Dr. Siddall is a Psychologist with over 30 years of experience in clinical and forensic psychology as a clinician, educator and consultant.
The Power of Meaning in Your Life
There are some questions so important and universal that everyone has struggled to answer them. Sometimes it takes a lifetime to find the answer and for many the mystery remains.
Ask yourself, what were the most important questions you had when you were growing up? Would life have been easier, your goals clearer, and the road to maturity smoother if you had discovered the answers? My response is a resounding yes. I speak not only for myself but also for the clients that consulted me over the years. I suspect you would agree.
The Meaning of Life
The most frequent question on most people’s list is: What is the meaning of life? The answer you prefer will likely reflect the religious or spiritual values you learned growing up or reflect the worldly influence of humanistic education and personal experience.
- Religion - life’s meaning believed to be inspired by God in accordance with established religious doctrine.
- Spirituality - meaning of life based on the universal connection between all life forms and the environment.
- Humanism - meaning of life based on human’s ability to lead fulfilling and ethical lives without a belief in the supernatural.
- Experiential - life’s meaning derived from personal experience.
Fortunately, generations of our ancestors have recorded their own answers to life’s important questions. Historically, philosophers, writers, and scholars often recorded their conclusions in aphorisms, proverbs, and maxims. These useful literary devices express fundamental truths in a succinct and memorable way. They are useful mnemonic devices that facilitate recall by associating the information you want to remember with an image, a sentence, or a word.
Meaning of Life Quotations
The following quotations about life’s meaning represent a sample from my personal collection. They were selected to be thought provoking and challenge you to explore your own answers rather than adopt rote beliefs that are predetermined or derived from orthodoxy, customs and beliefs.
Consider these examples:
- “There is not one big cosmic meaning for all; there is only the meaning we each give to our life, an individual meaning, an individual plot, like an individual novel, a book for each person.” Anais Nin
- “The purpose of life is to discover your gift. The work of life is to develop it. The meaning of life is to give your gift away.” David Viscott
- “... the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day, and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.” Viktor Frankl
- “The meaning of life is whatever you ascribe it to be.” Joseph Campbell
- “What is the essence of life? To serve others and to do good.” Aristotle
- “What is the meaning of life? To be happy and useful.” H.H. the Dalai Lama
- “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” William Shakespeare
In summary, the question: What is the meaning of life? has no singular answer that will satisfy everyone. Each individual must work out the definition that is consistent with their needs, values and beliefs. Most of my clients have found that identifying common features derived from my collection of quotes is helpful as homework in their own quest to define their life’s meaning.
General Themes and Definitions
Here is an example of themes and definitions condensed from these quotes.
- There is only the meaning we each give to our lives
- The purpose of life varies among people and their life circumstances
- To live
- To make a difference
- Be happy
- Be useful
- To love
- Serve others
- Do good
- Discover your gift
- Develop your gift
- Share your gift
Example: The Idealistic Volunteer
Slater was an idealistic young high school student who enjoyed volunteering for community projects including the local food bank and working with the elderly. She came to counseling unsure of her future career goals. Her parents were encouraging her to study business at her father’s alma mater and join him in the family automotive dealership. She felt unsuited for a business career but did not want to disappoint her father. After several counseling sessions designed to help her clarify her options, she was presented with a series of quotes about life’s meaning. She immediately identified with the quote by Aristotle “What is the essence of life? To serve others and to do good.” She stated that this quote gave her encouragement and permission to pursue a career as a social worker specializing in community outreach. Eventually her father embraced her career choice when he saw how happy and motivated she had become.
There are some questions so important and universal that everyone has struggled to answer them. The most frequent question on most people’s list is: What is the meaning of life? The answer you prefer will likely reflect the religious or spiritual values you learned growing up or the worldly influence of humanistic education and personal experience. Most of my clients have found that the identification of common themes from notable quotes about the meaning of life have helped them define the meaning of their lives.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 James W Siddall
James W Siddall (author) from Cleveland on September 25, 2020:
Thanks Wally, I am glad you found this article stimulating! Jim
Wally Balcerzak on September 24, 2020:
Nice article, we address this issue a lot in our daily reading and meditation. I like Aristotle's the best, to serve others and do good!
James W Siddall (author) from Cleveland on August 10, 2020:
Thank you Nicole. Hitting the reader's sweet spot is my main objective! Jim
Nicole on August 08, 2020:
A timely article for me, and one that helped bring clarity to a question I often ponder. I enjoyed reading the quotations and found myself connecting to the words of Viscott and Shakespeare. I feel as though I have better direction now. Many thanks to you!
James W Siddall (author) from Cleveland on August 01, 2020:
Liliane: Thank you for reading and commenting on this article. Jim
Liliane on July 29, 2020:
So true. In yoga, we sometimes lead retreats on the "Who Am I?" theme. I compare this to your "What is the meaning of life?"