Updated: Mar 5, 2021
Overlooking Canadian wilderness on a backpacking trip
It seems that everyone will eventually swim in a sea of clichés, going on about the meaning of life and the definition of happiness. Yet, somehow, society has stigmatized these pursuits by painting them as trite and meaningless. I disagree. I acknowledge that I don’t have anything particularly unique to offer on the subject, but I find the pursuit of cliché questions quite valuable nonetheless. I believe that clichés have merit, especially for the individual that seeks them out. The pursuit of cliché questions is a collective human experience. After all, these clichés are often common threads in many cultures of history, each unraveling into different answers and lessons. This is why I find these questions so valuable. The human condition requires these questions be asked, and the variety of answers is a testament to their significance.
I believe the answers to these questions are a product of perspective. They give unique insight into the values of an individual or society. Knowing this, I decided to dive head first into the sea of clichés to learn more about my perspective. I found this plunge quite enlightening. I imagine my answers will ebb and flow with time and experience, but the pursuit of these answers will always be a worthy one. This post will briefly explore my answer to the quintessential cliché; what is the meaning of life? I will document my answer as a keepsake of my current perspective, and I encourage you to take the dive with me.
The meaning of life:
For better or worse, I believe there is no innate and all encompassing meaning of life. I don’t subscribe to any ideology that proposes to have the answer to this question, mainly because I am not sure one exists. Rather, I believe the meaning of life is assigned from within. The only meaning in life comes from a culmination of personal goals, hopes, and expectations—each set by self-awareness and introspection.
I will digress for a moment and say that self awareness and introspection are extremely difficult to achieve and not something I have mastered in the slightest. However, I believe they are exceptionally admirable pursuits. I aspire to become skilled in these activities, but I consider myself novice at the moment. Now back to the cliché.
I think our values assign meaning to our lives. They showcase what we admire about life. As a disclaimer, I don’t pretend to believe that my values are superior to anyone else's (because they aren’t), but I find they work well for me. I must consult my own values to determine the meaning of my life. My short list of values is composed of three broad categories: impact, happiness, and experience. Each of these values could be a blog post in themselves, but I will attempt a short definition for each.
Impact: I wish to use my existence to make the world a brighter place.
Happiness: I wish to enjoy my time here.
Experience: I wish to fully embrace each experience the human condition has to offer.
I use these values to assign meaning to aspects of my life. Any pursuit that aligns with my values is worthy of action and gives me meaning. I should be able to find the meaning of my life by describing actions that align with my values. If this is the case, then I can say the following; The meaning of my life is to contribute to a brighter future in some capacity, while also taking the time to enjoy myself.
As for experiencing the human condition, I imagine this pursuit won’t take too much effort on my end. It seems to be quite ubiquitous. However, I believe this experience can be heightened through active pursuit, which is why I seek it out.
I think I would do myself a disservice if I did not provide specific examples of my values, so I will do that here. After all, I write because I learn through the process of expression. I hope the readers find some value in my writing whether that be inspiration, connection, or the simple comedy of a kid that thinks he knows something worth sharing. Regardless, I will attempt to explain some of my life pursuits through the lens of my values.
Impact: I seek out opportunities to improve my capacity to make a difference. There are countless ways to do this. Professionally, I chose to pursue education to gain skills to help fight against climate change and fight for environmental justice. In my personal life, I am on a journey of perpetual growth. I am working to become a better person so that I can do right by myself and others. Each of these pursuits align with my values so I take action to work toward them. I find meaning in these pursuits.
Happiness: It may seem like a selfish pursuit, but it is a vitally important one. As the saying goes “You cannot pour from an empty cup.” I find that being in a healthy state of being is crucial to my success in other areas of my life. This takes cultivation on my part, and requires consistent action.
I will admit, I cherish the opportunity to pursue what makes me happy (who doesn’t), but I try to pursue activities that allow me to take time to pause and reflect. My desired activities allow me to recharge so I can take action in other areas of my life. A short list includes backpacking, reading, writing, video games, photography, and travel. These pursuits give me meaning.
The Human Condition: This value is more difficult to express clearly, but I will give it a shot. Life experience is enlightening to me. It is a driving component of many of my pursuits. The human condition provides all the experience I could ever want, experience that is a shared thread between all of humanity. I believe that we are most human when experiencing the range of our deepest lows and highest highs. The contrast makes each experience vivid and meaningful. Experiencing the human condition is grounding. It transcends any personal pursuit. The inevitability of the human condition offers an opportunity to gain insight into other lives, which is the basis for empathy. If nothing else, meaning is assigned by this connection to humanity.
My answer to the quintessential cliché is unique to me, just as yours is unique to you. I want to clarify that one person’s meaning is never inherently better than another, but be wary. I think meaning obtained from purely selfish pursuits is ephemeral and offers no substance. We must continuously evaluate our values so we can effectively shape our meaning. The final step in this process is embracing our meaning to the best of our abilities. For me, this means putting my energy into building a more sustainable world, while taking the time to fully embrace all of life’s pleasures and sorrows.
What is your answer to the meaning of life?