To wonder too openly, or intensely, about the meaning of life sounds like a peculiar, ill-fated and even a faintly ridiculous pastime. It isn’t anything an ordinary mortal should be doing - or would get very far by doing.
But, in truth, the subject is for everyone; it is for all of us to wonder about, and define, a meaningful existence. A meaningful life can be simple in structure, personal, usable, attractive and familiar. This class guides us to it.
A meaningful life is close to, but at points importantly different from, a happy life. Here are some of its ingredients:
• A meaningful life draws upon, and exercises, a range of our higher capacities, for example, those bound up with tenderness, care, connection, self-understanding, sympathy, intelligence and creativity.
• A meaningful life aims not so much at day-to-day contentment as fulfilment. We may be leading a meaningful life and yet, really rather often, be in a bad mood (just as we may be having frequent surface fun while living, for the most part, meaninglessly).
• The question of what makes life meaningful has to be answered personally (even if our conclusions are marked by no particular idiosyncrasy). Others cannot be relied upon to determine what will be meaningful to us. What we call ‘crises of meaning’ are generally moments where others’ visions of what is meaningful for us – even if well-intentioned – run up against our growing awareness of our own tastes and interests.
•We have to work out, by a process of experience and introspection, what counts as meaningful in our eyes. Whereas pleasure manifests itself immediately, our taste in meaning may be more elusive. We can be relatively far into our lives before we securely identify what lends them their meaning.
The Meaning of Life class considers a range of options for where meaning might lie for us. It is anchored around a discussion of eight centrally meaningful parts of life: love, family, work, friendship, culture, politics, nature and philosophy.
The class shows that we can turn the pursuit of a meaningful life from a quixotic impossibility to something at which we can all succeed.
This class is in a sequence with How Culture Can Change Your Life and How to Enjoy Life, which together cover The School of Life’s ideas on culture.
Our classes have been designed to give useful insights around the big themes in life. You’ll be challenged to think deeply about the issues that matter most, and provided with a space to share your thoughts, ideas and experiences with other curious, open-minded individuals.
These sessions are designed by experts and taught by members of our faculty. They include a mix of lecture, conversation and group activity. Optional homework is provided for those interested in further study.
An Introduction to The School of Life
To get an idea of what to expect from classes, workshops and events in our classroom, watch this short film.