Philosophers and forward thinking individuals have been searching for the ominous meaning of life since the beginning of human existence. Thousands upon thousands of books have been written on the subject, each author offering up their own explanation of life’s ultimate meaning and the mantras one should live by.
Not everyone is a natural born explorer of the mind and author extraordinaire, so for those of us who are left to sift through the piles of material written by others, what can we expect to gain? Is it possible to learn about life and discover the meaning of our existence through reading a book? While looking at some of the most popular literary works that examine this issue, we can analyze the possible positive effects that they can have on our own lives as well as whether or not they can effectively answer humankind’s greatest question in their pages.
You have to decide what’s the meaning of life
Victor Frankl, the Nazi concentration camp survivor turned inspirational author, is best known for his philosophies that promote finding meaning in everything. From a man who experienced true suffering, he challenges all of us to discover beauty in tragedy and good in the bad. Frankl was the creator of Logotherapy, which is based on the concept that the meaning of life is all about finding what is important and meaningful in one’s own life. Readers all over the world have claimed that Frankl’s words have changed their lives, and his works such as “Man’s Search for Meaning” have sold over 10 million copies worldwide.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
– Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
Is the meaning of life to live a life of meaning?
One of the world’s most famous religious leaders and philosophical minds, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, has been writing about finding the meaning of life for decades. Much like Frankl, the Dalai Lama promotes the ability of an individual to create and discover their own meaning of life. The Dalai Lama promotes this through compassion and kindness to others and altruistic actions. For his followers, the concept of finding the meaning of life through living a life of meaning, is one that has resonated deeply.
“We are visitors on this planet. We are here for one hundred years at the very most. During that period we must try to do something good, something useful, with our lives. if you contribute to other people’s happiness, you will find the true meaning of life.”
– Dalai Lama XIV
Is it possible?
If we are to believe the masses who have claimed that by sitting down for a few hours and reading the words of someone wiser than themselves, it may indeed be possible to find the meaning of life through a book. Many of those books which attempt to answer the question ‘What is the meaning of life?’ all share a similar answer. More or less, life’s meaning is based on the life we lead and whether or not it has been meaningful. What constitutes a meaningful life will be different person to person, but maybe that is why these books are so popular.
Making the answer to one of life’s biggest questions open to interpretation, gives the readers of those books free reign to interpret the answer how they see fit. For Frankl, this was kind of the point. At the end of the day, you must ask yourself whether or not you are content with reading a simple solution and just accepting it or not or if you would prefer to stay on a path that allows you to keep questioning.
Find happiness. Be kind. Live your life to its fullest.
A definitive answer to the meaning of life is not likely to just matter-of-factly reveal itself. Just like trying to understand why we are alone or contemplating God’s existence, there are no answers to these types of universal questions. While reading about the meaning of life may not provide you with a certain answer, you can gain knowledge from those who have found meaning in their own lives and are sharing their findings. If you discover meaning in your own life through the words read in a book, wouldn’t this in effect mean that you have found the meaning of life? It may be worth a try.