The Meaning of Life in 368 Words

What’s the point?  This is a question most of us will ask ourselves throughout the course of our lives.  While recently pondering this question I wanted to relay to you a distilled version of the thinking of the Stoic philosopher and Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, the Buddha and the Auschwitz survivor and author Viktor Frankl on these subjects.  Frankl uses the analogy of the film to help us think about this question.

The purpose of a film is to tell a story and a film consists of many scenes, with each scene making sense and carrying meaning, yet the meaning of the whole film cannot be understood before the last scene is shown.  However, we cannot understand the whole film without having first understood each of its scenes.

If the purpose of a film is to tell a story then according to my thinking the purpose of life is the end of suffering and the attainment of true happiness and contentment.  However the purpose of life (the end to suffering and true happiness) cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the side-effect of giving up craving and learning to live each day at a time, enjoying without restless wanting the experiences that life offers us, patiently enduring the problems that life involves without fear, hatred and anger.

Therefore if we cannot pursue a purpose in life then what really matters is to find meaning in one’s life.  However like the film analogy what matters, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at any given point in time.

We discover this meaning by:

  • Creating a work or doing a deed
  • By experiencing something or encountering someone
  • By reflecting
  • By the attitude we take to suffering

Meaning will therefore differ from man to man.  You have to assembly your life – action by action – scene by scene.  To be satisfied if each action achieves its goal, as far as it can.  But there will be obstacles and we must accept these and work with what we’re given while at the same time being attentive to alternatives that present themselves.  Action by action.

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