Have you ever wondered “What’s the meaning of life?”
Various religions and traditions offer responses to this question, and ready-made answers can be very appealing because no deep pondering or mental heavy lifting is required. We are relieved that someone else has figured it out for us. Henry Ford once remarked that thinking is hard work, which is probably why so few people do it. People are happy to be told what to think because let’s face it, we’re busy with education, career, family, keeping up with the Kardashians, and binge-watching the latest series to hit Netflix. Who has time to ponder the deep questions, let alone question the answers we’ve been handed?
It’s tempting to accept the “official story,” and for many years, that’s exactly what I did. For me, the meaning of life was something imposed from the outside, which I had to conform to, and if I didn’t accept this definition, my life would be bleak, and empty of meaning. Believing this discouraged me from coloring outside the lines, so I faithfully went “by the book” using the template my parents gave me.
As the years went by, though, I found the answers I’d been spoon-fed no longer seemed sufficient for the complexities of life which I was experiencing. The renowned Swiss psychotherapist C. G. Jung viewed midlife as a time when many people begin to reexamine their lives. Faced with the growing sense of our mortality, we wonder if we have been living someone else’s life, rather than our own. In my case, this was certainly true. I found myself questioning the foundational assumptions of my life.
Midlife is the time to let go of an overdominant ego and to contemplate the deeper significance of human existence.
― C.G. Jung
Whether this type of questioning happens earlier or later in life, when it occurs, it brings us to a point of decision where we must choose to go with ‘safety’ of the herd, or take the road less traveled. I summoned up my courage, and chose the latter, deciding to explore life’s meaning on my own terms.
Now, a few years down this new path, life is much richer and more fulfilling than it ever was in years past. Contrary to the dire predictions of others, I find it to be bursting with meaning. Living is a creative process, and asking for a pre-defined meaning is a bit like asking a painter what the meaning of a blank canvas is. It’s the wrong question. The artist creates meaning by what they choose to paint on the canvas; it flows out of their inner vision.
Meaning comes from inside each of us, rather than from the outside. It is something we give to life through how we live and what we choose to value. You and I, my friends, are meaning-makers.
You are the painter. Your choices are brush strokes on the canvas of your days. Will you live a paint-by-numbers life based on someone else’s ideas, or create something original, vibrant, and true?
The question to ask is not, what is life’s meaning, but rather how you will make your life meaningful.
There will be those who insist that you must use their coloring book in order to have a good life. No matter. Pick up your brush, and paint a masterpiece worth hanging in the halls of history. Be a master of the art of living.