The Meaning of Life
For this article, I’m talking about meaning from a subjective perspective (e.g. “what has meaning to me!?”), rather than something objective or independent of what you think. There is a distinction to be made between the meaning and the purpose of life. The meaning of life is existential at its root within every single person; that is, it is not a universal answer, such as getting laid, making money, or even “42.” Similarly, the purpose of life is directed towards an end result or goal, which inherently possesses meaning within it. I think that the purpose of human life is ultimately found within the intentions of God, and the meaning of our lives is found within that purpose. However, that transcendent purpose is obviously not agreeable with everyone, whether they are aware of it or not. So, I would like to suggest a hierarchy of ultimate meanings in life that apply to all people.
Now this hierarchy of meanings is changeable, because certain things have different meanings to different people. Obviously not everyone ascribes to a religion or has a family, so you can see why this list is changeable according to each person. What matters to me may not matter to you. If the meaning of life is something you ultimately choose, then I think that there are some things which all people would certainly agree upon as possessing meaning in their lives. Here they are:
Self.When asked, “What is the most important thing in your life?” most people don’t answer “me.” It’s a huge claim to say that your self is presupposed as the foundation by which you can have any meaning in your life. Something has meaning because it matters to you!
Friends. One could have all good things in life, yet not be happy without a friend. Friendship can substitute family for those who may not have one, or at least, a good one. Friends are vital to life.
Family. This is usually the default answer for most people. Family bonds can be the most intimate relations between people. This appears to be the deepest value across the board.
Religion. The majority of the world adheres to a religion. It appears that people draw the meaning of their lives from their religious worldviews. “Who am I” or “why do I exist” type of questions are usually given answers according to religion. Religious beliefs can sometimes take precedence over other very important or meaningful things in people’s lives.
World. In order to foster the relations above, you need an environment that allows them to exist and flourish! The world (e.g. dogs, trees, water, grass, etc.) is essential for basic subsistence and to nurture the relations between you and your family or friends, for instance. Nature, you could say, is presupposed as the background which supports all the above. So, that would mean that littering is contrary to everyone’s meaning of life!
Everything. Everything afterwards amounts to personal preferences. People can have immanent meaning according almost anything that they’re aware of. For instance, your favorite food, a certain band, or even Nintendo. The little things you love in life do can have a large impact in terms of what has meaning in your life. They shouldn’t be underestimated.
I’ve left abstract ideas out as having ultimate meaning in life (e.g. happiness, love, etc.), because I think that your friends or religious beliefs or family, or even your pet, are necessary in order to possess, say, happiness. For instance, happiness doesn’t precede friendship; it emerges from it. Notice how interpersonal relationships are at the top of the list?
It is also worth noting that people can still believe in some kind of transcendent purpose for their life (e.g., God cares about me), but it still may not have meaning to them. In other words, we can still create existential meaning devoid of any transcendent meaning. Obviously, people who don’t believe in an overarching plan for their lives can still create immanent meaning in their lives, e.g. planning to get married or hoping to buy a nice car. Do you care about yourself? Do your religious beliefs impact your life at all? Is your family important to you? Do you value your friends? Do you care if people throw? Do you love Nintendo? At the end of the day, you decide what the meaning of life is.