Tuesday, 26 October 2010

The Meaning Of Life

By Rachel Surtees (@RVSurtees)

I have a theory. Hot off the press so to speak: I think that the idea that we're all still hunting for "the meaning of life" is ridiculous. I think we know exactly what it is and always have done.

For some reason we have allowed ourselves to be so overwhelmed by the enormity of the question that we've left it to the scientists and philosophers to fight it out. And yet, "the meaning of life" floods our every movement; shapes our legal systems; informs our sense of morality (both personal and societal); and colours every political system from London to Lima to Lagos.

How could it not? The meaning of life is the reason we are. And of course, every culture, family, individual will have a different interpretation of what it means to them, but surely the meaning of life is to live. Isn't it?

Isn't that why the idea of working in a stuffy office fills us with horror whilst achieving the holy grail of the perfect work-life balance so appealing? Because we all need time "to live" otherwise we begin to feel that life has no meaning.

Isn't that why we (most of us at least) find the idea of long-term imprisonment of young-offenders so troubling? Because to effectively deny someone the right to a chance "to live" freely is so contrary to our nature.

Ironically enough, isn't that why proponents of the death penalty have such an easy time defending their stance? Because acts that inhibit someone else's ability "to live" seem so indefensible.

And isn't that why we have memorials for our loved ones who have died? Because it allows them to live again - if only in memory.

Last week my father died of lung cancer. I barely knew him and yet have felt such sadness for him in these last few days. Because by all accounts he didn't live. He allowed past mistakes to prevent him from living and then died within hours of finding the forgiveness he craved but didn't seek out. What a shame. To have a life but not live it. Isn't it? Perhaps this post could be a memorial of sorts. Give him one last chance "to live".

Click here to go to first post


  1. Thank you for that brilliant post. Such a relief to know it could be that simple. Moved me. Much Love X

  2. It makes you think about how many people in the world really do get a chance to "live". Those that do are probably the lucky few. Whatever "living" means to different people the key to life is to be happy in whatever way we can. Love you. xx

  3. Candice Carboo-Ofulue27 October 2010 at 02:12


    To get it out of the way: sorry I didn't post. To be entirely honest...I forgot.

    What a perfectly timed post. I agree that work can often undermine life, or even that life can undermine life.....especially when you seem to be living it! It is one thing to be stuck behind a desk and wanting to live and another to forget when you "are" living...

    That said....

    I'm so sorry to hear about your dad, and no doubt your loss. I emphasize with having a parent who allows their past mistakes to prevent them from living. It is sad.

    Also wanted to tell you that the other day I was thinking about you and our friendship. That although we haven't seen each other or spoken physically for months, and even if it were years, you are one of my closest friends. You are the meaning of my life.......

    Great post Sweet Cakes

  4. Rachie I'm sorry you felt/feel so sad..Thinking of you..
    Lots of love and take care my darling..xxxxxxxxxxxxxPascale

  5. Nice post. Sorry for your loss. Love the new template though!

  6. Sorry to hear about your dad; that's an event that is going to shake anyone's world. My thoughts are with you.

    However, I don't really agree with the post. Everyone 'lives' whether you think they do or not, even young offenders locked away unjustly. Then they pass away. I suppose what you are talking about is whether that 'living' is happy and contented or not. But that is down to the individual's reaction to events, not the events of the life itself.

    On a side note: what philosophers argue about (when they argue about things like this - not very common these day, sadly) are the details: not what the meaning of life is, per se, but what it means to live the good life and how we can better facilitate it.

    Thanks for the post though, I was wondering where you'd got to :)

  7. Thanks for the support everyone - always impressed by how generous people are with their affections during difficult times.

    @Joshua Surtees - yep, I do think that that the ones who get "to live" are the lucky few, though I don't think that that's necessarily linked to Northern vs Southern hemispheres if that was the implication?

    @David Charles - no, I don't think that it is about living a happy or contented life. Clearly that's going to be the aspiration for most, but that isn't what gives meaning.

    There's a physiological state of being alive or being dead, but what I was geting at is there's also a social state which is what we should be concerned with.

    I think that life has meaning when you take an active (rather than passive) stance to being alive. Choosing to live. Which incidentally could extend to actively choosing to be passive, but it's the very fact of that active choice that provides meaning.

  8. Choose life. Isn't that what John Hodge said? Active choice is an interesting one. I mean, for myself, I agree with you; but some people try to eliminate choice and call that their search for a meaning to their lives. Sometimes it's an active choice to pass over the responsibilities for their choices to a higher power, but sometimes it isn't, sometimes it's a unconscious 'choice' selected by birth and tradition.

    This is a subject (as you know) that always interests me. I just spent ten days on a vipassana meditation retreat where I met a lot of people searching for meaning, searching for a solution or at least a purpose of some sort. I felt like some people were abnegating their choices of life for a faith in the technique of vipassana meditation to resolve their misery and to find enlightenment. My response was to choose the vississitudes of life with its inevitable miseries, but I'm aware that some people do look to eliminate the responsibilities of choice.

    Have you read any Viktor Frankl? Interesting ideas on meaning as the life-drive in competition with the theories of Freud (pleasure) and Nietzsche and Adler (power). But I guess this is exactly what you didn't want to get bogged down with! :)

    I still stand by the point that you can't observe someone else's life and declare that they didn't 'live'. Who knows? The most extraordinary things come from the most 'miserable' of lives.

  9. John Hodge said choose life. Rachel Surtees says choose to live. Ha!

    I must say I do find the idea of searching for meaning very difficult. Searching for purpose or method is one thing, but to search for meaning suggests that it can be found rather than created.

    I take your point that as an observer you'll never absolutely know what choices people did or didn't make, but I'm not sure that that means you can't offer your observations all the same.

    It is also worth pointing out that for me this isn't about worthiness. Whether someone had a happy life or lived in abstract misery isn't actually relevant in this context.