What is the meaning of life? (and why do people keep asking)

[Each week I take the top voted topic from readers and answer it.  With 45 votes, this week’s winner was “What is the meaning of life (and why do people continually ask).”]

I’ve yet to hear my dog ask about the meaning of life and he seems pretty satisfied with existence. You could conclude that we’re better off not even asking about meaning. Kids don’t ask it, at least not with the same angst adults do. There is mild merit to the phrase ignorance is bliss, as ignorance comes in both pleasant and painful forms. If yours is the former, and you don’t fear boredom, you can float with contentment along the surface of existence never exploring what’s beneath. There’s a zen proverb that says “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water” and I consider this saying often. No matter how much you understand or don’t about your life, you still have to do the living.

Most of living involves simple tasks. The answer to the meaning of life question might just be there is no meaning other than living life for it’s simple pleasures and responsibilities. Modern life has millions of people who need kindness and there are thousands of skills that can be learned and put to good use. There’s plenty of obviously good meaningful things to do. But we have choose them, they usually do not choose us.

It’s notable that the people who ask the titular question most often are those who have a life successful enough to be beyond struggling to survive. You don’t hear this question much from people in need of work, scavenging for food, or running for their lives in fear on a regular basis. Most living things in the history of the planet never bothered to need to ask this question in part because they were too busy trying to stay alive to have a need to occupy their minds with metaphysical questions.

Kafka (possibly) wrote “the meaning of life is that it ends” which I love. Our choices matter because they are finite. The time I spent writing this essay was time I will never get back. Eventually I will die and and all my time will be gone forever. Even if no one reads this, or I decide later I hate it, it still has meaning to me because it’s where I chose to put part of my life. How I prioritize my time defines what my life means. This is pragmatic meaning. Meaning is not an ideal or platitude but something that I manifest in actions I take, or don’t take. In other words, the meaning of life is who you talked to, who you loved, who you helped, who you hurt, what you built, what you destroyed, and on it goes. Camus wrote “Don’t wait for the last judgement, it takes places every day”.

Socrates said “the life that is unexamined is not worth living” which appeals to me. However I think there’s possible merit in living without much examination, at least for periods of time, as my dog’s daily life, or a weekend in Hawaii, are proof of the joys of hedonism. The trap is the examined life offers superior pleasures. Unwavering hedonism loses its meaning over time, as we need contrasting experiences to fully realize what we have. No meal is better than one after a fast.

Following Socrates lead, the fundamental flaw in the question is that it’s asked in the singular. As if there was one meaning, written on a sacred mountain, visible only with a special magic spell, and all we need to do find the secret map, cast the spell, and reveal the meaning for 6 billion people as if it were a crackerjack prize. It’s clear there are an infinite number of meanings to life. You can have several of them that serve you in different ways, or that are useful at different times. The meanings of life for an 17 year old boy, is different than for a 27 year old woman, and on it goes. We go through many meanings during life and people who have fulfilling lives take ownership of the process of shedding old meanings and cultivating new ones.

Once you ask “what are the meanings of life?”, seeking multiple answers instead of singular, doors open. It’s easy to see that different people find different meanings, and that you have to do the legwork of trying different ones out, or even crafting meanings of your own based on what you learn from others and your own experience with what has meaning for you.

The reason people keep asking the question is it’s a cliche’. It’s the most well known phrase for attempting a philosophical discussion with someone. Most people, even when discussing philosophy, stay in the abstract, shy of sharing their own personal meanings, which contributes to the frequency of the question. We ridicule people who ramble about meaning as navel gazers, but the mistake is merely being shy of the personal and the specific.

It’s fascinating to hear how people translate meaning into the actions of their daily lives, as generally we fail at the process, distracted by shiny objects, status symbols, fears and entertainments. We so rarely share our personal struggles with the inconsistencies of our beliefs and behaviors, but it’s in those conversations the meanings we seek can always be found.

Photo by Gian. on Unsplash

91 Responses to “What is the meaning of life? (and why do people keep asking)”

  1. liz

    i feel like i just opened a very cool fortune cookie

    1. Awesome pants

      Add in bed to the end of this fortune cookie and you found your meaning to life.:)

    2. Ashley Hamm

      Enjoyed reading and found this to be very inspirational!

    3. Jack of bones

      Haha now i want a fortune cookie. :)

    4. kayla

      What do you mean by that? That answer is not helping me or my schoolwork

    5. Timothy Johnson

      The meaning of life is to enjoy the journey. There are ups and downs and turns you don’t think you will make. People who impress you and love you, people who you think you can trust and end up shitting on you. You simply do not know what will happen. You can play it safe work like a slave, contribute to your 401k and be hit by a bus tomorrow. There is a balance in life as far as what you do today versus saving for tomorrow, I’m not sure what the answer is. What I do know is that I have been wealthy and poor. Better to be poor and in love than wealthy and have a terrible relationship. I truly have been both and someone who cares and loves you is worth more than all the money (well maybe not like a couple hundred million). If you have a couple hundred million you can create your own world. Not sure if you are that wealthy you can know the meaning of life,

      1. James Garner

        I think you are a very honest and realistic person, just by what you have said in your comments section. You make a lot of great points, that most people aren’t honest enough to make, or they’re just not willing to make them. I especially like the one where you said, ” You can play it safe work like a slave, contribute to your 401K and be hit by a bus tomorrow”. This is so true, too many good people are doing this only to have something like this happen to them.

  2. liz

    btw my meaning comes from the satisfaction i get from the promotion of truth, beauty, humor, and kindness. these are the reasons for what i input and output every day, most favoritely lately being in the form of drawing cartoons, feeding friends, watching lightening bugs, listening to brilliant tunes, marveling over good books and movies…

  3. Getzel Rubashkin

    In response to the central question you made two main points:

    A) Meaning is personal – there is no objective meaning, singular or plural, to discover.
    B) Meaning is transitory – there is no single meaning, or need for one. Distinct meaning is found in distinct moments.

    Accepting the existence of transitory personal meaning (and asking the often more useful question about what those meanings are, as you suggest) does not preclude the existence of a single permanent personal meaning, or of objective meanings, permanent or transitory, single or plural.

    You dismiss the premise of a permanent objective meaning undergirding life as absurd, as if the existence of such a meaning would preclude any other. It doesn’t.
    The examination Socrates advises extends to this possibility as well and it can be accepted or rejected but ought not be dismissed out of hand.

    1. Scott

      That’s an interesting point. Let me think about that before I reply.

      1. Getzel Rubashkin

        That’s a rare and refreshing response in itself…

    2. liz

      what is an example of a permanent objective meaning?

      1. Getzel Rubashkin

        Most religions are built around a permanent objective meaning. One might hear for example that “The meaning of life is to transcend your ego and bring your actions and perspectives in line with G-d’s.”

        I don’t mean to make this the topic of discussion – I’m simply supplying an example. There are, of course, other examples centered on objective notions of morality, but that’s a discussion in itself…

    3. Akriti kakkar

      liked ur point of view

    4. Arjun L Sen

      I agree with Getzel Rubashkin who has made the most important riposte in this discussion – about a proposed objective or ultimate meaning – a teleology – which is actually what most people think of when asking the question. They don’t need facile reminders about individual, multiple or contextual meanings as though they are idiots and the obvious never occurred to them. They’re spiritually ambitious and restless: they want to know if there is a bigger picture and if so, how it can be discovered. This is no less serious and creditable an adventure as trying to discover the laws of gravity or thermodynamics. To assume that a dog’s existential viewpoint should be good enough for a man is sad. The fact that Mr Berkun hadn’t even considered this perspective in his article suggests he is either being disingenuous or plain stupid. I don’t know which it is and I wouldn’t like to hazard a guess.

  4. Getzel Rubashkin

    I should also add out that the premise in “What is the meaning of life” can be accepted and answered with a personal meaning as well (and often is) although that’s not usually what the person asking has in mind…

    It’s only an absurd question if you read it as precluding all other meaning, and I don’t think anyone means to suggest that when asking the question.

  5. Mark Gould


    Our choices matter because they are finite. The time I spent writing this post was time I will never get back and eventually I will die. That time is gone from me forever. Even if no one reads this post, or I decide later I hate it, it still has meaning to me because I it’s where I chose to put part of my life.

    …demonstrates great self-awareness.

    Sometimes I am (inwardly) critical of the choices I see people make. But actually it is none of my business. On the whole, their choices (to watch trashy TV or eat junk food, for example) must make sense for them at that moment in time. I have no insight into what drives them to make those choices, to make sense of their lives.

    (At least, when people’s choices have no externalities.)

    1. Scott

      You raise a good point: how much of our ability to figure out meaning can be done independently of evaluating how other people find theirs?

      There are many clichés about judgement regarding how the compulsion to do it implies insecurity or jealousy. Merely ridiculing someone else for their choices doesn’t on it’s own make my choices any better.

      Regarding “lazy” people, or the opening mention of my dog, I’ve come to a different conclusion about productivity than I used to have. I don’t see much harm in people who don’t do much. If they’re happy and not hurting anyone, who am I to say that’s not a fine way to go about living? Arguably the monks up the in the monastery don’t contribute much of practical value to the world either, yet we call them enlightened.

      1. Lisa

        First, no one should ever judge anyone including ourselves. Now if our inside spirit believes our own life should improve then each of us should follow our own advice for ourselves as long as it is for improvement. Nobody is perfect. But do not judge others, the way I taught myself and my grown kids is whenever you even begin to think or talk judging another life, first remember who made or brought their life here? (God). The other is turn that judgment into seeing something positive about the person. No need to think negatively.

        Now, the main part about life, can be said with lots of words with good meaning. Live life good, fulfillment purpose. It not only makes your life happy, but it can be contagious. By living our own life with good fulfillment we also are helping with God’s purpose and plan.
        Try it because it’s not as hard as you think.Stop thinking and do. Maybe that’s how children live, until negative adults rub off on them.
        Now, good fulfillment will bring good will. Enjoy!

    2. John Khoury

      I feel like I’m overstaying my welcome, but I do so enjoy this discussion. Here goes:

      I think we can objectively look at progress. Somethings are not good and it’s ok to judge them. Some things are good and it’s ok to judge those too. So then, what is progress?

      I have my own ideas and the monks meditating all day are not progressing the world. Meditation is fantastic – it’s like a big glass of water when you’re thirsty. Meditating all your life is then the equivalent of drinking all day long. It’s not natural.
      Now I do plenty of things that do not progress my life or the lives of others and it’s ok to say “John, you suck” when I do them (FIFA and whiskey), but also ok to say “good job” when I do positive things like take care of my family and accomplish things at work.

      And it’s not about condemning people. Those who don’t do much just don’t know any better and/or are simply doing the best they can. If I were not so weak, I would not drink and not play video games, but I’m human, so I’ve got a level of weakness.

    1. Scott

      To be precise, that’s the answer to an important question, but no one knows what the question is.

  6. Tisha

    “Even if no one reads this post, or I decide later I hate it, it still has meaning to me because I it’s where I chose to put part of my life.”

    I love this sentence.

    1. Scott

      Thanks. You quoting it in a comment has given it double extra meaning.

  7. How so

    The mining of it no 1 knows but we pretend to be knowing.life is divdd into many thngs accrdng to age.

  8. Craig Hadden – Remote Possibilities

    I like the perspectives here, Scott. Also enjoyed the Camus quote: “Don’t wait for the last judgement, it takes place every day.”

    To me, asking “What’s the meaning of life?” is like asking “What’s the meaning of LIGHT?” The question itself isn’t meaningful. So asking a flawed question leads people to look in the wrong place (or wrong way) to answer it.

    Your tweak of asking about life’s meaningS (plural) is a nice way to reframe the question, too.

    As you suggest, asking about life’s meaning implies there’s only one – and that a definitive answer does exist. My bet is that most people who ask the question haven’t recognised those “biases” in what they’re asking. So I reckon most askers would be taken aback by having the question dismantled and rebuilt.

    1. Scott

      It’d be fun to come up with a list of alternative questions to ask that help get at what people are trying to explore when they ask “what’s the meaning of life.”

      1. liz

        what gives you satisfaction?
        what will you leave on this earth when you die?
        what do you teach your kids and why?
        those are what i get from the original question.

  9. steve agnew

    We ask for the meaning of life because we imagine desirable futures and choose actions to realize those futures, which is purpose. Without purpose, there is no life, even for a dog. Your dog does ask you for meaning and purpose…every day and many times a day. Of course not in human words, but dogs imagine desirable futures and choose actions to realize those futures.

    Even though our possible futures are much different from a dog’s, people and dogs both search for purpose and meaning. What I would further argue is that embedded within each life is a way to imagine and choose desirable futures, and so purpose is part of what is life, a primal belief so to speak.

    When we ask about purpose, we imagine a desirable future with an answer from someone else. Of course, the answer is within and when we choose actions, we journey to our purpose and meaning by those actions.

    The bottom line for purpose is to imagine the possibilities of desirable futures, select one, and choose actions to journey to that future.

    1. Yan

      I’m afraid that definition doesn’t resonate with me at all. And I’m not sure my dog would agree either…

      Perhaps that is just your personal interpretation and not the way everyone sees it?

    2. Kj

      There is no solution in the question, the more one strives for the answer ,one begins to experience cognitive dissidence , then, hyperintention.
      This question began philosophy. Even the philosopher you may hold as the, one and only, has no idea. Purpose? Purpose may be fulfilling but is in no way, the meaning of life.

  10. Yan

    I haven’t progressed to asking “what is the meaning of life?” yet, I’m still at the “what is life?” stage.

    Can’t really address the former until I have a congruent answer for the latter :)

    IMHO both can really only be addresses through experience, not knowledge.

  11. Odai

    I’ve spent countless hours considering this question, so I read your post with great interest.

    A point you made that I liked was the Zen proverb that enlightenment doesn’t significantly change our lifestyles. This has occurred to me, and forced me to question why I even care about the meaning of life. What utility does it bring?

    The answer, I think, is that I want a framework for making choices in life. I want a ruler I can hold up potential actions to. Recently I’ve decided on a very ambitious goal that will take at least 5-10 years to achieve (creating a business), and it’s actually made me a lot happier – I can build all of my future plans around achieving that goal.

    It’s funny you mentioned Hedonism, because for years I built my life around that philosophy – not in the “wild party” sense of the word, but in the sense that pleasure should be the ruler against which I measure actions. I still like Hedonism, but the problem is that pleasure is too arbitrary and fleeting to make a consistent yardstick. I’m refining my views.

    1. Erica

      I know my comment is very very late, but I personally feel people ask this question simply to try and understand the scheme of life. Now, I know its a completely different discussion, all together, but admittedly, no one can make complete sense of things in life, simply because it is not all in our own hands. Its more like solving a math problem, I guess. I can simply solve the problem according to the steps I am told, but when I suddenly understand the logic and meaning, its a epiphany and I start seeing that same sum in a new light. i feel we are in general, looking for that ‘aha!’ moment, which helps us understand the inexplivable things in life.
      i love how you are every action determines your life. Each and everything. And how you say each thing you dedicate time to, determines the meaning of life, for you.

  12. Sean Crawford


    So far, no one has ever asked me that question, but if they did, then I would regard as a non-question, just as “Could you pass the salt?” is not really a question. And so I would smile and look my fellow idealist in the eye and say, “What a nice umbrella question! Under which, I was just thinking that the meaning of life is (blank)” —and we would be off and conversing.

    And maybe later I’d bring up another (blank). For example: “Sometimes I think the meaning is a little coffee and a little reading everyday… ‘Cause then even if it rains I still feel sunshine.” And we’d be off and talking some more. And then I could bring Scott’s dog into the conversation…

  13. Anne

    Hi Scott

    “What is the meaning of life? (and why do people keep asking)”

    I thought that your answer to such a FREQUENTLY ASKED “cliché” question was very interesting. I view such a question as possessive of philosophical merit, pondered by many a great mind, because it translates as being far broader per se than the “meaning” or “meanings” we put into our individual life. We live. We die. We fill the time in between living, but is living meaning? Is that really the meaning of life?

    Would it not be clearer to ask; WHY do we exist?

    I note your paragraph;

    “The people who ask the titular question most often are those who have a life successful enough to be beyond struggling to survive. You don’t HEAR this question much from people struggling to find work, scavenging for food, or running for their lives every few minutes. Most living things in the history of the planet never bothered to need to ask this question in part because they were too busy trying to stay alive to have a need to occupy their minds with a supremely abstract question.”

    I don’t know from whence you got this view, because such a FREQUENTLY ASKED “cliché” question surely does not belong solely to
    life’s success stories…

    People who are struggling/fighting to survive DO ask themselves this question, very much so. But maybe they’re not so vocalized, as opposed to putting it out there for general consumption.

    1. Scott

      With 6 billion people alive and many more who have lived, I’m sure there’s enough room for all sweeping generalizations about how people live or find meaning to have merit. Your questions are good ones. For a topic like this I’d never claim to have comprehensive certainty. However for the purpose of writing a good essay that’s worthy of reading, I have to put some stakes in the ground if for no other reason to give people the pleasure of ripping them out and replacing them with their own.

      1. Anne

        I assure you that “ripping” stakes out of the ground is not something I derive pleasure from, rather just pulling them up enough to see how deeply they are embedded will suffice to assuage my interest. I agree that a subject like this gives room for much ‘sweeping’ generalization to hold its own merit. I very much enjoyed reading your ‘essay’, and it gave good food for thought. Thank you Scott.

  14. Bernard Dy


    I don’t know that I have an answer for the question, but I do know that once when discussing this, someone posed another question: Why have a purpose in life?

    That question bothered me a lot at the time, because I couldn’t answer it. I didn’t like the idea that we were just random biological accidents no different from fleas that would be born, be a nuisance in the universe for a limited time, and then die. And perhaps that’s all we are! But when I look at the beauty and the sophistication of parts of this world I like to think it’s with meaning and at the time I perceived the question to be one of an irresponsible embrace of self and ignorance.

    And of course, even my attitude at the time was also selfish. It’s one thing to have an opinion, it’s another to assume or force others must think the same. And now I think I understand better: I couldn’t answer question because the answer to that question has to come from the person that asked it.

    1. Scott

      “the answer to that question has to come from the person that asked it.”

      I like that.

  15. Frank Sanger

    Let me lay down a couple of premises. We are in “human space”. So what does it mean to be a dog is a different question and one we have no standing to answer. We have similarities with each other. (Western philosophy debates this, but if you ask me, it is settled.) Scott laid out the most obvious similarity: mortality. Take it one step further, and we see we have awareness of mortality. Heidegger in Being and Time said “[humans] are that being for which being is an issue.” Which puts the focus on the word “meaning”. (Forgive me:) What is the meaning of “meaning”? It is a concept in “human space”. Which precludes our consideration of the Ultimate. I love science, but what this chain of logic leads to is: meaning is not a scientific concept. We don’t come by it by sorting empirical facts. The Theory of Everything is orthogonal to meaning. So what is meaning? How about this hypothesis: “Meaning is context.” (If we accept the premise that *we* are in “human space”. Implications would be that it (meaning) is not exactly subjective or objective insofar as you and I can agree on context. You and I see it (meaning) differently insofar as we do not see eye to eye. Your meaning and my meaning are both legitimate insofar as there is not a present and accepted arbiter. And finally, we have not precluded Absolute Meaning, except we have acknowledged that apprehending it has its own category of distinct problems. (I would venture that access to Absolute comes only through revelation, which essentially means Absolute doing the “revealing” and we doing the “surrendering”–you just might see Enlightenment notions in this imagery; personally I like Getzel Rubashkin’s comments above.)

    1. Arjun L Sen

      Yup. Entirely agree with this. Including appreciation of Mr Rubashkin’s comments. There does seem to be a fundamental divide between those who feel there is a point to looking more deeply into this engagement with meaning, as well as those who believe that an absolute meaning or overriding meaning which includes all smaller contextual meanings within an arbitrating and superior framework should not be a priori discounted.

  16. Sean Crawford

    Peter Drucker tells of a class reunion that was going along dully until someone asked, “Remember that question?” and they all got energized. The question their teacher once asked—which I myself have never dared ask anyone— was: What do you want to be remembered for?

    And therein lies a touchstone for the meaning of one’s life.

  17. gene will

    Who gives a damn…..just live it

    1. Scott

      To some degree I like the sentiment, but I also realize you give a damn or you wouldn’t have clicked on the link to come here.

  18. Frank

    People often ask “What is the meaning of life” to which I respond: “WHAT” – IS the meaning of life.

  19. senerawa

    In my case, you try to find out the meaning of life on earth through this video that someone uploaded on Youtube.

    1. John Khoury

      this kind of thinking gives me the heebee-geebees. I get the same feeling watching this as I would when I watch some traumatic event on TV. And he wasn’t trying to scare me… Emotions will never find the answer to such a deep question. he says it himself “I want to believe”. I get it, but it’s the whole basis for religion. “Wanting” to believe something won’t make it true and it will put you in opposition to everyone else who “wants” to believe something else.
      Sorry to all who “want” to believe something. I know it hurts you, but there is no meaning to life. Despite this, you can still have a great time and do good things.

      1. Scott

        “Emotions will never find the answer to such a deep question. he says it himself “I want to believe”. I get it, but it’s the whole basis for religion. “Wanting” to believe something won’t make it true and it will put you in opposition to everyone else who “wants” to believe something else.”

        Well said John. Thanks for commenting.

  20. Takshak

    “I’ll tell you a secret, something they don’t teach you in your temple. The gods envy us. They envy us because we’re mortal, because any moment might be our last. Everything is more beautiful because we’re doomed. You will never be lovelier than you are now, and we will never be here again”

    – A quote from the movie Troy which I truly relate

    Our choices matter because they are finite.

    Very well said Scott

  21. mattglaser

    dust to dust, ash to ash, we will never be here again and yet we will always be here. when we are called to the next, we will leave the now and yet always affect it from what we have done, do, and will do.

  22. Yohan

    A long time ago a being created the earth and all the people on it. It was a brilliant system where happy and healthy people would procreate while unhappy and unhealthy people would not. This would encourage evolution and the DNA code of the creatures would change according to this. There was a finite number
    of possible DNA code combinations so eventually the DNA code would arrive at a code that was optimum
    Option 1)
    This is the meaning of your life. To answer the question of what is an optimum human being. Strangely this experiment had been completed in the past with life forms only having strength as their yard stick and no knowledge of what happiness was. But it was found that creatures that experienced happiness and strived for it were stronger and defeated the creatures that had no knowledge of happiness because in times of peace the creatures that did not experience happiness had nothing to strive for and became weak.
    Option 2)
    When the being created the Earth he made the DNA code optimum to begin with according to what he was trying to achieve. He invited aliens from many different systems to have the option to live a life as a human and experience human life. They would control the human body remotely from their planet and have no knowledge of their real existence while in the human body. This earth was designed to let people get right to the reward parts of life of hanging out with friends and having fun. This was something that was hard to achieve on the alien worlds since you would spend thousands of years practicing magic or investigating technology so that it would be safe for you to venture out and meet other people and you could only have fun with and talk to other people if you knew you were more powerful than them so they could not kill you.
    As a human on Earth if you try to practice magic usually it will do nothing or it will hurt you. Earth is designed this way to teach you that being more powerful than others just makes it harder for people to hang out together and have fun.
    Every now and then the DNA code system will break down since no system is perfect for example all humans might evolve to only have one leg and have to hop around. Then the creator will come around and adjust the DNA code back to optimum so that humans can enjoy life which is the paradise environment he wanted to create.

    carry on from option 1.
    Finding the optimum human being was going to tell the creator something. It was going to answer a question he had but what question was that. Strangely to the creator a human is about as complex as a dog is to a human. The creator has much more complex emotions. For example a human would look at a dog and wonder if it could experience the feelings of finding yourself or falling in love or missing belonging to a group of people. But a human can look at a dog and see it smile and see a spark of emotion to know that it gets happy or sad. So the creator knows he gave us a little emotion. The creator thinks of us as very simple and very safe. None of us could ever become powerful enough or smart enough to ever challenge him. But one interesting thing is that it is possible while very unlikely for us to do something he didn’t expect and give him a bit of a fright and while that is not the original question that he was trying to answer that is the question he actually wanted to know the answer to.

    carry on from option 2
    How does knowing this help us answer what is the meaning of life. Well it does tell us that the meaning that the creator is looking for is related to a paradise. Once the creator tries everything will he get bored though or will there be limitless knew lessons for him to learn like how he learnt fighting everyone all the time can cause you to miss out on a lot of fun.

    There are a lot of other options but these are just some thoughts I felt like talking about

  23. A Fillinger

    There is an answer to the question what is the meaning of life. The answer to that and so many like questions that are a mystery to man must be revealed, for they are spiritual and spiritually descearned. But the carnal mind can only understand the physical as spiritual matters are foolishness unto him. The Creator who created all things does reveal to the converted mind through the power of the Holy Spirit all things, as the Holy Spirit leads one into all truth. The meaning of life can be found in the word of God. Any attemps by man to answer this question is only foolishness. Towards the end in the book of Ecclesiates we are given the answer- Fear God (which is to hate evil) and keep the commandments for this makes a man whole.

    1. Scott

      This is fine except for how many different groups there are within every religion for how to interpret their holiest book. Even within Christianity there are dozens of factions that disagree on what you describe the word of God. And even within the same groups, say Baptists or Catholics, interpretations of the same scripture change dramatically from century to century.

      Regardless of what God may have intended with his words (presuming there was only ever one bible written directly by the hand of God, which I don’t believe but grant for this comment), it’s clear we as humans have always attempted to answer the questions ourselves by choosing which parts to emphasize and how to interpret them. The ten commandments are a wonderful example as even in the bible itself god violates many of them, as do his followers. For centuries thousands of people have been killed in the name of God, or gods, often over trial distinctions within the same religion.

      This isn’t to say the bible, or the Quran, or the Vedas, or dozens of other books claimed to be the word of god aren’t good or useful books, but merely that the notion that there is a comprehensive and singular guide to the word of God, or the meaning of life, doesn’t match the reality of our species historically or in the present.

    2. John Khoury

      Why does that make no sense to me?

      And “foolishness unto him”? c’mon, man, no one talks like that.

  24. Ana Curtis

    The only reason i looked this up is because i want one good reason for me not to commit suicide

    1. Scott

      Hi Ana: Here are 3 good reasons.

      1) I like people who ask questions and you’re asking big ones. Bravo.
      2) There are plenty of wise people who are trained to answer this particular question and you should hear them out
      3) You are not alone in considering this – it’d be smart to talk to other people who have considered it and are familiar with these feelings and thoughts.

      In the U.S. the suicide hotline is 1-800-273-8255. I wish you the best.

    2. Scott

      If you want a reason, make one up. Most people are bolstered daily by reasons of their own invention. Why not you? Living by other people’s reasons usually leads to disappointment anyway.

      Also, if you’re looking for a reason not to, that’s a good start. Also look for some help, ok?

  25. Marya

    Hi Ana,

    My heart is going out to you. Even though I don’t know you, I care about your welfare and I believe with every inch of my being that there is a light and hope for you in the future. Depression is a terrible, awful thing. Do not let it win. Your comment — your one sentence — is filling up my heart. I wish there was someway I could ease your pain.

    If it helps, I was once in a very dark place and could not see any hope for the sadness and heaviness to be alleviated. I want you to know the heaviness can become light. The grip of sadness can open allowing space for happiness and hope. Please reach out to others, to your doctor, or to one of the links Scott shared above.

    In the meantime I wish for you courage to stay. Please stay.

    I find the words and teachings of Pema Chodron to be a great comfort. Maybe they would help you, too. http://www.soundstrue.com/shop/authors/Pema_Chodron

  26. brian

    Now it seems that everyone is putting too much thought into this, the answer is quite simple, amd should actually be more obvious, the answer is so simple and realky should not take long to come to. Although the same answer can be said several different ways in any language, know this, simple, it is less than 10 words in a moderately intelligent vocabulary, and 5 in simple english, and part of the answer is in the question itself….so think simple…go ahead,..

    1. Elchanan Paley

      Sorry, I didn’t get your anwer. Can you please be kind and tell me your obvious, short and simple answer for the biggest question in universe?

  27. David

    Here’s what Ludwig Wittgenstein, who some consider the greatest analytic philosopher of the 20 century, had to say about this question.

    What do I know about God and the purpose of life?
    I know that this world exists.
    That I am placed in it like my eye in its visual field.
    That something about it is problematic, which we call its meaning.
    This meaning does not lie in it but outside of it.
    That life is the world.
    That my will penetrates the world.
    That my will is good or evil.
    Therefore that good and evil are somehow connected with the meaning of the world.
    The meaning of life, i.e. the meaning of the world, we can call God.
    And connect with this the comparison of God to a father.
    To pray is to think about the meaning of life. Journal entry (11 June 1916), p. 72e and 73e

    To believe in a God means to understand the question about the meaning of life.
    To believe in a God means to see that the facts of the world are not the end of the matter.
    To believe in God means to see that life has a meaning. Journal entry (8 July 1916), p. 74e

    taken from: http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Ludwig_Wittgenstein

  28. Elchanan Paley

    Before I’ll mention the bad things, let’s review the good things:

    1) You wrote that the people who never ask this question are those who still struggle to survive. Obvioulsy, that’s true; anyone can see that. And that’s the reason why: because people who doesn’t ask this question is people who doesn’t have time to think; and peolple who doesn’t have time to think, are – and pardon me for the comparison, but that’s the absolute truth – like beasts. Because the diffrence, the main difference and the only difference that matters, between humen and animals, are the abilty to think. To exercise discretion. And not just to fall to our own basic impulses. And there’s a lot to say about this subject, but here is not the place to elaborate.

    2) You said that each life has its own meaning, and it’s different in each time. You were right on the first part. It just can’t be, that two persons – every persons – who are completely different, in every single way, would have the same purpose in life.
    Even though, that not comletely true. Because the whole world is striving for one purpose. i.e., it’s like a huge skyscraper. Each part of the building, from nail to brick, has its own individual purpose. And at the same time, all the part are striving for one purpose: to build the skyscraper.

    And now, for the bad things:

    Before I’ll start, I want to apologize for the verbal violence that coming through. I really appreciate most of your writings, and the way you always struggle to find the right way to treat things. But this time was different. You really pissed me off. Either you didn’t have a real anser, or you just didn’t like the question. Either way, your answer was incredibly shallow. Seriously, man, my 8-years-old-little-brother could answer better than that… All you did was to whitewash the answer with several real and horribly external operations, and finish with the stupidest thing i’ve ever heard, that sounds both impressing and deep and abstract, but is actually just stupid. “The answer to the question might just be there is no meaning other than living life for it’s simple pleasures and responsibilities.” In other words, the meaning of life is life itself. Come on. Let me tell a little more.

    The world exists with order. And in place where there’s order, there must be someone that set the place up. I don’t know who is, maybe God, maybe some other supreme being, but there’s must be someone who made it. Some people argue with this assumption, but I don’t have the energy to answer all the questions. Just try to use your common sense, you’ll understand that it’s true.
    [I’ll help you with one example: let’s say you go to a trip in the desert. You go by your. There’s no civilization in hundreds of miles away. There’s no human being in same distance. And then, all the sudden, you found a MacAir. The latest version. Brand-new. What are the 2 things, that you’ll be absolutly positive about? a) someone create this computer. b) The one who did this, wasn’t bored. He put lots of efforts in attempt to create this computer, and so this is your second indisputable assumption: he create it for a purpose. Think about it.]

    Next level: if someone creates something, he probably done it for some purpose. And the more complicated the thing is, the more confident we have about this assumption. So if we talking about our world – our huge, brilliant world, with billions of humen, animals, plants, water, rocks – and this just the stuff! Think about all the system the our world works – think about the unbelievable size of the universe! This magnificent world can’t be made for nothing, especially not for small and transient things like pleasure and responsibilities.

    So what is the meaning of life, the purpose of our world? I have the answer, but the problem is that our world doesn’t ready to accept it. Because if there’s a purpose to this world, it means I must find it; and when I’d find it, I’d be bound to it for the rest of my life. Wait, bound to something? For the rest of my life? Uh-uh, not for me! Because the modern world has thorwn away every rule that has ever existed in our world. They call it “Freedom”, but the truth is – it’s just emptyness. All people wanna do nowadays is to do whatever they want, however they want and whenever they want.

    So, no, I won’t write an anwer the people don’t want to hear. Though, if there’s someone who really wants to hear the truth – not a common sight today – send me an email. Maybe I’ll find him worthy enough.

    Wish you all the best luck, and sorry if I pissed you off.

    1. Troy

      I read your response and I can relate to your frustration here. I teach the meaning of life and I can assure you that what I teach is far more satisfying than what you read here. You have to understand the universe, mortality, immortality, how creations works, etc, to really truly know the meaning of life to make real sense of it. So check out The Mission page on my website at thepathtoimmortalityproject.info

  29. paul

    the answer to life the universe and everything is {you no what you no and that’ all you need to no} ONE +ONE is two {YOU ON WHAT YOU NO} ? {AND THAS ALL YOU NEED TO NO} is the answer to all the questions that you don’t have the answer to there is all ways something new to learn in life my answer IS is the answer to life the universe and everything 42 is not the A N S WER

  30. Allen

    Everything has a true meaning, but the meaning is beyond that thing itself. Because everything in the universe has some reason, the essence of science is to find out the meaning behind it. The meaning of our life is beyond ourselves too, but we do able to figure that out. There are many clues.
    Meaning is not transitory. Since you are asking the meaning of your life, so the meaning is life time’s long.
    After reading this book, I think you may know everything :

  31. Vic

    I read a really well thought out, interesting article on the meaning of life from a scientific perspective on the site Science 2.0. The author claims that the meaning of life is life, and that the tendency of all life to create, nurture, and protect life exemplifies this. He explains that just like every cell (or organ) in the human body works towards the greater good, so too does all life. He cites the examples of animals adopting/nursing the young of other species and men sacrificing themselves for their comrades in battle, as futher evidence of this. I honestly don’t think you could find a more life-affirming, scientifically accurate, or comforting explanation for life than this, and I think the fact that it agrees with the soul, further validates it. If anyone is looking for a sort of mantra/outline for how they should live their life, I think this is a good one.

  32. C Michael Burton

    “What is the meaning of a flower”?
    Personally I can’t believe we’re still having this conversation after so many thousands of years. It has been answered. It’s a multiple answer question. Did you know that there are multiple dimensions to matter / time / energy = one? We need only know what has been learned, especially the conflicting information: “The answer” isn’t in one answer but in _between_ each one, and all. Because language limits. Somehow we don’t learn what has been learned and we make the same mistakes, surprised and expecting different results (insane). Too LAZY? It seems that way often, to me. But no matter: There is a light in the dark void and you are it. Nothing else. No reason. No “meaning”. Perhaps “it” should not even be. It is. “I am that I am”. The only evidence that “it” (awareness) even exists is the question itself. (Cognito ergo sum.) You’re welcome.
    And remember you did not make your own consciousness: it is not “yours”. “It” (is-ness) is inherent to existence/matter/energy in all dimensions. So be Care Full.

  33. wonderer

    “The people who ask the titular question most often are those who have a life successful enough to be beyond struggling to survive. You don’t hear this question much from people in need of work, scavenging for food, or running for their lives every few minutes.”

    I wish this statement is true but i am afraid it is not. I know a lot of people (including my wife, my friends) who are as successful, or even more successful (i.e., beyond struggling to survive) than me, but they NEVER ask this question – What is the purpose of life?

    They find it an absurd or a meaningless question. They are too busy with their lives, and if they are not busy, they are busy with their boredom, or they planning on something to how to avoid that boredom at that moment. But this question does not seem to bother them ever.

    I believe these kind of questions occurs to some people irrespective of their economical or societal status (may be because of some neurological issue or something else, i don’t know).
    I am one among such people. ‘Why does it occurs to only some people?’, ‘how to get rid of this?’, are the questions the answers of which i search for, but have not found them yet.

    Your post answers the question very well – but only the first part of it i am afraid.

    What is the meaning of life? (and why do people keep asking).

  34. Madhvi

    Wow… Can’t express in words how this article made me feel… Thanks

  35. Akriti kakkar

    “the meaning of life is that it ends”……….i liked this line…………………as i know if life is there it will end one day but creating other meanings through going crazy n enjoying……………………………concluding more than what life is we should discuss n concentrate on what we can earn from life…………….by the way a lots of thanks as your page helped me out in writing a motivational article for my school magazine…………………………..

  36. Jane King

    To me, the meaning of life is deeply personal. I believe I was given a gift of living a certain amount of time, and it’s what I do with it that has an impact on my own meaning. When we are young, we are at the mercy of adults and circumstances that control us and help form how we feel about ourselves. Unfortunately, for most of us, these feelings, put into our subconscious minds by others, are there for the duration and will continue to influence how we react to stimuli for the rest of our lives. In my case, I was at the mercy of a mean, jealous step-mother who did everything she could to destroy my feeling of self-worth when I was little. I learned that the way to move beyond this was to compartmentalize my feelings, ideas and energy. I achieved a great deal; but unfortunately, the old negative messages were still there grinding away. Finally, when I could stand the emotional pain no longer, I begged God for help. Miraculously, He/She sent an answer. It was to re-program my subconscious mind by listening to self-affirming messages while I slept every night. This took time, but after a while, I began to feel much better. Eventually, I was able to eradicate about 80 percent of the negative stuff. That’s when I began to find myself, who I am, what I stand for, and even my personal power to affect others. I even began to understand other people and their motivations. In a way, I could stand outside myself – in effect get myself out of the way – in order to understand the world going around me. To me, this has been a miracle, a fairly simple answer to a very complex problem. I have written a book about my life and will have it up on Amazon in the next few months. I’ve also recorded several positive messages that will be available later. However, if you are desperate to begin, I can recommend the messages I started out with, those of Barrie Konicov. His CDs are available on Amazon. Good luck to you. This method worked for me. I hope it will work well for you, especially Anna Curtis. God speed.

  37. Gleb Tsipursky

    No one live life for a permanent objective. meaning of life is enjoy your life with full efforts, doesn’t mean u just leave all your work and enjoy. live life with happiness, solve your problems with positivity. if you fell happy in your work, to meet some one, to forgive someone, to do something its actual life. don’t live on other rules and always find perfection, sometime perfection bounded and for happy life comfort is needed.

  38. Gaurav

    To me, Scott’s answer is not logically correct but is best possible answer to accept and move on.
    If we go by logic, “Elchanan Paley” has put forward some interesting thoughts till he asserts he has the answer.
    The bitter truth is ‘No one has the answer’ and no one will have it unless some one appears in the sky and offers a FAQ session with us.
    If you are man of faith you can believe in a lot of things to see the purpose
    If you are man of logic there is not much you can do for now, no answer is going to make sense to you and provide a purpose you can adhere to.

    You can put your faith in God and follow the religious text book of your choice without question to live the way it suggests.
    If you are non believer in God, you will have a lot of questions, not just ‘What’ but ‘WHY’ as well.

    It’s hard to understand sufferings and immoral things happening in our world under God’s watch who is loving and all powerful.
    When a believer don’t have the answer, they say all this is some grand plan which humans can not understand.
    Non-believers might say there is no purpose and this is randomness which not the answer we want to hear
    I got side tracked as all these things are related, one will have to answer the ‘WHY’ as well with ‘WHAT’.
    ‘WHY’ is more troublesome for a thinking mind. No one can answer ‘WHY’ without number of loopholes in their arguments.

    Humans have a curious mind, and its a very valid question to ask the reason for their existence.
    As there are no real answers available to us, one has to believe in one of the answer or stop asking the question.

    Again, if we believe in something out of faith that will not make it true, neither will not believing in something.
    Truth can be either of them or neither of them, no one knows.

  39. Patrick McGehee

    The purpose of life according to (some sects of) Buddhism is to help all being achieve enlightenment and to end all suffering. I feel that this is a beautiful purpose. The way Buddhists go about achieving enlightenment is accepting the idea that all things are temporary. Your stay on this earth is short, don’t worry about losing things because it was bound to happen eventually. Don’t worry about pain because it will end eventually. Enjoy the things that make you happy because they will end eventually. The purpose of life is to help all beings realize this, according to (some sects of) Buddhism so that all beings stop suffering.

  40. Raymond E Bonneau

    ……..while experiencing enlightenment – chop wood and carry water :)

  41. Jake R.

    The Meaning of life is simple. it’s To make the best out of the time you get. because life is finite it only lasts for so long. Until you can’t change it anymore

  42. Mohammad Zeeshan

    This is a very subjective question an the answere to it will be different from different people. however there were some famous people who answered this question in details through out their life. the following are some famous collection which can give you a blink about how to find the purpose of life.
    1. Hunter S. Thompson and his letter on finding purpose of life- The Hollow Cause (https://thehollowcause.com/2018/08/10/hunter-s-thompson-letter-finding-purpose-of-life/)
    2. This is Water by David Foster Wallace (Full Transcript and Audio) – (https://thehollowcause.com/2018/08/11/this-is-water-by-david-foster-wallace-full-transcript-and-audio/)
    Theses are a bit lengthy but to the point and very much full of wisdom. i hope these help you out.

    Thank you

  43. Hannah Flack

    “This website was… how do I say it? Relevant!! Finally I’ve
    found something that helped me. Appreciate it!”

  44. jeffrey Morgan

    Life is both a gift and a test. We are accountable for the choices we make. The consequences are inevitable, and we are often right where we chose to be. To establish personal meaning gives influence to those choices. I love dogs and kids, but we have a greater responsibility. I don’t think I would model my decisions after either.

    How can an adult go through life without some idea of purpose and meaning? To do so becomes your guiding light in all you do. It is weak to flounder about without that beacon. Some folks don’t think, but only react. To think about meaning usually requires some thoughts of mortality, which scares many so denial is safer. It’s not easy to formulate thoughts without relying on one line mantras.

  45. KimDre

    Meaning of life? What ever you make it to be! Everyone has and is able to make heàlthy añd uñhealthy choose now whichever path will you take is the QUESTION? RIGHT? OR LEFT?

  46. Sarah I

    This question has been on my mind all week. But it’s not to attempt a philosophical discussion. More so of my internal battle of understanding why I am here, my own meaning. Depression has hit many during this trying time in life we all are living through. Anxiety hits deep inside me each time I think of this question. Then more questions pop into my mind… Thank you for the read, enlightening.



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