What is the meaning of life?

This essay was written as a renewal of a few of Alfred Adler’s (1932) ideas from his book “What life should mean to you”.

Adler poses the question and has a clever answer to what the meaning of life is. He highlights that people may not readily have an answer for such a question and may add further questions like: what is life for, what does life mean and so on. Adler however does not look for a long philosophical response but shrewdly says that if we look at the actions of man the answer is present there and then. Thus, what he is saying is that everyone is an expression of their own personal meaning; their own life is an explanation of that meaning. Their postures, attitudes, movements, expressions and all behaviours represent their meaning of their life (1932:4). From this idea it becomes understandable that there are as many meanings as there are people. Some meanings are more serviceable than others. Some people’s lives are more fruitful than others, which means that the actions of some seem to derive more utility than the actions of others. No single person possesses ultimate meaning. When looking at commonalities in meanings one can derive to some extent a model of what works and what does not. This occurs in community as meaning at its functional level is a product of communal agreement. What i mean by that is that while we may have our own personal interpretations of our lives, we do not live in isolation; our learning takes place in the community of humanity. We share our meanings with those around us whether intentionally or not. Thus, our meanings or life-styles are purturbances to those around us and visa versa.

We may aspire to great things but if our everyday life does not mirror these aspirations then there is gap between what we want to be like and what we currently are. This may be a reason for a lack of satisfaction in our lives. This is in keeping with the cybernetic view whereby the content of our communication is a product of our living, which is the same as the product of our behaviour and our thinking. Thus, why is there a difference between what we want and what we are living with currently? The answer is clearly made by Adler when he says that the way one is living is their life meaning. If I want to be fit and physically strong am I performing the activities that are needed for that outcome? Am I training in the gym or participating in a sport and eating correctly? If my daily actions are not exhibiting these behaviours why should I be expecting anything different from what i am currently experiencing? This is a practical application of logic. If one wants to eat cookies one needs to either bake them oneself or at least get them from the store. If this does not take place the need for the cookies will not be met and only the mental gap will prevail. This gap is common in many people’s lives who want something different from what they are currently experiencing.  Their wants and their life meaning are incongruent.

Reasons for not living the life that you want

Adler (1932) writes as follows:

No experience is a cause of success or failure. We do not suffer the shock of our experiences – the so called trauma – but we make out of them just what suits our purposes. We are self-determined by the meaning we give to our experiences; and then there is probably something of a mistake always involved when we take particular experiences as the basis for our future life. Meanings are not determined by situations, but we determine ourselves by the meanings we give to situations. (Adler, 1932:14)

We are all members of the human race and share this earth with others, including plants and animals. We are all products of families and most of us will procreate and continue to contribute to the communal human race. We are socially connected and require cooperation to reach our own goals as well as the goals of humanity in general.  One paradox of life is that it is often thought of as short, but it is also is a long road. What is your meaning of life

Adler, A (1932). (Porter, A Ed). What life should mean to you. Bishop and Sons. London

Philip Baron (March 2011)