What is the meaning of life? If you think the answer is 42, you’ve at least been reading the appropriate literature. The difficulty in narrowing down what life is all about is that there are countless perspectives to consider. What about life’s meaning is consistent between a child, an elderly person, a cat, etc.? The answer will surprise you. Before we get there though, let’s examine a few possible answers that may seem logical from one perspective or another, but don’t work for everyone.
Cats are a relatively simple case. They eat, sleep, use the litterbox, rub things, smell things, mark territory, reproduce, and act cute (I’m sure there’s more, but that is enough to make the point). Everything they do is in pursuit or process of these things. So what does life mean to a domestic cat? Survival and enjoyment. They will quickly give up everything they enjoy to survive, so their goal is to survive and enjoy it.
Young children are very different. Survival is not instinctive or something they can accomplish alone. A parent, guardian, or sibling will see that their basic needs are met. Whereas the cat is capable of hunting for food, a baby can only cry until something is done to relieve the hunger. So what do the wee ones do all day? They explore, touch, taste, smell, listen, and look around because their natural instinct is curiosity. So for the very young, life means learning new things, starting with communication and identifying sensory information (i.e. recognizing Mommy compared to any other woman). Life, to them, is about input and output, whether information, food, or any other interaction.
Your average teenager has found their comfort zone with basic needs and is able to provide for themselves on a rudimentary basis. Interaction becomes even more central to their lives. Friends, family, teachers, police, all require a different interaction, and finding a way to approach different situations while retaining their unique identity becomes an overwhelming focus. Being “themselves” yet fitting in with various social groups is often a major source of anxiety. So, the meaning of life for a teenager is the search for where they fit in, and what roles they will play.
To someone who suffers from mental illness, much of their time is consumed by their disorder(s). They might be happy to just make it through the day without crying staring at the wall. Leaving the house might be a huge ordeal for them. The possibilities are endless. For someone in this type of situation, life becomes about function, accomplishment, and overcoming anxieties both real and imagined. The meaning of life is about finding something still within their abilities that will allow them to contribute to and be a part of society.
There are countless more perspectives to examine, all with different priorities and problems, goals and ambitions. The only constant I have seen for everyone and everything is the desire for happiness or something like it. Comfort is the prize for doing well. Considering we have the ability to make ourselves happy and to bring joy to others, life has meaning only when we strive to improve the percieved condition of our place in the world. Put simply, the creation of smiles, purrs, hugs, and happiness is what life is all about.
Now you might ask “what about God?” or “what about Shiva” or “why are cows sacred in India?” and wonder what role religion plays in the meaning of life. Truth is, these things are what you make of them. It is possible to find happiness, bring happiness, and spread happiness with or without religion.
Find contentment for yourself and others and your life will have as much meaning as you need. 🙂