The Meaning of Life… in under 300 words


Perhaps you think I’ve set myself an impossible challenge here?

Not so. The meaning of life is pretty straightforward to state. Your life has whatever meaning you give to it. So the question becomes: what do people say gives their lives meaning? That’s easy enough to measure and psychologists have done exactly that.

Baumeister and Vohs (2002) have synthesised four factors. When people are asked, the more they report each of these four factors being fulfilled, the more meaningful their lives feel:

  1. Purpose – this could be climbing Kilimanjaro, going to work or getting the kids a good education, whatever it is, meaning in life comes from reaching goals and feeling fulfilled. Even though fulfilment is hard to achieve because the state fades, people need purpose and to continually re-evaluate what purpose they are focussing on.
  2. Values – people need a moral structure to work out what is right and what is wrong. There are plenty to choose from: some come from religion, others from philosophy and still others from your friends and family.
  3. Efficacy – people want to make a difference and have some control over their environment. Without that, the meaning of life is reduced.
  4. Self-worth – we all want to feel we’re good and worthwhile people. We can do this individually or by attaching ourselves to a worthy cause. Either way we need to be able to view ourselves in a positive light.

So, there you have it: the meaning of life in under 300 words.

Two words of warning. Firstly, it can be quite difficult to get all these aspects in balance at the same place, although certainly not impossible. Secondly, a meaningful life is probably necessary to be happy, but that should never stop you from developing a healthy curiosity about harvesting and adding other aspects that nourish your life on a deep level.

What gives meaning to your life?

About the author

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Jamie Elkon http://shrinkrap.co.za/

The author can be found rummaging through life looking for nourishment in the early hours of the morning. He is slowly going sane by using his actual life and relationships to wake up.He lives in Cape Town with his teenaged daughter, two bassett hounds named Thelma and Louise and Digit... the cat. He hugs trees, has experienced numerous dark nights of the soul, collects incorrect Chinese packaging and tracks curious things to their lair.

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