What is the Meaning of Life?
[Photo: my own. Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl.]
The meaning of life.
What is it?
And don’t you dare say 42. I heard that. Be serious. This is a serious grown up question here.
What is the point of our existence here on Earth?
We are born, we go through life experiencing all kinds of things; some good, some not so good, some of us have kids, some don’t and then we die and the cycle continues with the next generation.
Who decides which families and countries we are born into? And why? Why was I born into a white middle class British family in England instead of being an orphaned child in Africa? Why do I get this life while others have it much harder?
What is my purpose? What is life for? Why is life sometimes unfair?
While in poorer countries life tends to be about survival and making it through each day, in more affluent countries the ever-increasing pressure to be somebody, to leave behind a legacy and to make it count is overwhelming and actually adds to our anxiety. It seems social media is saying to us that being ordinary or middle of the road isn’t good enough.
These are just some of the things I rack my brains on and which stress me out. Not being good enough. I am not being productive or successful enough. How much is too much, how much is enough or how little is being lazy? How do we measure that? How do you measure success without material markers?
The meaning of life, the point of us being here? These are questions that keep me up at night and question everything I know about life and confuse the hell out of me. I feel dissatisfied and frustrated and I guess I crave intellectual conversation from learned people who might be able to shed light on this.
Shakespeare said, “a light heart lives long”
well I guess that’s me out. I feel weighed down by so many questions.
Maybe I just need a few mojitos and a night of salsa dancing to be honest. Take a chill pill and switch off for a bit. Of course, I have the privilege to be able to do that.
But as much as we learn, we cannot stick our brains, emotions and knowledge into someone else’s body. When we die, that’s it. Our minds are gone forever. Whatever we write, publish, explain and teach is going to be interpreted by different minds in different ways according to different experiences. And not everyone is going to read what you write about and / or be interested in it or agree.
No one is like you. You are unique and there is no replica.
What if, one day, everything you had done was just disrespectfully scrapped and rendered useless? Everything you worked for just erased in years to come?
That would suck. Majorly.
So what is the point? What is the bigger picture here? Why are we here?
The more I try to learn and understand and read, the less I actually know, the more questions it opens up and the more confused I become.
You can‘t put an old head on young shoulders and despite all the scholarly and intellectual work out there telling us what not to do, history tends to repeat itself. It’s a kind of dementia. Why don’t we learn from past mistakes?
If we take a religious view on life: God scrapped his first prototype when things weren’t going to plan. He flooded the Earth and decided to start over. Then it went tits up again and he wasn’t very happy with all those Roman shenanigans so sent his son to sort us out but who, oh look, we tortured and hung on a cross to die slowly and painfully. That was round two.
Apparently, we were supposed to learn and fear the final coming of the Lord in round three. He gave us a bunch of instructions and lessons to follow and we cherry-pick and disregard elements that appeal or don’t appeal to us.
And from what I’ve learned of the world since then up to today, well we didn’t follow the rules very well. Stalin, Franco, Hitler and Mussolini are just a few names we can send to the Head Masters’ office.
What is God’s plan anyway? He kinda goes round the Mulberry Bush and doesn’t get to the point of why we are here.
Technology may have developed but our mentality hasn’t much improved from Roman times. Add a modern amphitheatre into cities and I’m sure you’d fill seats with bloodthirsty people wanting to indulge in some barbaric torture shows. You only have to see what is going on in the streets of England with all the knife games between gang rivals for proof of this sick mentality.
And the media love it.
They know sharing a dramatic sick and twisted violent story gets higher ratings than a sweet successful story making us feel inspired and empowered (those stories might get shoved in at the end hidden between adverts if we’re lucky). They tune into what our sick minds want and exploit it. The media is the amphitheatre. They put on a good show. We lap it up and ask for more.
We are becoming numb to violence or are we being rewired to love it? Or did we always love it and we’re now being more open about it? Is that dark side of us overpowering the good? It’s Lord of the Flies, and logic, intellect and reasoning (Piggy) are losing. Pocahontas’ people were right. We’re all just savages. (Add in adjectives manipulative, lying, xenophobic and narcissistic.) We’re losing our humanity.
Maybe we need another Great Flood and to start again.
For generations and centuries and millennia we have been living, reproducing and dying and the world continues in this cycle. Each generation has its own issues, some issues we inherit and manage to solve and some new problems arise that need fixing or shoving onto future generations to deal with. And every century has a few wars in it.
What is the overall bigger picture here? Why do we need to keep going? According to science, we are going to ruin planet Earth anyway and there aren’t any other planets ready yet for us to move to. Why is there life on Earth and not on the other planets? And if we do manage to get to other planets, then what is the plan? What are we aiming for? Where are we going? What’s next?
We live, experience stuff, then die. Okay.
What is the friggin’ point of it all? Arggghhh. I don’t get it.
To enjoy it? To have fun? To love?
To feel pain? To hurt? To be hurt?
Then what? What is next?
There has to be a next, right?!
I’m a workaholic.
Probably says it all. I find it hard to relax and I feel guilty about doing nothing. I always have to be working on some project or three to justify my being here on Earth and not waste precious time. I just don’t know how to stop and sit still. I envy people who blissfully do nothing and do not feel guilty. How do they do that?!
It’s partly because I failed my degree and feel guilty.
I passed all the units except the grammar and translation exams. Two out of about ten units but those two accounted for a huge chunk of the degree.
I felt guilty about dancing for the Bristol Uni Latin American and Ballroom dance team despite being so passionate about it and it making me happy. Mum would phone me to moan that I wasn’t there to dance but to learn and get a decent job afterwards. I wasn’t investing enough in my studies.
I felt ashamed for failing something that everyone expected me to do well in. I then knuckled down, repeated the year including all the units I’d originally passed, danced less and still failed uni. The same two units I’d failed before. I beat myself up about not being clever enough. I wasn’t intelligent enough. Maybe it wasn’t my subject but then I didn’t really know what was.
I felt like a fraud standing next to people who seemed to ace their exams with little effort after going out partying every weekend while I stayed in and struggled. And that repeated year was a hard slog. It wasn’t fun. I’m not naturally clever. I have to study really hard and be passionate about the subject for it to stick. And after accruing a lot of debt and being miserable and feeling like a failure, after battling stomach issues and boyfriend drama, I quit. I still feel like a failure.
Since then I haven’t given myself a break. I’ve been hard on myself and feel like I have something to prove. To others but also myself. I need to make up for the failure. Now those people who got firsts in their German and Russian degrees no longer use their languages, never left the UK and have forgotten them and I’m over here in Germany, ten years now, managing a bank in fluent German and was submerged for twelve years in Russian and Ukrainian cultures whilst married to a Ukrainian. And I’m paying a student loan for a degree I don’t have. I have no proof of my language abilities other than a wedding certificate and employment history which, in an interview, don’t prove anything. I know I nailed the languages so why don’t I feel successful?
My mum bought me a gold mortarboard charm for my bracelet for when I graduated. I haven’t earned it yet nor received it. I was with her when she bought it. I don’t know if she still has it now. She might have sold it. My family feel sorry for me, pity me and think I am lost. My brother jokes I’ve been having a mid-life crisis for the past ten years. In their eyes, I am not successful. Why do I need validation from others? Why do I care what others think?
My mind never switches off. My failure hit me hard and I’ve yet to feel successful. I think I need something grandiose to happen, like getting published, for me to say, I nailed it. Now I earned that gold charm. I got there. I did good. Is it for me or them, though? What do I want?
I don’t need a degree.
I don’t even want to go back to uni. I have kids who I train up who have degrees yet they cannot count without using a calculator. They can barely comprehend how to work in an office and file efficiently and correctly. If that is the level of education when you leave universities these days, then I am not missing much. And I learned far more about life, the real world and work outside of Uni.
I don’t need the degree. But I’ve always felt there is something missing. Something that I have to do. As Belle (Beauty and the Beast) sings, “there must be more than this provincial life!” My soul is restless and I cannot calm down and relax until I’m doing what I am meant to do. Everything I’ve done so far hasn’t made me happy nor excited me. It has been a means of survival and it’s depressing and not rewarding.
For me, I need a reason. I need meaning. I need a purpose. God put me on this Earth and gave me this mind and this body to do something.
I need therapy and a good shrink (add sarcastic tone) and a holiday and more wine. Pour the wine. Leave the bottle.
I need to know that the point of my being here is for something useful. To be part of something bigger than myself. To just idly enjoy life seems selfish and pointless to me. What would you learn from that? How does that help people?
My third niece just arrived into the world and simultaneously I finished reading Viktor E. Frankl’s book on logotherapy and his Nazi concentration camp experience. You can’t get two better examples on life and death than those events and it certainly has raised all these questions and stirred a few emotions, too.
Honestly, although Frankl’s book is short, it was so heavy that it took me the best part of two months to get through it. And some parts I had to just take a break from because I struggled to process the perverse evil that was detailed. It was emotionally very heavy and scary but one I think everyone should read as a lesson, a warning, an awakening. I also found the introduction to logotherapy interesting and it seems to fit more in line with my own perception and interpretation of analyzing and questioning things so I am eager to learn more about logotherapy.
I keep trying to figure out what I am meant to do with my life. What is my calling? What do I want? And I think there lies the first clue. They are two different things. One is about what you do to fill your time and earn money to live (calling) and the other is about how you live and what makes you feel light and joyful (meaning and want).
When I was at school I thought by the time I’m thirty I’d have a career (whatever that was), I pictured myself wearing a suit, (cue Diane Keaton in Baby Boom with ridiculous high heels and power lunch meetings), and be this accomplished business woman, I’d have travelled the world and had amazing holidays, be married, own a house, got savings and loads of money spread across different bank accounts and be starting to think about having kids. I’d be a stay at home mum for a few years until the kids started school then I’d pick up the job where I left off but part time and life would be rosy and full of love (and material things). Thirty seemed so far off in the distance and as a child you really don’t have accurate perceptions of time. A one hour maths class lasted ten hours.
My choice of career has evolved throughout the years starting with doctor, oceanographer, journalist, war correspondent, translator, dancer and then I toyed with graphic designer and shrink. Of course, I’ve done none of those. I’ve dabbled a bit but done none of them full time nor made a living from them. Why? The path seemsed so straight forward and simple at school. When did the road get rocky? At what point did I lose my way?
Now I’m thirty-four and I have a mixed bag of experiences and a few things crossed off, tried and tested and am coming out the other side of a divorce. Life hasn’t been all rosy and good but I have had fun moments. I also realized a few things I don’t want. I don’t want the power crazy office job with the suit and high heels, and I don’t want to be permanently rooted to one place stuck with a crippling mortgage.
I still have a lot of travelling to do, God, I really want to travel and see new places, meet different people and try new foods. I have such intense Wanderlust and Fernweh right now. Okay, maybe for the last ten years if I’m honest.
And as far as my financial situation and career go, well they’re working processes. But times have changed. People are now having twenty different jobs in a lifetime, not one. (Unless you’re in Germany. More on that another time.) But I like that. I get bored easily. I love to learn and try new things, adapt and develop my skills and keep pace with technology as best I can. Life is much more fluid and freer than it used to be.
I love the idea of being a communicator and writer. These are skills or things I have practised since school and featured in hobbies throughout the years. I don’t think of them as work. I just enjoy doing them. I think my calling lies somewhere between the two.
I’ve moved from looking selfishly inwards and thinking about what I want to have and own and for some time now I’ve been looking outwardly at giving to others. Probably since going to Ukraine and meeting my now ex-husband. Those experiences changed and affected me the most and knocked this spoiled western girl off her perch. I hit reality hard with a bump. I guess I’ve always enjoyed talking to people and helping others. I’m a problem solver. I love to help find solutions for people.
I love writing and reading. I love words but it is more about communication for me. Of connecting words to ideas to people to open up minds. I am far from being an eloquent writer but I try to connect the dots for people across several languages or even the same language to help them understand. I try to interpret life in my own way but see life from other people’s perspectives. I always try to wear someone else’s shoes and be mindful trying to preempt what their reaction to things would be. To be the bridge between people. I have always been the mediator between my parents and siblings during arguments.
Over the last few years, I have felt this pull towards writing. My passion was reignited when I got involved with the US military charity Soldiers’ Angels. As part of the letter-writing team I had to learn to be creative and entertain troops I’d never met. Some might have been a flop but a few letters were successful. It also forced me to be positive, creative and put my own issues into perspective. Since then, the pull has been getting stronger like I am being led by a greater force to write. I don’t know exactly what to write about or where to go but I am trying to find my voice and figure out my direction. All I know is that I trust this energy guiding me. It feels right. It feels like it will lead me to new things and I am excited about this journey and where I will end up.
I want to be creative but use my own creativity to inspire the creativity of others. To help others have confidence in their own potential and succeed in their own way. Maybe through writing stories or sharing my experiences I can help people relax. To give them a respite from their struggles; a place or world to go to in order to just escape for a while. I’d love to write the happily ever after ending to someone’s story. To make people laugh and connect, to relate to something similar they experienced, to remind people they are not alone.
I want to make a difference and leave my mark on the world. I need to teach without being in a classroom. I need to share and just give someone somewhere in the world hope. Even if it is just one person. I want to teach people to be kind and to love one another. To respect one another. I want to remind people of etiquette, manners and how to behave in society somehow. If I can help others see things from different perspectives and open eyes, hearts and minds I think that is a wonderful skill to have. I feel that if I don’t try to keep those things that matter to me alive then no one else will and if I am the last person standing to do that then maybe that is a kind of legacy.
I don’t get to see my family much. It is my choice to be here and I struggle with that guilt. I miss out on births, birthdays, Christmases, family occasions and I don’t see my nieces growing up. I miss all those little things and getting to know who they are. But I feel if I do not continue on this journey, if I do not explore my calling and do not follow my heart, I will one day regret it. So many people get to retirement with a whole barrel of regrets and things they wished they’d done or tried. They wish they took more risks and followed their dreams rather than stayed with the safe, mainstream route that everyone else was choosing.
If there is one thing I want to give to my nieces, I want it to be inspiration and courage. To swim upstream against the current and follow their calling and challenge everything they know and see whilst being kind to themselves and to others.
I want them to see the strength and determination I have and inherit that. I want them to be strong independent women with empathetic kind hearts. I just hope by the time they get to my age that I haven’t failed them, that they are proud of the life I have led and the things I (hopefully) will have accomplished. That would mean my life meant something. It was worth it.
And the meaning of life?
I don’t know what the point is. I believe evil exists in all of us and we must always resist it. We must fight it. But there are many things in life that are beautiful and bring us joy and I believe the meaning to life probably lies in there somewhere. In our happiness. In goodness. In taking those moments to enjoy the things that make our hearts light and live longer. Life is hard and short. I don’t think we will ever know what the bigger picture is outside of our universe but on the smaller immediate scale, I think balance is key and practising things we love keeps dark evil thoughts at bay and relaxes us. It just does us good.
I love colour. I love nature. I love animals. I love photography. I love words. I love illustrations and graphics. I love all things arty, I love textures, and I love creative people. I love music and adore dancing–alk kinds of styles. I love seeing smiles from everyone I meet and the expressions they make when telling stories. I’m a visual person. Those things inspire me. And I think if they bring me joy then I should fill my life with those things alongside working on my projects and calling. I can enjoy those things that others cannot. For those who sacrificed their lives for us to enjoy them.
We should make each day count. Enjoy the little things, try to find our own unique purpose and what we want to do or give to the world and then do it with passion and energy 110%. We aren’t going to enjoy every day but we should try to fit in things we love often to remind us that life has its beautiful moments and those are often the things that pull us through the tough dark times. Wonderful memories can help us defeat many obstacles and once made, can never be erased. They are yours to keep and treasure forever. Frankl said that. Not me.
Without meaning, without purpose, we feel redundant, lost and hopeless.
We are unique and there is no replica.
We all have our own story to share. Our own insight and perspective. We all have our own gift and skill. We have to find it and share it. And the world needs us. The world needs you. You have to shine bright in your own way and be part of the picture. You matter and you count. We all have someone we can help, guide or teach. Even if we positively influence or affect just one person, even if it is just your child, then surely that is a purpose and a legacy right there? Surely that makes life meaningful? The memory of you will be carried through generations and your story will be told and retold.
It all comes down to contentment. Are you happy with your life and doing what you want to do? If not, get up and change it. Only you can do it.
And to paraphrase Viktor E. Frankl’s closing words:
We must never switch off our humanity (also a Vampire Diaries reference). We must strive to keep the good part of us outweighing the bad. We must practice being kind and loving our neighbours whilst figuring out why we are here and what we are meant to do. We need to inspire and keep the good things alive in the world so we don’t destroy them completely and ourselves in the process.
Teach and pass down the joys in life so our future generations can enjoy them, too. And so that evil remains suppressed. Do not let it get a foothold. Do not let evil take over. It is inside all of us but we have the choice to decide which side the scales are tipped.
Be the colour and light in this world. Don’t let Murky Dismal make it grey.