Own My Growth

Helping folks with practical tips to manage themselves better

Meaning In Our Life

Meaning In Life

Here is an interesting thought experiment that Philosopher Robert Nozick describes in his book Anarchy, State, and Utopia.

Imagine you are plugged into a Machine that has the power to provide you with “the experience of writing a great poem or bringing about world peace or loving someone and being loved in return” or another emotion you desire. Would you be happy to be plugged into that machine for the rest of your life, experiencing a life of satisfaction and happiness from positive emotions?

I am sure that the answer for most of us would be a NO.

Why would it be a NO, I ask myself. The answer I would give myself is this. ( Accounting for that odd person who may be happy with such a possibility !!)

“I don’t want my life to be only about positive experiences and positive emotions. I seek more out of my life than mere positive experiences. Somehow, experiencing such positive emotions and feelings by being plugged into a machine feels fake. As if my life will be a lie.”

If the choice were between a machine-induced feeling of happiness for being the world’s most loved person and a natural feeling of some satisfaction from helping a person cross the road, I would choose the latter option any day.

Understanding “Meaning” In Our Life

When I came across this thought experiment, it clarified for me the fundamental concept of Meaning that we seek from life. As humans, we all have a built-in internal mechanism that demands more than the present emotion or sensation we feel. We want the cause of our feelings to be meaningful. We want to know that our actions have an actual effect on the world, not just that we feel they do. We want our efforts to count for something. This is the essence of “Meaning” that we seek in our life.

Unlike animals, as humans, we have the capacity to reflect on our feelings, thought, and actions. We have the power to be conscious of our consciousness and our experiences. Therefore we can attach “a meaning” to our efforts beyond the pleasure and pain associated with those actions. 

Life Purpose= Desire To Do Something Meaningful

When we think of a meaningful life, we always bring in the idea of having a purpose for our life. And, to lead a purposeful life, we believe we need to have clear goals that we can purposefully go after. But, unfortunately, having goals and attaining them does not guarantee a life of purpose.

To experience a sense of purpose, the goals we pursue should be intrinsically meaningful.

Goals that you set for yourself driven by the expectations and standards of others will likely feel futile. For a meaningful life, you must have a self-generated purpose that feels like it counts for something.

The idea of what creates meaning is unique to every individual. Someone may find meaning in being an entrepreneur. Someone else in volunteering at an old age home, being a doctor, or being a homemaker. As long as you choose your pursuits in life based on your values and what feels suitable for you, you lead a meaningful and purposeful life.

A miserable surgeon who became one at his parents’ insistence even though he wanted to be a musician is not leading a meaningful life despite serving others. But, on the other hand, an investment banker who finds pleasure and meaning in her work, even though it may not be helping anyone, is leading a meaningful and purposeful life.

Our purpose in life is to do something that we want to because it is meaningful and not because someone wants us to do it.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: