Does life have meaning, or it is a pointless question usually raised by Utopian minds who cannot afford to live in the practical reality? What do you think? Does life have meaning?
Let us approach this question from different perspectives and see how we feel about it.
I live in India. India is a poor country. I don’t know about your country but we, in the Indian middle class and above have beggars following us in public places. Beggars are everywhere, asking for money, or food.
I was driving the other day and a beggar woman approached me with her baby in her lap, and asked for money. I usually give them whatever change I have at the moment, and so I did.
Now, let’s think about that beggar woman for a minute, now that we are considering the question. Does her life have meaning?
Her life has no meaning. Her life is only survival oriented. The only purpose of her life is to survive on a day to day basis. Since she is poor, she cannot even think about questions like this, and would not have any time or patience if you asked her the meaning of her life. That is, till her situation in life improves to a point where she can ponder over questions like this.
Therefore, the beggar’s life has no meaning and it’s none of her fault. She was born poor and has lived her life on the streets. She had sex with some man and had a baby. She doesn’t care really what the baby will do and what kind of life the baby would have. In all likelihood, the baby will end up begging as well, and bring money for the family. I wish I could help her enough to bring her out of poverty, but at the point, I can’t.
Her life, therefore, has no meaning and she can’t do anything about it.
Let’s look at another example.
Friend of mine works with a consulting firm. He helps his clients shape business strategies to outperform the competition. He has been doing this job for several years and had made quite a mark for himself within the firm.
However, I asked him recently if he really enjoyed the work. He said and I quote, “Work is work. You don’t really do it to enjoy it.”
So, he doesn’t really enjoy the work. He hasn’t even thought much about why he is in the consulting domain. He got this job right after MBA and has been doing it since. His only objective was, and is to make money from the job and he does it well for the company, and for himself.
Does his life have meaning?
He hasn’t really created the effort to understand why he does what he does, and therefore, doesn’t feel deeply about it. If you don’t connect to something deeply, you can’t create meaning. Money cannot be the meaning of life.
Therefore, my friend’s life has no meaning, in spite of his financial success.
Let us look at another example.
There is a man who gardens the park in my housing society. He is the gardener who takes care of the plants in everyone’s homes as well. Nobody in the entire society wants to work with anybody else, as far as horticulture is concerned.
I met him once while strolling and realized that he isn’t just responsible for our society but many more societies within the city. He has built a business around plants, flowers and gardens. He used to work in the electricity department but he realized at some point in his life that he loved flowers, plants and lush green gardens.
He left his job to pursue what he loved and in the last 5 years has built quite a reputation for himself. He says there is no competition in the field and his mission is to create a greener world for the future generations.
His name is Raman.
Do you think Raman’s life has meaning? Frankly, I don’t even know how much money he makes and what car he drives. Knowing his passion for greenery, I doubt he drives a fuel guzzler that pollutes the environment.
Let me come to my point now.
There is no meaning inherent in life. We either give it meaning or we don’t.
Raman’s mission is an example of how does one give life meaning. He does something because he believes in it, and using that, he is making the world a better place.
The origin of meaning is in self-awareness. If you and I want to give meaning to our lives, we need to understand who we are and what do we want to do with our lives?
We need to ask ourselves some tough questions:
Why am I doing what I am doing?
Do I feel deeply connected to it?
Am I spending my time with people I feel connected with?
Is there a purpose to the things I do?
What is my objective beyond money?
What am I trying to achieve with this life?
How can I make the world a better place?
There is nothing wrong with consulting. There is something absolutely wrong with doing it just for the money, and not because you are adding value to someone else’s business.
Meaning is an outcome of having an answer to the why’s of your life. If you know why you do what you do, your life will have purpose, and if your life has purpose. Meaning is an outcome of leading a purposeful life.
A purpose can’t be mercenary. Although money could be, and should be an output of your purpose but money as the destination defeats the idea of having a worthy purpose.
How many of us know a bunch of rich people?
I am sure you know a few.
How many of us know people who inspire us to make the world a better place?
Not too many.
The problem with the current state of the society is that it is built around materialism. People who have a lot of money and things money can buy are celebrated by the society.
We get what we value.
If we continue to admire and build materialism as the foundation value of society, that’s what we will get. That’s what we have been getting for years.
However, if we need to move towards a meaning and purpose driven society, we need to make a few fundamental changes in the way we live. We need to teach children to find ways to contribute to their surroundings. We need to reorient our goals. We need to ask ourselves how we feel inside.
Do we feel fulfilled or do we feel empty?
If we continue to feel empty in spite of all the success we have achieved, then clearly we have gone wrong somewhere as human race.
What’s the point of all the money if it doesn’t feed our core, our soul if you will? We need to feed our core to feel good about ourselves. If we don’t feel good about ourselves, there is a void inside and that void continues to grow, if we don’t do anything about it.
I want you to lead a meaningful life, now that you are reading this article. Please stop feeling empty. If you feel empty about life, that’s because you haven’t taken the time to understand yourself.
If you don’t spend your time doing activities you find meaningful, then you need to start filling up your days with such activities. Start slow. Do not rush. Significant changes take time. They don’t happen overnight. Give yourself some time, to think and understand who you are, and what you are truly meant to do.
You will need to introspect and understand things that you find meaningful. For example, you may realize that you love animals and making the world safer for animals makes you feel great. I remember knowing an old man who would spend his mornings and evening feeding stray dogs in the area. He would walk with bags full of snacks and feed dogs. Nobody understood why he did what he did. But he did that religiously because he got some satisfaction out of it, and perhaps meaning. The stray dogs waited for him all day, and wagged their tails about him as he walked.
Let me make this sharper for you.
If you want your life to have meaning, you need to do stuff that you find meaningful. It doesn’t matter what people think about it. It is as simple as that. You may be in a job, or work for yourself, or whatever. In case what you do currently doesn’t fulfill you, try and move towards stuff that does fulfill you.
If you are a lawyer, may be you want to be a teacher.
If you are a teacher, may be you want to be a lawyer.
If you are a consultant, may be you want to be a comedian.
If you are a banker, may be you want to be a writer.
If you have never taken off the time to understand who you are and things you like, please take the time.
You need to make the time to understand yourself. I never knew for most of my life that work could be a source of meaning and pleasure. It’s only when I discovered a writer within me, that I found that work could have meaning. I found a comedian within me on the stage, and making people happy started generating meaning for my life. I also do research work which I find meaningful because I get to understand a lot of new things about the world.
And, it’s not just work.
Are your relationships meaningful?
Do you love your partner?
Love is at the essence of meaning and happiness. Love is the foundation. You need to figure who and what you love to be able to create meaning in your life. Figure out what you love. Find someone you love and start loving.
Let us come back to the question I started this piece with- does life have meaning?
No, life has no meaning. By itself, life is meaningless. But, as human beings we can create meaning in our lives by doing things which we find meaningful. When we do things that we find meaningful, because we love those things, we make the world a better place.
You can’t create meaning for yourself without creating value for others.
This is where I will stop.
I am a writer, and stand-up comedian based in India. If you would like to work with me, please feel free to reach out. If you liked the article, please clap right here. It took me over half a day to write it, and it makes my life meaningful to know that it helped.