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The Meaning of Life

What is the meaning of life? Today in the last lecture of my Philosophy class we talked a little bit about this.

It’s pretty clear that if there is any meaning to life, it has to come from us – facts about the universe such as God’s existence are distinctly unhelpful as we can’t ascertain their validity. So the universe doesn’t help us.

That would suggest, it seems, that the meaning of life is communal (coming from humanity as a whole).

Let’s approach this problem from a different angle: I think it can be taken as a given that to be truly happy, a life must also be meaningful. A meaningful life may not be happy (how happy was Nelson Mandela when he was in prison?), but a happy life is meaningful.

A study was done in the field of positive psychology, which deals with happiness, love and the like, that involved taking people and asking them to rate on a scale how happy they were. Next, their brains were scanned to see which areas were active. The conclusion was that there was a positive correlation between brain activity in one area and the reported degree of happiness.

Just for fun, the researcher called in one of his friends, a scientist-turned-Buddhist-monk. This man had been practising Buddhist compassion meditation for over 30 years, so he could just “turn it on” whenever he decided. They put the monk in the scanner, and asked him to do the compassion meditation – the resulting activity in the brain centre identified with happiness was off the charts.

This suggests a correlation between happiness and compassion/concern for others. As numerous studies on volunteer workers have shown, people who do volunteer work are generally happier than their counterparts.

Maybe the meaning of life is compassion. Is that really so hard to believe?



  1. 18/04/2010 at 11:35 am

    The meaning of life is clear to me. It is to do as much good as possible and to care for one another. (I have the advantage of knowing that there God exists, beyond a reasonable doubt, so it makes my philosophy of life more clear.)

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