This is a rather intense question. A lot of philosophers have tackled this thought and have come up with many different answers. The problem is that it’s a very poorly defined question. Life as a whole really has three different forms. The most commonly thought about is your own personal life. What is the reason you’re living? Is there a meaning for it? Why were you born? The next form is if you zoom out a little further and ask what is the meaning of whole species? What are the reasons humans, insects or plants are here? Or even what is the reason life on earth exists? Finally one of the most mind melting: what is the reason life exists in this universe? Why did life come into being in the first place? When philosophers, or really anyone, try and answer this question they usually end up answering one of the three forms of the question.
Your personal life – perhaps the one everyone is most interested in. What was it you were put on this earth to do? There are views that your life is pointless and there’s no such thing as value or knowledge, in other words Nihilism. Mohism believes that we can only find the meaning once everyone has the same amount of care for everyone else, putting no one else’s need above that of anyone else. When you think in terms of friends and family, this will likely never happen. Cyrenaics and Epicureans think only of pleasure in the present, not planning for the future, maximising pleasure whilst minimising pain. This again is very hard to accomplish because anxiety, as a very abstract concept, is a large source of pain and we cannot see or control it. There are also numerous activities that require pain to eventually result in pleasure (i.e. training for a sport, study). Perhaps Albert Einstein’s view further broadens this understanding that he believes “to create satisfaction for ourselves and other people”. Mankind’s ability to think and create something from nothing is the greatest thing we can do, he suggests it’s from this creation that we can experience true happiness. Humanism is another theory that supports this and entails that we create our own meaning. Our meaning is whatever we make it to be in our minds. This can be found through three activities: communication, understanding and service. (here’s a great video here explaining that statement).
It’s hard for an individual to believe they have no meaning or purpose, remember “no snowflake ever feels responsible for an avalanche”.
Species life. A more broad and less philosophized view on life. What is the meaning of humans as a species? What about life on earth? Darwinism’s basic idea is survival of the fittest, which is that the meaning of life of any living organism is to pass their DNA onto the next generation. This is a very cold and heartless sense of purpose. There are further insights stating the meaning is different for each life, a fish has different meaning to life than a plant or a homo sapien. Tibetan philosophy simply states the meaning is to end all world suffering and the only way to do that is to understand the world and how it works. You can measure your personal development from being a “person with small ability” who is someone most concerned in themselves to “someone with great ability” who takes away the suffering of others by suffering themselves. It sounds brutal, however there are ways only you can accomplish it without feeling the suffering (from basic volunteering, meaningful work, writing a book, creating something etc.). Aztec philosophy says the ultimate meaning of life is to live in peace with nature and to allow the continuation of energy, the life force, known as Teotl. Teotl is a force that surrounds every being, everything we know and don’t. The meaning of mankind’s life between birth and death is to enjoy the simple pleasures, whilst living in harmony with that force. All these ideas come down to harmonising humankind and a common progression. However, looking at the world today obviously we have not figured that out yet.
“Create and prepare a world that our minds want to be in” – Sam Harris
Life as a whole. The most interesting to think about and the hardest to answer. Why did life come into being in the first place? We could be “janitors of the universe”. Since the big bang, the universe has been heading towards a state of maximum entropy, spreading all energy and matter so sparsely across the universe until there is ‘nothing’. All life absorbed and energy dispersed, creating a natural order of energy, controlling it. Some would say this is more of life’s purpose rather than it’s meaning. Maybe there’s been given a purpose to life, and a meaning to your consciousness, “We are the universe contemplating itself” – Carl Sagan. We could be the universe just trying to figure out what it is.
The great filter theory defines that the meaning of life is to go through a series of stages to progress. Potentially being from Civilisation type 0 to type 3, or even a higher state of consciousness type 4 and 5. This being the reason we haven’t found any other life forms because they failed to pass it and destroyed themselves or have progressed to a higher state we are yet to comprehend.
There are numerous ways to look at life, even your personal life. How you choose to live it or look at it is up to you and only you. I know that’s a kind of cop-out answer and you’re thinking “I just read all that for you to tell me that!”. Just think about it, there are billions of people you can meet, places you can explore, trillions of reasons never to be bored, an infinite number of things you can create and endless ways to feel alive. Don’t just sit around doing nothing complaining.
I asked one of my friends what he thought. He replied with ‘Nothing’. I was very confused, this is how he explained himself.
“Nothing is the meaning. If you’re sitting doing a maths test and you have all the answers write next to you. That test is pointless, there is no meaning for you to do the test. Life is a test and having the answers would make it meaningless. Living life not knowing the meaning is the meaning itself.”