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Updated October 13, 2020

What is a Meaningful Life?

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What is a Meaningful Life? essay
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When asked the question: What is a meaningful life? Some might say that it is a life that is lived seeking pleasure and comforts, inevitably avoiding hard situations and things that might counter pleasure-seeking. This is the idea that Nietzsche had when reflecting upon ancient philosopher’s wise words about life and its meaning. Nietzsche believed that nothing means anything and since that is the case, we should seek to fulfill only what makes us happy in life despite the consequences to other people. I however, find that this belief can be counteractive to true happiness. I believe that true happiness in life can be found through living a meaningful life; One filled with achieving life goals, maintaining satisfying friendships, having a relationship with your higher creator, and serving others.

It is my belief that when we aim for a life of meaningful pursuits, we are likely to feel more sustained happiness and life satisfaction, even if there is some discomfort, sadness, or stress along the way, than if we aim for a life of pleasure alone (Suttie). Emily Smith, in her book ‘The Power of Meaning,’ argues that there are 4 key points to living a meaningful life that resonate with me as well. A sense of belonging is important because when we are understood, recognized, and affirmed by friends, family members, partners, etc. we feel we belong to a community (Smith). Having a sense of purpose is another big factor. When we have long-term goals in life that reflect our values and serve the greater good, we tend to imbue our activities with more meaning. Studies have shown that professions focused on helping others such as teachers, surgeons, and therapists all tend to rate their jobs as more meaningful. Purpose has also been tied to many other positive outcomes such as increased learning for students in school and better overall health (Suttie).

The next factor that has shown to contribute to a meaningful life are redemption stories. It helps to try to pull particularly relevant experiences in our lives into a coherent narrative that defines our identity (Smith). Overcoming negative situations to emphasize personal, spiritual, and professional growth has shown to be a key element in people who say they live meaningful lives. Transcendence is the last key point that Suttie describes. Experiences that fill us with awe or wonder, and ones in which we feel we have risen above the everyday world to experience a higher reality, can decrease our selfish thoughts and lead us to engage in more generous behavior (Suttie). In other words, the diminishment of our own self-importance can induce a sense of meaning. This diminishment of our own self-importance is a common theme in many forms of religion. I myself am a Christian and it is preached that we must humble ourselves before the lord and give up our human nature desires to put ourselves before others; It is in these moments of selflessness that I find transcendence.

All of these points stand up directly to Nietzsche’s belief that there is no ultimate meaning in human life. He claims that Christian virtues make weak people, he does not believe in truth or values, he says that we should seek our own personal power, and he also does not believe in an afterlife- therefore we should live our lives as hard and fast as possible (AAP). Just about the only thing that I can agree with in Nietzsche’s philosophy is that he was optimistic about life, although for different reasons. He was optimistic about life in a selfish manner, saying that life was great because you can acquire lots of power and indulge in selfish/satisfying behaviors. I however am optimistic about life because it presents challenges and meaningful interactions that I can engage with and overcome.

Nietzsche speaks as if the meaning of life is the freedom from values, morals, and the institution of life that society has formed (IEP). By this he is saying that we should do and have whatever we desire, and that values are a construct made up by weak people who cannot achieve power on their own. This kind of selfish behavior is the very thing that Emily Smith warns about in her book. She says that the pursuit of happiness alone often-times backfires (Smith), and that we should be seeking less selfish behaviors. What Nietzsche failed to realize is that human beings crave purpose and relationships. He failed to realize in his sociopathic thoughts that most people are not like him.

I find meaning in my life through my achievements, my relationship with God, and through building a family with my wife in the future. Coming out of high school, I did not have enough money to pay for college so I joined the military to get the G.I. Bill and go back to school after my four-year service. Here I am, 6 years later, having served honorably in the US Navy and about to graduate with my degree, not to mention having married my wife during this period and moving to Nashville. All of these major things I have accomplished with the help of God and it gives me the strength to keep pushing on to one day be in a career that I love and cannot wait to get to every morning. In the future I see myself as an Audio Director for a big-time game studio, loving my job, and coming home to a family that I can provide for. It is in these accomplishments and relationships that I find meaning in life and cannot wait to see what the next chapter in our lives look like. One day I will be able to look back fondly on my life and see all of the things that I achieved and overcame, and be left with a feeling of satisfaction in the relationships that I have made.

References

  1. Suttie, Jill. The Four Keys to a Meaningful Life. Greater Good Magazine. Jan 20th, 2017. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/four_keys_to_a_meaningful_lifeSmith, Emily. ‘The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life that Matters.’ Crown. 2017
  2. All About Philisophy. Friedrich Nietzsche.
  3. https://www.allaboutphilosophy.org/friedrich-nietzsche-faq.htmInternet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The Meaning of Life: Early Continental and Analytic Perspectives. https://www.iep.utm.edu/mean-ear/#SH2c

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