We were at a tiny, romantic bar at Kentish Town which sold funny snacks and interesting cocktails. We caught up a little and suddenly the conversation took a serious turn.
R: You know, I have been thinking a lot when I visit the galleries – why do people paint? What do they get out of the whole process?
Me: You mean what is the meaning of painting?
R: Yes, and along the same train of thought, what is the meaning of what we are doing everyday? What is the point of working? What is the meaning behind it all?
Me: I have been reading a book about the meaning of life.
R: You have?
Me: Yes, it’s called Man’s Search for Meaning. The author claimed that there are 3 ways that humans find meaning in life. There is the active construction of meaning of life, for example when we do things and actively seek and create meaning from what we do. Working, writing and painting fall under this category. The second category is the passive meaning of life when we passively absorb the world around us. This includes reading, sight-seeing and meditation.
R: Sounds legit. What is the last category?
Me: Because he survived concentration camps, the author believed that there is meaning in suffering. He thinks that we need to make sense of our sufferings…
R: Yes, I agree that everything happens for a reason, including sufferings. There is a reason why we are made to suffer.
Me: Yes, we don’t suffer for no reason…But then again, it is definitely easier to derive meaning from our life events, especially the ones with negative emotions, in retrospect. At that point in time, it is hard to deal with all the pain, let alone try to find meaning out of it.
When I was younger, I used to believe that the point of life is to set achievable goals with clear timelines and our lives are guided by the aim to tick off the goals from our list within the stipulated time. As I get older, I begin to realize that it is hard to set achievable goals with clear timelines because unexpected things can happen to throw you off course. Even good health itself is not a given. I like this quote by Viktor Frankl: “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” I think it is better to focus the meaning of life on your attitude towards your own life instead of on the life events that happened to you. Maybe not a lot of good things have happened to you but I believe that as long as you possess an optimistic outlook towards your life, it is still one good life. Bad things can make you a better person, or at the very least, bad things make you realize just how much goodness you are blessed with.