A meaningful life delivers lasting happiness. On this, most philosophers and religions agree. But the definition of a meaningful life takes on a different flavor, depending on who you listen to.
Defining a Meaningful Life
Here are some of the definitions I came across:
- According to Plato the meaning of life is in attaining the highest form of knowledge. Apparently, it can’t be defined, but you’ll know when you get there.
Aristotle concluded that the meaning of life is to pursue the “Highest Good,” which is happiness.
The philosophy of Cynicism argues that the ultimate goal is happiness that comes from being self-sufficient and mastering your attitude.
Epicurus gets a bad rap from more conservative thinkers. He gets credit for the idea that we should eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we may die.
The father of Positive Psychology, Martin Seligman in his book Authentic Happiness defines the meaning of life this way:
A meaningful life is one that joins with something larger than we are—and the larger that something is, the more meaning our lives have.
I like that last definition. It gets traction with me.
Jesus on the Meaningful Life
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reveals what comes across as a strange recipe for happiness.
Happy are those who know they are spiritually poor; the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them!
Happy are those who mourn; God will comfort them!
Happy are those who are humble; they will receive what God has promised!
Happy are those whose greatest desire is to do what God requires; God will satisfy them fully!
Happy are those who are merciful to others; God will be merciful to them!
Happy are the pure in heart; they will see God!
Happy are those who work for peace; God will call them his children!
Happy are those who are persecuted because they do what God requires; the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them!
Happy are you when people insult you and persecute you and tell all kinds of evil lies against you because you are my followers. Be happy and glad, for a great reward is kept for you in heaven. This is how the prophets who lived before you were persecuted (Matthew 5:3-12 GNT).
There are some things here that look good. But how can happiness come out of mourning? Persecution? Insults?
Take the ingredients to one of your favorite food recipes. I like lemon meringue pie. Taste any ingredient by itself, and the experience could be anywhere from sour to sweet. But I only get the lemon meringue experience when all the ingredients are mixed together.
As an Austrian Jew living during the Nazi occupation of Europe, Viktor E. Frankl survived World War II. But his survival came with the temporary loss of freedom in concentration camps, and the loss of his wife, brother and parents.
Frankl wrote much about his experience in the classic Man’s Search for Meaning. The following words are perhaps his most profound:
What is to give light must endure burning.
A life of meaning gives our happiness an immovable foundation.
Finding Lasting Happiness
Weebles were an egg-shaped toy–a figurine–that first appeared in the 1970s. As a boy, I remember the TV commercials with the catchy jingle, “Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down.” The figurines had a weight in the bottom that always turned them back upright when they were pushed over.
Lasting happiness isn’t happiness that never goes away. It’s happiness that always comes back. It’s resilient.
Receiving God’s love, and joining together with His purpose gives my life meaning that provides lasting happiness. Whatever comes my way–I can bounce back. I may burn, but I’ll give off light. I may wobble, but I won’t fall down.
I’ll be resilient.
Where do you get your life meaning? What gets you back on your feet when life gets you down? Let me know with a comment below.