What is the meaning of life? There probably isn’t one single answer that applies to everyone. For those who are in a philosophical mood, Jobspotting founder Robin Haak shares his view on the biggest question.
Sitting on a pontoon on the river Spree at the NOAH afterparty — Sven Väth’s bass in the background — I met an old friend. She said that our life’s purpose is simply to live and to be happy. I felt uncomfortable with this perspective, but I didn’t have a better answer to offer. In fact, I had never considered this question. I just said that there must be more to it than to be happy, more to life than just pursuing personal happiness.
Where do we draw meaning from?
The search for meaning in life can stem from very different motivations. For some, the individual is at the centre of a search for happiness, knowledge, personal development, power or possessions.
Others find meaning in having an impact on society or on other people. They work, for example, for justice or peace. They support people in need or create something that contributes to the happiness of others.
And others recognise meaning in something spiritual — in a spiritual role model, or a communion with the absolute.
Basically, there is nothing wrong with wanting to be happy. I even think some people are content with just that. But for me, only the interplay of three levels — the self, the other, and the absolute — can provide meaning to my life.
The three elements of meaning
For me, first of all comes the pursuit of personal happiness and individual goals. Whatever they may be, the basis of these goals should be in harmony with who you are.
We are also embedded in an environment. A relationship, a family, a society — something that we link to our identity, even if in some cases, we are defined by our dissociation from it. For most people, there is an urge to contribute to their community in some way. One expression of this is work.
When it comes to work, we search first of all for something that will satisfy us. We look for a job that plays to our strengths, that fulfils us. And we give in to this human need by trying to create something. By pursuing this occupation, we will always try to give something back to the community that we feel defines us as an integral part.
This goes for a nurse that cares for a patient just as much as it does for a manager who looks at people instead of numbers, or a designer that develops a product that other people will use.
The third, and all-connecting element for me is in the end, love. Happiness is based on being able to love yourself. To make a contribution to the environment, to a company, to society is based on love for others, and what one does.
That which we are striving for, and simultaneously links all the elements of meaning together is, for me, love. It is, so to speak, the Higgs-Boson of meaning — the element that permeates and connects everything.
The search for meaning knows no end
Where people have found meaning has changed repeatedly over time. What has never changed however, is the fact that people search for meaning.
One could say that the search for meaning is an ‘infinite regress’. I believe that the search always goes on, and it is not in finding an answer to a question that gives meaning to a life. Everyone should find meaning for themselves, but maybe even considering the question is in itself the answer.