What is the meaning of life?
If you’ve asked yourself that question lately, you’re not alone. We’ve questioned the meaning of life since becoming aware of our existence. But in an age where things are multiplying rapidly, and 7.5 billion other souls are going about their lives in one way or another, we occasionally have to stop and think about it for a moment instead of just living on autopilot.
However, the mere thought of life — our life and the lives of others — can be overwhelming at best. Here we are, on this planet that we call earth, a glorified rock in outer space, spinning on its axis at 1000 miles per hour, and shooting across an orbit around the sun at 67,000 miles per hour.
To add to that, we’re just one of trillions upon trillions of other planets out there in the known universe. In fact, in a galaxy that we call the Milky Way, there are 100 billion other stars, each with their own planets. And, in the universe that we know today, there are 100 billion other galaxies like our own.
When you stop to contemplate the sheer mathematics of that, it’s enough to boggle even the most astute and scientifically-inclined minds.
So, we continue to come back to the questions.
Why are we here? What is our purpose? What’s the meaning of it all? Is there a grand design, a bigger picture to the everyday struggles that we face in life? Or, is this it?
Why are we Here?
So, what’s the point of it all? Why do we wake up day-in and day-out and continue on with our lives, doing the things that we do, unable to really grasp the enormity of it all here on earth?
No doubt you’ve asked yourself questions like this before. I know I have. But, the hardest part in our search for meaning in our lives, is during those times we’re devoid of any meaning at all.
Generally, we feel that way after a major failure. When we fail, our energy is depleted, dampening, and sometimes, deadening, our spirit for moving forward in life. When everything that we once hoped for or believed in comes crashing down around us, what’s the point of going on?
When I suffered through the heart-wrenching failures that have been strung together in my life, I felt, each time, like I had lost all meaning. Other times, even when things were going good, I still found myself questioning the meaning of my life.
It’s happened to me. And I know it’s happened to you. So, what’s the point of it all? How do we uncover meaning in our lives, especially when we suffer through major failure or defeat.What happens when we go through things like divorce, career failure, dropping out of school, or anything else that completely decimates us deep down to the core?
Are we meant to live a life of mediocrity, doomed to an existence that seems not to matter? Or, are we just creating a foundation for something far greater in the future? And what are the ways that we can uncover meaning in our lives no matter what stage of the “game” we might be in?
Discovering Meaning in Your Life
When I was 5 years old, I wanted to be a doctor. But not just any doctor — I wanted to be a neurosurgeon. I wanted to help people get better by fixing their brains. While I didn’t end up pursuing that path, I did end up doing something else that I ultimately fell in love with over time.
As a writer who writes about ways people can improve their lives by building better habits and achieving their goals, I feel that I’m fulfilling my childhood dreams of helping others. But, there was a time when I felt confused. It was a dark window of years where I felt like I was chasing my tail.
I suffered through a series of major failures and felt like my life lacked any sense of meaning. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, and felt lost, trying to feel my way around and find a renewed sense of purpose. I know how confusing those times were for me. And, if you’re trying to discover some meaning in your own life, then there are some ways of uncovering what’s hidden and possibly locked away in your mind.
I talk about my younger self because that’s really before the large majority of our ego develops. Before we get so enthralled in things like money, fame, and success, our sense of purpose is far more altruistic. Generally speaking, we want to help others by becoming a doctor or a firefighter, or we want to discover new things by becoming an explorer or an astronaut, and still others.
We don’t tend to think about limitations in life, especially as children. We’re young go-getters with little care in the world, but a big desire to make an impact in some way. And, although our ideas change as we learn more about the reality of life and the underlying importance of our finances, our eagle-eyed younger selves should be looked upon to renew our sense of purpose and meaning.
There are, in fact, a number of ways that you can uncover meaning in your life. Some of those ways rely on looking back at the clues left behind from our childhood. Others involve different methods. But, however you look at it, the importance of finding meaning can’t be underestimated.
Because, without meaning, we lack a sense of purpose. When we lack a sense of purpose, we feel like we’re wasting in the wind. No one wants to feel lost and unhappy. Rather, we want a sense of purpose that makes us feel that our life is worth living.
#1 — What did you want to be when you were a child? How is what you’re doing today similar to that? How is it different?
As a child, our imaginations are virtually limitless. We’re not inhibited by the roadblocks that hold normal people back. When you ask a child what he wants for Christmas, he might reply that he wants two swimming pools, one for the backyard and one in the front. Simply put, they don’t understand the limits of society or money or anything else. Their imaginations are boundless.
Thinking about what you wanted to be as a child is important. It’s a time when your mind roamed free. Remember that our personalities are largely set and created before we hit the age of 5 years old. So, everything that happens in those critical first 5 years has an enormous impact on us throughout our lives. While we might not remember it consciously, those experiences form a foundation for the beliefs and values we hold.
What you need to ask yourself is, not only what you wanted to be as a child, but what are you doing today and how is it different or similar to what you wanted back then. Often, when our present-day occupations are out of sync with our beliefs and values, or what we wanted to do as children, we can feel conflicted and devoid of meaning.
This isn’t always the case. But sometimes it’s precisely what ails us. What did you want to be as a child? What are you doing today and how is that different or similar? I used the example of me wanting to be a doctor as a child in order to help others and how I am still fulfilling the “help” part, just not the formal occupational role, because that distinction is an important one.
If you’re not happy doing what you’re doing because it’s not what you wanted to do as a child, you don’t have to beat yourself up over it. All you need to do is formulate a plan. Because, happiness isn’t just about making a lot of money. Happiness is about doing what you love. And, if you can do what you love and still make money, then even better.
Right now, if you’re not doing what you love or it’s not in-line with what you wanted to do as a child, set a goal and make a plan. How can you make the transition to do what you love? If you say there’s no way you’ll make money doing what you love, then you’re already limiting yourself. The mind is very powerful in that aspect. Seek and ye shall find, as the saying goes.
#2 — If you had just one year left to live, what would you do with your life?
This is quite possibly one of the most important questions to ask yourself when you’re searching for meaning in your life. Why? Because, the answer will help you uncover the path to true happiness. What would you do, today, if your doctor told you that you have just a year left to live on this earth? How would you feel? What would you want to do?
Would you quit your job tomorrow, throw caution to the wind, and travel to see the world? Would you rekindle a relationship with someone from your past? Would you make a commitment to contribute something to society or other people? What would you do? How would you act? What are the things that would be going through your mind?
Write it down. And as much as you might not want to put yourself, mentally, into that situation, the outcome of what you write is important to your ability to find true meaning in your life. Often, we’re devoid of emotional joy after something really painful happens to us, or we suffer through a string of failures. We search for answers and look for clues, trying to hold onto anything with substance.
Whether or not that’s happened to you, or you feel like it might happen in the near-future, take the reigns of your life now and decide what it is you would do if you only had a year to live. Then, ask yourself the question, what’s really stopping you from doing those things right now. What are the things in your path? What’s in your way?
Is it money? Other people? Circumstances? Something else? Figure it out. Set a goal. Make a plan. Live the life of your dreams today. Don’t wait for tomorrow to come or for something bad to happen. Life is meant to be lived right now in this very moment. Whatever it takes, you can figure it out. It’s just a matter of sheer will.
#3 — What would your obituary read if you were to die tomorrow? What would you want people to know about what you accomplished?
As sad as this might sound, extending on question #2 about what you would do if you only had a year to live, what would your obituary ready if you were to die tomorrow? What would you want people to know about what you accomplished in life? What would have been your major accomplishments?
Would you talk about your children and how you had such loving and wonderful kids? Would you talk about your wife? Your parents? Your accomplishments in work? What are the truly important things? Surely, this isn’t a time to list off the “things” you acquired. It’s a time to convey the things you accomplished.
So think about it. What are the highlights from your life? It might sound very cut and dry to boil your life down into a few paragraphs, but it helps send an important message to the subconscious mind. It helps to also identify the important things in your life, or the things that you cherish the most.
After you’ve written it out, read it over a few times. How can you adjust your lifestyle and the things that you do on a daily basis, to put more of your energies into the things you talked about in your obituary? Are you already putting your energy there? If you want to find meaning, much of it is staring you in the face right there.
#4 — If your house were burning down and you could only save three things (assuming all other people and pets were safe) what would you take with you?
What would you save from your home or apartment if it were burning down considering that all other people or pets were safe? If you had less than 1 minute to vacate, what would you take? Valuables? Sentimental items? What would they be specifically? Try not to think about it for too long. Just write it down, then write down why you would take that particular item with you.
When we think about some calamity striking such as a fire that might devastate our home, it’s hard to imagine what would be going through our minds at the moment. But, by putting ourselves in that situation, and really envisioning what we would take with us, we’re identifying the important and meaningful things in our lives.
Spend some time to look at what you wrote down. Why are those things so important to you? Have you thought about it before? What’s the story behind those items? Try to trace it back as far as you can go. Keep asking yourself, why is this important to me until the answer guides you to a greater understanding of your life and its meaning.
#5 — What’s the one saying that you remember the most as a child that your parents often repeated to you? Why was it so important for them to make you remember it?
The sayings that we remember as children are important because they help to shape our belief systems. Our parents or guardians, whether we like it or not, helped to instill a certain set of beliefs in our minds by uttering phrases repeatedly. Things like, “Money doesn’t grow on trees,” or, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” amongst others, helped to shape how we look at things in life.
Whatever the phrases you heard repeatedly as a child were, take the time to write them down. Then, write down how those phrases have shaped your beliefs and experiences in life. How have they held you back or helped you to do certain things? Did the sayings have a role in forming negative beliefs or positive ones?
Our beliefs are important because they give meaning to our lives. What we believe in has a huge impact on the things we say, do, and want, providing a framework for us to live day-by-day. If you’ve been shaped by a negative belief, it’s time to replace it with a positive one.
Often, these sayings, which have formulated our beliefs, might strip us of the motivation or inspiration to achieve more in life, feeling like the status quo is all that we’re worth. By rewriting negative sayings and reshaping our beliefs, we can find meaning in things we might have thought were beyond our reach in the past. It’s easier said than done and will involve developing the new, positive beliefs into thinking habits, but it will be well worth it.
#6 — Identify the one thing that you’re passionate about, that makes you lose track of time. What do you love to do that you get so immersed in doing that you forget everything else?
Sometimes, meaning is found in the simple things. It might be a creative pursuit, it might be a technical one, or it might be neither of the two and reside somewhere else in the realm of life. But, think about the things that you’re passionate about and identify the one thing that you do that makes you lose all track of time, forgetting everything else.
Do you love to paint? Draw? Write? Walk? Explore? What is it that you love to do? What it is that you’re passionate about? If you want to find meaning, sometimes you have to follow your passion in life, no matter what that passion is. Waking up devoid of meaning and emotion by going to a life-sucking 9-to-5 job just to pay the bills certainly takes a toll on our lives.
But, you can turn your passion into an income-paying pursuit little by little over time. It doesn’t have to happen overnight. First, identify what you’re passionate about. Then, brainstorm ways you can turn that passion into a full-time pursuit. Create a goal and formulate a plan, then take a little bit of action every single day until you can see it through.
#7 –What are the three core values that you hold most important to you? Integrity, freedom, security, loyalty, passion, adventure, courage, reliability, optimism, adventure, and so on. Select the three most important (it may or may not be on this list)
Our core values are another integral component of our lives that are shaped by our beliefs and our experiences. What we value has a big impact on the meaning we attribute to things. When we lose what we value in life, it’s easy to feel like we’re wallowing in a sea of hopelessness, never to see the light of day again. It can be terrifying to say the least.
But, oftentimes, we can also find a glimmer of hope, even in desperate times. Identify the three core values in life that you hold the most important. What are the things that truly are at your core that would help to describe who you really are?
After you’ve written down the three core values that are most important to you, write down why they’re so important. What’s the reason you chose that particular value? What experience or belief has led you to feel that you value that the most in your life? The answers could be integral in your quest to uncover meaning in your life.
#8 — If you were given the opportunity to do anything you wanted for just one week, what would it be? Where would you go, who would you take, or what things would you do?
The last, but certainly not least, question to ask yourself is what you would do if you could literally do anything for one week. What would it be? You could go anywhere, take anyone, and simply do anything for just one week. What would you do? Who would you take? Where would you go?
Would you go on a trip around the world? Would you go help people that were hungry by feeding the homeless? Would you kick your feet up on an exotic island in the South Pacific? Would you drive a Ferrari through the mountains of Italy? What would it be?
The question is important because it helps to center your focus. What we want out of life and what we dream about, versus the things that we actually do on a daily basis, can run in stark contrast. But, by letting the mind go free into a stream of consciousness, we can better pinpoint the things we attribute meaning to in life, or why we’re doing what we’re doing.
In all, this, and the previous seven other questions, should help you discover meaning in your life if you took them seriously. If you didn’t write out the answers, go back and do it now. Really put the effort into this and you might just walk away with some intriguing insight into your past, present, and future, giving you a better sense of purpose and meaning as you march forward in time.