The Meaning of Life
To wonder too openly, or intensely, about the meaning of life can seem a peculiar, ill-fated and even a faintly ridiculous pastime. Surely this is not something we ordinary mortals should be doing or that will get us very far.
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. A meaningful life is close to, but at points importantly different from, a happy life.
This class guides us towards the ingredients of such a life:
- A meaningful life draws upon, and exercises, a range of our higher capacities; 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 at fulfilment. We may be leading a meaningful life and yet often find ourselves in a bad mood. Conversely, we may be having frequent surface fun while living, for the most part, meaninglessly.
- Whereas pleasure manifests itself immediately, our taste in meaning may be more elusive.
We cannot rely upon others to determine what will be meaningful to us. The question of what makes life meaningful has to be answered personally, even if our conclusions are not particularly idiosyncratic. What we call ‘crises of meaning’ are generally moments where others’ visions of what is meaningful for us run up against our own tastes and interests. We have to work out, through a process of experience and introspection, what counts as meaningful in our eyes.
The Meaning of Life considers a range of options for where meaning might lie for us. It is anchored around a discussion of six centrally meaningful parts of life: service, connection, transcendence, belonging, self-knowledge and mastery.
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.