So What Really Is The Meaning of Life?


May 30, 2008   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

Miguel Torga, the great Portuguese writer, said that ‘life has the meaning we give it — our richness, our enthusiasm, our pride — or our cowardice.’ The search for meaning is a constant theme in our lives and we try to find it in many different ways. But in the end, I believe that meaning can only be found in the way we add something to the world.

What is adding value?
Ask 100 people what they think gives meaning to their lives and you will get 100 different responses. Money, property, a successful career, a big car, an attractive spouse, partner,… But I’m sure most people would agree that these things in themselves do not add lasting and profound meaning to us.

Albert Einstein said that ‘only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile,and I believe that a life of service to others is what truly brings meaning.

The term ‘service’ may suggest that we have to give up our jobs and money to go help the poor and destitute. I know several people who have done just this, and they have certainly found happiness and peace in their choice of lifestyle. But a life of adding value does not mean abandoning your own needs and desires. It is not the same as sacrifice; far from it. When we truly add value to the lives of others, we cannot help but receive value ourselves. Adding value is the only real way to live a meaningful life.

Love what you do
So the question remains: How can we add value? I believe the answer to this is surprisingly simple.

To quote Steve Jobs in a speech he gave in 2005:

Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking.

Through Apple, Steve Jobs has undoubtedly added immense value to the world. He did it by following his heart and has been richly rewarded for it. The same can be said for many famous, successful and wealthy people.

Loving what you do means starting right here, right now. Whatever you are doing, you can start to love it.

Of course, you’re not suddenly going to love a job you’ve hated for years. In fact, if you hate your job so much then you probably ought to leave. But it’s unlikely that there is no aspect of your job that you like. The trick is to identify these good bits and focus on them, making them more central to your experience. And the things you don’t like? Can you find any redeeming qualitative in these things? Can you change your attitude so that you see these tasks as useful or meaningful?

If you can start to love what you’re doing, then you’ll be adding value in some way.

Do What You Love
Interestingly, Steve Jobs didn’t say do what you love. He said love what you do. You don’t have to quit your dull nine-to-five job and start all over again. But doing what you truly love certainly has its rewards. In Making a Life, Making a Living, Mark Albion cites a study carried out by Srully Blotnick. The careers of 1,500 business school graduates were tracked from 1969 to 1980 and were split into two groups: group A said they wanted to make money first so they could do what they really wanted later, and group B said they would follow their interests first, regardless of financial considerations. At the end of the study, there were 101 millionaires. All but one came from group B.



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