Nathan Doneen

What is the meaning of life?

I've wanted to address this question for several weeks now. I think a lot of the dissatisfaction people experience comes from not having an answer to this question… myself included.

After weeks of pondering, writing a little, then deleting a lot, I came across a fantastic answer to this question.

It was in Viktor E Frankl's book Man's Search for Meaning, his personal account of life in a WWII concentration camp and a brief synopsis of logotherapy, a psychotherapy doctrine pioneered by Frankl. In it, he acknowledges the difficulty one can encounter when trying to answer this question.

"I doubt whether a doctor can answer this question in general terms. For the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person's life at a given moment. To put the question in general terms would be comparable to the question posed to a chess champion: "Tell me, Master, what is the best move in the world?" There simply is no such thing as the best or even a good move apart from a particular situation in a game and the particular personality of one's opponent."

It was how Frankl reframed the question that made the answer easier to track down.

"Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible."

As I said in an earlier post, "We are — quite literally — the embodiment of life." And, as Frankl pointed out, because we are life, any meaning it has is assigned by us. Instead of being the students trying to guess the correct answer on our midterm exam, we are actually the teacher writing the answer key.

"One should not search for an abstract meaning of life. Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus, everyone's task is as unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it."

Whatever we do with our life is the meaning of life — just from our own unique perspective.

Reframing the question to reflect that you always assign a meaning to life forces more self-reflection. For instance, ask yourself how you spent your day… well, according to you, that's the meaning of life.

I ask myself this on lazy days… I really don't want to answer, "The meaning of life is Cheetos and Xbox." This self-examination is brutally honest… which can also be highly motivating.

So how about you? What's the meaning of your life? Do you have any desire to redefine that meaning?

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