way and using plain language. Great philosophers and thinkers such as Epicurus, the Hedonists, the Stoics, the Existentialists, Nietzsche, the Nihilists, the Tao, Bertrand Russell, Erich Fromm, Viktor Frankl… and monotheistic and polytheistic religions have offered their masterful proposals over time. But in this article, we want to offer a practical application that can be useful and helpful to everyone.
When are we aware of whether our life has had a purpose?
We consider that the critical moment, when faced with the question “Has my life had meaning?”, when we are more clairvoyant, is in the last stretch of our existence, when we are about to cross the line that separates life from death and, suddenly, it dawns on us. It is then that, when we look back, we know whether we have lived following our true nature, whether this one life we have had on planet Earth, has been lived our way, following our dreams and longings, our vital drive, or we have lived a fake life, playing the role that our environment, or social pressure, expected —or, even worse, we thought it expected— of us. It is essential to reflect on that before reaching this final stretch (where it manifests itself with all its forcefulness), and we hope that this post can contribute a little to it.
What should you do for your life to have a purpose?
It’s not necessarily about doing great things, such as writing any best sellers, planting a tree, having children, nor going down in history as a hero or a heroine (which could also be the case as long as that is what our essence pushes us to do). If our nature is to seek tranquility and harmony, and we have lived a peaceful, stable life without conflicts or great scares, our life will have had meaning; if, on the other hand, our life drive is to experience adventures, to take risks, or to live in a constant flow of adrenaline, and we have lived this way —even if we have not lasted many years—, our existence has had meaning; if what makes us feel good is giving to others and we have dedicated ourselves to caring for or helping as many people as we can, this has been a meaningful life. Besides, this last type of vital drive has a very positive effect on society and people’s happiness.
To live a life that contradicts our nature, our longings, and our vital drive is to live a false life, a kind of death in life, a tragedy that when one realizes it, is often too late.
How can you know what you really want in life?
Viktor E. Frankl said that ‘The meaning of life is to give life meaning’, but of course, it is not so simple to know what one wants in life. But of course, knowing what you want in life is complex. Sometimes, in such a challenging world, we get lost in a labyrinth. It seems almost impossible… but let’s do the following exercise: in front of others, we can put on a thousand masks, but all alone, in front of the mirror, we are not usually hypocrites with ourselves (true, we can deceive ourselves, but deep down we know it). We know perfectly well in which situations we feel good and in which not, what we like to do and what we don’t like at all.
That said, write all those situations/activities/aspects that you don’t like. Then, as in the old photographic revelations, if we have the negative, it is much easier to take the positive out of it; that is to say, the photograph of what we do want in life, that situation that will lead us to a meaningful life. If you have a negative picture of everything we don’t like, then the truth will be revealed to you: if you don’t enjoy being alone at home, maybe you should start a family and have children; if you get bored quickly, you may need a fast-paced job, in which we have to do different tasks; if you can’t stand the idea of being locked in an office executing mechanical orders, maybe you should be brave and go out to discover the world (if possible, a little better equipped than Christopher Johnson McCandless, on whom the book and movie Into the wild were based, and a person we deeply respect here); if you don’t like uncertainty at all, and it makes you suffer, then maybe you should just look for a stable job, take out a fixed interest mortgage and Bob’s your uncle. Unfelt life is an inert desert, it’s like living death; felt life is an oasis brimming with vegetation, fresh water, and trees that give us the tastiest fruits.
Do you need to have a purpose in life?
There is a very famous phrase that reads “The purpose of life is a life of purpose”. As we see it, having a purpose in life helps as long as that purpose is aligned with your life drive and values. That engine moves many people and gives meaning to their lives. But can you live a meaningful life without a purpose? We —and perhaps this will surprise you—think so. For many, finding a goal in their existence in such a complex world becomes a maze from which they can never escape, but a contemplative life, in which one lets oneself be carried away, or a life without a default path, the main incentive of which is precisely that every day surprises you, that every day is different, can be a life lived with significant meaning as long as it matches the vital drive of the one who is living it.
Fear, our sworn enemy
Fear is our greatest enemy, a contumacious saboteur, a wizard of lies that is always ready not to let us live fully. You can always resort to ‘what if this happens,’ ‘what if that happens,’ ‘what if we lose everything,’ ‘what if I get hurt?’… The biggest risk we face is not living in accordance with our true nature, which can result in a loss or waste of our life. There will always be excuses for not doing what our soul pushes us to do, but there will always be people like Albert Casals i Serradó, who went around the world in a wheelchair, who will proof that nothing is impossible. Don’t let self-limiting beliefs ruin our lives . Let’s not write our life in lowercase. Let’s dare to make the most of our existence.
Your biggest mistake is being afraid of being wrong
Oscar Wilde once said that ‘Most people die of a sort of creeping common sense and discover too late that the only things one never regrets are one’s mistakes’.
Pursuing a full life, aligned with your values, with your nature, deserves each and every mistake you may make along the way, as long as you do not harm others (since your freedom ends where the freedom of others begins, with equal legitimacy). Therefore , we must not be afraid of making mistakes if we go in the direction we have set; what we do have to fear is not doing anything out of fear of making mistakes, since this, paradoxically, is the biggest mistake of all. Many remain paralyzed, postponing vital projects they are excited about, while life flashes by. We need to find a way to combat this nonsense that prevents us from fulfiling ourselves while being true to our nature.
So what can you do now?
Do this exercise of total and sincere introspection, of profound penetration of human nature (let it flow; be yourself; you need to be brutally honest, no-one is judging you):
- Sit in front of the mirror.
- Take a sheet of paper and a pen.
- Make a vertical line that separates the plane in two.
- Think about all those situations and aspects that you don’t like
- Write them on the left side of the sheet.
- Give youself time. It is very important. If necessary, a whole day.
- Once you’re done, write on the right-hand side the opposite of that aspect you noted on the left-hand side (for example, if you hate noise, write it on the left; on the right, write ‘silence’).
- In the end, you will have the color photograph from the negative on the right. You must do this simple —but at the same time so momentous— exercise when you are quiet, keeping mood interference to a minimum. From there, every day, do things and make decisions that bring you closer to each of these points on the right, and avoid situations on the left as much as you can. You don’t have to do it all at once. Little by little, you will get closer to it … until one day, despite all the problems inherent in human existence, as if by magic, you will feel good, happy, because deep down you will know that you are living a meaningful life, a life not facing outwards, but facing inwards.
Does life really need to have meaning?
But, what if life has no meaning? Would it be a tragedy? Philosopher EM Cioran said, ‘The fact that life has no meaning is a reason to live — moreover, the only one“. The Cynics believed that the meaning of life is to live free or self-sufficient while eliminating dependence on something or someone, such as society or economy, and acting freely without basing your thoughts on something or someone.
The brilliant French writer Albert Camus was clear about it: life has no meaning. He defined this philosophical theory as ‘absurdist’ and developed it thoroughly in works such as L’ Estranger and The Rebel, but especially in The Myth of Sisyphus. Other thinkers such us Jean-Paul Sartre or Arthur Schopenhauer and playwrights such like Samuel Becket, each in their own way, have also gone deeper into the void.
*The Cynical school was founded in Ancient Greece in the second half of the fourth century a.C. The Greek Antisthenes was its founder, and Diogenes of Sinope was one of the most recognized and representative philosophers of his time.
But the fact is that humans have an almost innate need to endow life with meaning, and if we perceive that it does not have any, we suffer from a kind of horror vacui (fear of emptiness), and we look for it in philosophy, religion, or spirituality. But in this post, we do not close the door to the fact that a life without transcendental meaning can be fully lived. Maybe we’ll talk about it in the future.
First of all, It is essential to read the entire article in order to understand this conclusion in its whole dimension. The meaning of life lies in leading a life aligned with our nature, life drive, and values. It is paramount to be genuine, free from barriers and external pressure. We have to be honest with ourselves. If it’s hard for us to visualize the lifestyle that suits us best, being clear about how we don’t want to live —much more approachable— will help us know what lifestyle fits our nature best. If we manage to lead a life that matches our personality, we can say that our lives will have a purpose before we cross the line that separates life from death. If we have reached this stage (whatever age we are), we will be able to leave in peace and with a smile, with the peace of mind that comes from having dared to live LIFE IN CAPITAL LETTERS.
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