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Albert Einstein’s Surprising Thoughts on the Meaning of Life

what is the purpose of life essay

Albert Einstein was one of the world’s most brilliant thinkers, influencing scientific thought immeasurably. He was also not shy about sharing his wisdom about other topics , writing essays, articles, letters, giving interviews and speeches. His everyday-life opinions on social and intellectual issues that do not come from the world of physics give an insight into the spiritual and moral vision of the scientist , offering much to take to heart.

The collection of essays and ideas  “The World As I See It” gathers Einstein’s thoughts from before 1935, when he was as the preface says “at the height of his scientific powers but not yet known as the sage of the atomic age”. 

In the book, Einstein comes back to the question of the purpose of life, and what a meaningful life is, on several occasions. In one passage, he links it to a sense of religiosity.

“What is the meaning of human life, or, for that matter, of the life of any creature? To know an answer to this question means to be religious. You ask: Does it many any sense, then, to pose this question? I answer: The man who regards his own life and that of his fellow creatures as meaningless is not merely unhappy but hardly fit for life,” wrote Einstein.

Did Einstein himself hold religious beliefs ? Raised by secular Jewish parents, he had complex and evolving spiritual thoughts. He generally seemed to be open to the possibility of the scientific impulse and religious thoughts coexisting in people’s lives .

“Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind,” said Einstein in his 1954 essay on science and religion.

Some (including the scientist himself) have called Einstein’s spiritual views  pantheism , largely influenced by the philosophy of Baruch Spinoza . Pantheists see God as existing but abstract, equating all of reality with divinity. They also reject a specific personal God or a god that is somehow endowed with human attributes.

Himself a famous atheist, Richard Dawkins calls Einstein’s pantheism a “sexed-up atheism,” but other scholars point to the fact that Einstein did seem to believe in a supernatural intelligence that’s beyond the physical world. He referred to it in his writings as “a superior spirit,” “a superior mind” and a “spirit vastly superior to men”. Einstein was possibly a deist , although he was quite familiar with various religious teachings, including a strong  knowledge of Jewish religious texts . 

In another passage from 1934, Einstein talks about the value of a human being, reflecting a Buddhist-like approach:

“The true value of a human being is determined primarily by the measure and the sense in which he has attained liberation from the self”.

This theme of liberating the self to glimpse life’s true meaning is also echoed by Einstein later on, in a 1950 letter to console a grieving father Robert S. Marcus:

“A human being is a part of the whole, called by us “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. The striving to free oneself from this delusion is the one issue of true religion. Not to nourish it but to try to overcome it is the way to reach the attainable measure of peace of mind.”

In case you are wondering whether Einstein saw value in material pursuits, here’s him talking about accumulating wealth in 1934, as part of the “The World As I See It”: 

“I am absolutely convinced that no wealth in the world can help humanity forward, even in the hands of the most devoted worker in this cause. The example of great and pure characters is the only thing that can lead us to noble thoughts and deeds. Money only appeals to selfishness and irresistibly invites abuse. Can anyone imagine Moses, Jesus or Gandhi armed with the money-bags of Carnegie?”

In discussing the ultimate question of life’s real meaning , the famous physicist  gives us plenty to think about when it comes to the human condition .

Can philosophy lead us to a good life ? Here, Columbia Professor Philip Kitcher explains how great minds—like Plato , Aristotle , Socrates , Confucius, Mencius, Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Nietzsche , Albert Camus , and Jean-Paul Sartre—can help us find meaning and wellbeing in human existence—even if there is no “ better place “.

Related reading: Sapiens: Can Humans Overcome Suffering and Find True Happiness?

Related reading: A Growing Number of Scholars Are Questioning the Historical Existence of Jesus Christ

A black and white photo of albert einstein laughing.

Mike Brooks Ph.D.

What Is the Purpose of Life?

Why are we here here's a reasonable answer..

Updated October 2, 2023 | Reviewed by Jessica Schrader

  • Existence is a cosmic lottery we've won.
  • There's no single "correct" answer to life's purpose.
  • We are here to evolve, adapt, and grow.
  • Happiness is a by-product of fulfilling our purpose.

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Disclaimer: I don't claim that what I say is totally "true," because the truth is elusive in this complicated world . Rather, I'm offering some ideas to help perceive the world and ourselves in a manner that opens pathways for change and growth.

The Ultimate Question

As far as most of us know, we only have one life to live. The odds against our existence are, quite literally, beyond comprehension. Out of some cosmic miracle that we don’t appreciate enough, we are here. One chance event after another had to occur for each of us to born into this world. This starts with the Big Bang and includes the countless factors that had to line up for life to evolve on this planet to your great grandparents randomly bumping into one another at a country grocery store.

The fact that we are living and breathing on this big blue marble we call Earth is statistically inconceivable. It might not always feel that way, but if we step back, we can see that this is true. We are all the winners of the biggest … lottery … ever!

Given that we defied all odds to exist, that begs the most important question that philosophers, theologians, and countless others have attempted to answer. We might even consider this The Ultimate Question: What’s the purpose of life? On a related note, how are we to live in a way that fulfills our purpose? Another way to think of this is: if we are the winners of the cosmic lottery, how are we supposed to spend our winnings?

An Answer to the Ultimate Question

“Conan, what is good in life?” Conan: “To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of the women.” —Conan, from the movie “Conan the Barbarian”

While everyone is entitled to have an opinion about why we are here and what to do with our lives, I’ll go on the record as disagreeing with Conan’s answer. I, of course, don’t have the answer either. However, I promise that I'm not going to say The Answer to the Ultimate Question is 42 .

Your head might be spinning right now, because I just said that I am going to try to answer The Ultimate Question. However, I’m not arrogant enough to claim that I have The Answer. But I don’t think anyone has The Answer for that matter, although many people claim that they do.

Can you agree with me, even partially, that there are many ideas about the purpose of life? Even if you already believe in One Answer to The Ultimate Question, you still recognize that other people and groups have different answers to the same question. If there were just one, clear, unequivocal answer to The Ultimate Question, wouldn’t we all have the same one without any disagreements? In fact, would there even be an Ultimate Question if we all had the same answer to it? Assuming we can even agree upon the nature and wording of The Ultimate Question, the different answers can’t all be right…or can they? If you disagree with me, you actually agree with me because it proves that finding The Answer to The Ultimate Question is open to debate and different points of view!

I’m going to tell you a little secret about The Ultimate Question: There is no secret, "correct" answer to this question. How could I, or anyone else, have a secret answer to The Ultimate Question that few have stumbled upon? The “right” answer as to the purpose of life there is no single right answer. It would be more accurate to say that there are right “answers.”

Here’s what might really bake your noodle: You already know an answer to The Ultimate Question, but you might not know that you know it. Although I'm telling you what you already know, instead of that being a limitation, consider the possibility that this is where its power resides.

“All secrets are open secrets. Nothing is hidden. Nothing is revealed. People can only be told what they already know. Although they know, they may not be conscious of their knowledge.”—Camden Benares, from “Zen Without Zen Masters”

An Answer to the Purpose of Life

"Why are we here? Because we're here. Roll the bones. Roll the bones."—from the song "Roll the Bones" by Rush

We evolved so that we can live. Thus, we could also say that we live to evolve, so there's a circularity here. Evolution is the process that allowed organisms to survive and thrive. Humans, along with every living animal or plant, owe our existence to it. Our purpose is to "evolve" during our lifetime because that is consistent with our evolutionary purpose. Thus, an answer to The Ultimate Question of "What is the purpose of life?" is that we are here so that we can continue to live, adapt, learn, and grow. A purpose of life, and our purpose, is to continue to evolve.

We Evolved to Evolve

When we think of "evolution" as meaning as a process of learning, adapting, and growing to be more effective and efficient, we see evolution everywhere. Kids learn more advanced skills and concepts in school and this continues on through college and throughout their careers. Growth, in terms of profitability, is one of the primary goals of any business. Technology is always evolving—offering faster internet speeds, more powerful computers, better productivity tools, and more engaging and entertaining experiences. Athletes strive to improve their skills and performances through better nutrition and training methods. They aim to win more championships and set records. Musicians and artists want to become more technically proficient, creative, and successful. Communities and societies not only grow in number, but they try to serve the needs of the people to enable the citizens to live healthier, happier lives. Even with most religions, we seek to grow in our faith—to be a "better" Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or Jew.

On the biological level, learning recruits the reward systems in the brain so that the learning is reinforced. We evolved to grow and learn ... to become better than we were the day before so that we might survive and thrive. In general, we feel happy when we learn and grow . One could say that this happiness is a purpose of life as well, yet it could also be said to be the by-product of fulfilling our life purpose of learning and growing.

what is the purpose of life essay

The Takeaway?

What is the purpose of life? An answer (as opposed to The Answer) to The Ultimate Question is that we exist to continue to exist. We evolved to evolve. This is fundamental to every living organism. Inherent to our existence is that we learn, adapt, and grow. Health, happiness, and longevity are the payoffs for this. Since our biological evolution is the foundation of our existence, a purpose of our lives is to continue to "evolve" during our lifetime by learning and growing. Each day, our purpose is to strive to be a little bit better than the day before and to continue this evolutionary process throughout our lifetime.

This purpose in life might sound like a simple, anti-climatic answer to The Ultimate Question, but there's more to this answer than at first glance. Our purpose in life to learn and grow throughout our lifetime also holds the key to how we should live our lives. If you'd like to take the "red pill" and join me as I explore this and other topics, you can follow me down the rabbit hole here: Finding Greater Peace and Joy in Our "Crazy" World.

Mike Brooks Ph.D.

Mike Brooks, Ph.D. , is a psychologist who specializes in helping parents and families find greater balance in an increasingly hyper-connected world.

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At any moment, someone’s aggravating behavior or our own bad luck can set us off on an emotional spiral that threatens to derail our entire day. Here’s how we can face our triggers with less reactivity so that we can get on with our lives.

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The Meaning of Life

Many major historical figures in philosophy have provided an answer to the question of what, if anything, makes life meaningful, although they typically have not put it in these terms (with such talk having arisen only in the past 250 years or so, on which see Landau 1997). Consider, for instance, Aristotle on the human function, Aquinas on the beatific vision, and Kant on the highest good. Relatedly, think about Koheleth, the presumed author of the Biblical book Ecclesiastes, describing life as “futility” and akin to “the pursuit of wind,” Nietzsche on nihilism, as well as Schopenhauer when he remarks that whenever we reach a goal we have longed for we discover “how vain and empty it is.” While these concepts have some bearing on happiness and virtue (and their opposites), they are straightforwardly construed (roughly) as accounts of which highly ranked purposes a person ought to realize that would make her life significant (if any would).

Despite the venerable pedigree, it is only since the 1980s or so that a distinct field of the meaning of life has been established in Anglo-American-Australasian philosophy, on which this survey focuses, and it is only in the past 20 years that debate with real depth and intricacy has appeared. Two decades ago analytic reflection on life’s meaning was described as a “backwater” compared to that on well-being or good character, and it was possible to cite nearly all the literature in a given critical discussion of the field (Metz 2002). Neither is true any longer. Anglo-American-Australasian philosophy of life’s meaning has become vibrant, such that there is now way too much literature to be able to cite comprehensively in this survey. To obtain focus, it tends to discuss books, influential essays, and more recent works, and it leaves aside contributions from other philosophical traditions (such as the Continental or African) and from non-philosophical fields (e.g., psychology or literature). This survey’s central aim is to acquaint the reader with current analytic approaches to life’s meaning, sketching major debates and pointing out neglected topics that merit further consideration.

When the topic of the meaning of life comes up, people tend to pose one of three questions: “What are you talking about?”, “What is the meaning of life?”, and “Is life in fact meaningful?”. The literature on life's meaning composed by those working in the analytic tradition (on which this entry focuses) can be usefully organized according to which question it seeks to answer. This survey starts off with recent work that addresses the first, abstract (or “meta”) question regarding the sense of talk of “life’s meaning,” i.e., that aims to clarify what we have in mind when inquiring into the meaning of life (section 1). Afterward, it considers texts that provide answers to the more substantive question about the nature of meaningfulness (sections 2–3). There is in the making a sub-field of applied meaning that parallels applied ethics, in which meaningfulness is considered in the context of particular cases or specific themes. Examples include downshifting (Levy 2005), implementing genetic enhancements (Agar 2013), making achievements (Bradford 2015), getting an education (Schinkel et al. 2015), interacting with research participants (Olson 2016), automating labor (Danaher 2017), and creating children (Ferracioli 2018). In contrast, this survey focuses nearly exclusively on contemporary normative-theoretical approaches to life’s meanining, that is, attempts to capture in a single, general principle all the variegated conditions that could confer meaning on life. Finally, this survey examines fresh arguments for the nihilist view that the conditions necessary for a meaningful life do not obtain for any of us, i.e., that all our lives are meaningless (section 4).

1. The Meaning of “Meaning”

2.1. god-centered views, 2.2. soul-centered views, 3.1. subjectivism, 3.2. objectivism, 3.3. rejecting god and a soul, 4. nihilism, works cited, classic works, collections, books for the general reader, other internet resources, related entries.

One of the field's aims consists of the systematic attempt to identify what people (essentially or characteristically) have in mind when they think about the topic of life’s meaning. For many in the field, terms such as “importance” and “significance” are synonyms of “meaningfulness” and so are insufficiently revealing, but there are those who draw a distinction between meaningfulness and significance (Singer 1996, 112–18; Belliotti 2019, 145–50, 186). There is also debate about how the concept of a meaningless life relates to the ideas of a life that is absurd (Nagel 1970, 1986, 214–23; Feinberg 1980; Belliotti 2019), futile (Trisel 2002), and not worth living (Landau 2017, 12–15; Matheson 2017).

A useful way to begin to get clear about what thinking about life’s meaning involves is to specify the bearer. Which life does the inquirer have in mind? A standard distinction to draw is between the meaning “in” life, where a human person is what can exhibit meaning, and the meaning “of” life in a narrow sense, where the human species as a whole is what can be meaningful or not. There has also been a bit of recent consideration of whether animals or human infants can have meaning in their lives, with most rejecting that possibility (e.g., Wong 2008, 131, 147; Fischer 2019, 1–24), but a handful of others beginning to make a case for it (Purves and Delon 2018; Thomas 2018). Also under-explored is the issue of whether groups, such as a people or an organization, can be bearers of meaning, and, if so, under what conditions.

Most analytic philosophers have been interested in meaning in life, that is, in the meaningfulness that a person’s life could exhibit, with comparatively few these days addressing the meaning of life in the narrow sense. Even those who believe that God is or would be central to life’s meaning have lately addressed how an individual’s life might be meaningful in virtue of God more often than how the human race might be. Although some have argued that the meaningfulness of human life as such merits inquiry to no less a degree (if not more) than the meaning in a life (Seachris 2013; Tartaglia 2015; cf. Trisel 2016), a large majority of the field has instead been interested in whether their lives as individual persons (and the lives of those they care about) are meaningful and how they could become more so.

Focusing on meaning in life, it is quite common to maintain that it is conceptually something good for its own sake or, relatedly, something that provides a basic reason for action (on which see Visak 2017). There are a few who have recently suggested otherwise, maintaining that there can be neutral or even undesirable kinds of meaning in a person’s life (e.g., Mawson 2016, 90, 193; Thomas 2018, 291, 294). However, these are outliers, with most analytic philosophers, and presumably laypeople, instead wanting to know when an individual’s life exhibits a certain kind of final value (or non-instrumental reason for action).

Another claim about which there is substantial consensus is that meaningfulness is not all or nothing and instead comes in degrees, such that some periods of life are more meaningful than others and that some lives as a whole are more meaningful than others. Note that one can coherently hold the view that some people’s lives are less meaningful (or even in a certain sense less “important”) than others, or are even meaningless (unimportant), and still maintain that people have an equal standing from a moral point of view. Consider a consequentialist moral principle according to which each individual counts for one in virtue of having a capacity for a meaningful life, or a Kantian approach according to which all people have a dignity in virtue of their capacity for autonomous decision-making, where meaning is a function of the exercise of this capacity. For both moral outlooks, we could be required to help people with relatively meaningless lives.

Yet another relatively uncontroversial element of the concept of meaningfulness in respect of individual persons is that it is logically distinct from happiness or rightness (emphasized in Wolf 2010, 2016). First, to ask whether someone’s life is meaningful is not one and the same as asking whether her life is pleasant or she is subjectively well off. A life in an experience machine or virtual reality device would surely be a happy one, but very few take it to be a prima facie candidate for meaningfulness (Nozick 1974: 42–45). Indeed, a number would say that one’s life logically could become meaningful precisely by sacrificing one’s well-being, e.g., by helping others at the expense of one’s self-interest. Second, asking whether a person’s existence over time is meaningful is not identical to considering whether she has been morally upright; there are intuitively ways to enhance meaning that have nothing to do with right action or moral virtue, such as making a scientific discovery or becoming an excellent dancer. Now, one might argue that a life would be meaningless if, or even because, it were unhappy or immoral, but that would be to posit a synthetic, substantive relationship between the concepts, far from indicating that speaking of “meaningfulness” is analytically a matter of connoting ideas regarding happiness or rightness. The question of what (if anything) makes a person’s life meaningful is conceptually distinct from the questions of what makes a life happy or moral, although it could turn out that the best answer to the former question appeals to an answer to one of the latter questions.

Supposing, then, that talk of “meaning in life” connotes something good for its own sake that can come in degrees and that is not analytically equivalent to happiness or rightness, what else does it involve? What more can we say about this final value, by definition? Most contemporary analytic philosophers would say that the relevant value is absent from spending time in an experience machine (but see Goetz 2012 for a different view) or living akin to Sisyphus, the mythic figure doomed by the Greek gods to roll a stone up a hill for eternity (famously discussed by Albert Camus and Taylor 1970). In addition, many would say that the relevant value is typified by the classic triad of “the good, the true, and the beautiful” (or would be under certain conditions). These terms are not to be taken literally, but instead are rough catchwords for beneficent relationships (love, collegiality, morality), intellectual reflection (wisdom, education, discoveries), and creativity (particularly the arts, but also potentially things like humor or gardening).

Pressing further, is there something that the values of the good, the true, the beautiful, and any other logically possible sources of meaning involve? There is as yet no consensus in the field. One salient view is that the concept of meaning in life is a cluster or amalgam of overlapping ideas, such as fulfilling higher-order purposes, meriting substantial esteem or admiration, having a noteworthy impact, transcending one’s animal nature, making sense, or exhibiting a compelling life-story (Markus 2003; Thomson 2003; Metz 2013, 24–35; Seachris 2013, 3–4; Mawson 2016). However, there are philosophers who maintain that something much more monistic is true of the concept, so that (nearly) all thought about meaningfulness in a person’s life is essentially about a single property. Suggestions include being devoted to or in awe of qualitatively superior goods (Taylor 1989, 3–24), transcending one’s limits (Levy 2005), or making a contribution (Martela 2016).

Recently there has been something of an “interpretive turn” in the field, one instance of which is the strong view that meaning-talk is logically about whether and how a life is intelligible within a wider frame of reference (Goldman 2018, 116–29; Seachris 2019; Thomas 2019; cf. Repp 2018). According to this approach, inquiring into life’s meaning is nothing other than seeking out sense-making information, perhaps a narrative about life or an explanation of its source and destiny. This analysis has the advantage of promising to unify a wide array of uses of the term “meaning.” However, it has the disadvantages of being unable to capture the intuitions that meaning in life is essentially good for its own sake (Landau 2017, 12–15), that it is not logically contradictory to maintain that an ineffable condition is what confers meaning on life (as per Cooper 2003, 126–42; Bennett-Hunter 2014; Waghorn 2014), and that often human actions themselves (as distinct from an interpretation of them), such as rescuing a child from a burning building, are what bear meaning.

Some thinkers have suggested that a complete analysis of the concept of life’s meaning should include what has been called “anti-matter” (Metz 2002, 805–07, 2013, 63–65, 71–73) or “anti-meaning” (Campbell and Nyholm 2015; Egerstrom 2015), conditions that reduce the meaningfulness of a life. The thought is that meaning is well represented by a bipolar scale, where there is a dimension of not merely positive conditions, but also negative ones. Gratuitous cruelty or destructiveness are prima facie candidates for actions that not merely fail to add meaning, but also subtract from any meaning one’s life might have had.

Despite the ongoing debates about how to analyze the concept of life’s meaning (or articulate the definition of the phrase “meaning in life”), the field remains in a good position to make progress on the other key questions posed above, viz., of what would make a life meaningful and whether any lives are in fact meaningful. A certain amount of common ground is provided by the point that meaningfulness at least involves a gradient final value in a person’s life that is conceptually distinct from happiness and rightness, with exemplars of it potentially being the good, the true, and the beautiful. The rest of this discussion addresses philosophical attempts to capture the nature of this value theoretically and to ascertain whether it exists in at least some of our lives.

2. Supernaturalism

Most analytic philosophers writing on meaning in life have been trying to develop and evaluate theories, i.e., fundamental and general principles, that are meant to capture all the particular ways that a life could obtain meaning. As in moral philosophy, there are recognizable “anti-theorists,” i.e., those who maintain that there is too much pluralism among meaning conditions to be able to unify them in the form of a principle (e.g., Kekes 2000; Hosseini 2015). Arguably, though, the systematic search for unity is too nascent to be able to draw a firm conclusion about whether it is available.

The theories are standardly divided on a metaphysical basis, that is, in terms of which kinds of properties are held to constitute the meaning. Supernaturalist theories are views according to which a spiritual realm is central to meaning in life. Most Western philosophers have conceived of the spiritual in terms of God or a soul as commonly understood in the Abrahamic faiths (but see Mulgan 2015 for discussion of meaning in the context of a God uninterested in us). In contrast, naturalist theories are views that the physical world as known particularly well by the scientific method is central to life’s meaning.

There is logical space for a non-naturalist theory, according to which central to meaning is an abstract property that is neither spiritual nor physical. However, only scant attention has been paid to this possibility in the recent Anglo-American-Australasian literature (Audi 2005).

It is important to note that supernaturalism, a claim that God (or a soul) would confer meaning on a life, is logically distinct from theism, the claim that God (or a soul) exists. Although most who hold supernaturalism also hold theism, one could accept the former without the latter (as Camus more or less did), committing one to the view that life is meaningless or at least lacks substantial meaning. Similarly, while most naturalists are atheists, it is not contradictory to maintain that God exists but has nothing to do with meaning in life or perhaps even detracts from it. Although these combinations of positions are logically possible, some of them might be substantively implausible. The field could benefit from discussion of the comparative attractiveness of various combinations of evaluative claims about what would make life meaningful and metaphysical claims about whether spiritual conditions exist.

Over the past 15 years or so, two different types of supernaturalism have become distinguished on a regular basis (Metz 2019). That is true not only in the literature on life’s meaning, but also in that on the related pro-theism/anti-theism debate, about whether it would be desirable for God or a soul to exist (e.g., Kahane 2011; Kraay 2018; Lougheed 2020). On the one hand, there is extreme supernaturalism, according to which spiritual conditions are necessary for any meaning in life. If neither God nor a soul exists, then, by this view, everyone’s life is meaningless. On the other hand, there is moderate supernaturalism, according to which spiritual conditions are necessary for a great or ultimate meaning in life, although not meaning in life as such. If neither God nor a soul exists, then, by this view, everyone’s life could have some meaning, or even be meaningful, but no one’s life could exhibit the most desirable meaning. For a moderate supernaturalist, God or a soul would substantially enhance meaningfulness or be a major contributory condition for it.

There are a variety of ways that great or ultimate meaning has been described, sometimes quantitatively as “infinite” (Mawson 2016), qualitatively as “deeper” (Swinburne 2016), relationally as “unlimited” (Nozick 1981, 618–19; cf. Waghorn 2014), temporally as “eternal” (Cottingham 2016), and perspectivally as “from the point of view of the universe” (Benatar 2017). There has been no reflection as yet on the crucial question of how these distinctions might bear on each another, for instance, on whether some are more basic than others or some are more valuable than others.

Cross-cutting the extreme/moderate distinction is one between God-centered theories and soul-centered ones. According to the former, some kind of connection with God (understood to be a spiritual person who is all-knowing, all-good, and all-powerful and who is the ground of the physical universe) constitutes meaning in life, even if one lacks a soul (construed as an immortal, spiritual substance that contains one’s identity). In contrast, by the latter, having a soul and putting it into a certain state is what makes life meaningful, even if God does not exist. Many supernaturalists of course believe that God and a soul are jointly necessary for a (greatly) meaningful existence. However, the simpler view, that only one of them is necessary, is common, and sometimes arguments proffered for the complex view fail to support it any more than the simpler one.

The most influential God-based account of meaning in life has been the extreme view that one’s existence is significant if and only if one fulfills a purpose God has assigned. The familiar idea is that God has a plan for the universe and that one’s life is meaningful just to the degree that one helps God realize this plan, perhaps in a particular way that God wants one to do so. If a person failed to do what God intends her to do with her life (or if God does not even exist), then, on the current view, her life would be meaningless.

Thinkers differ over what it is about God’s purpose that might make it uniquely able to confer meaning on human lives, but the most influential argument has been that only God’s purpose could be the source of invariant moral rules (Davis 1987, 296, 304–05; Moreland 1987, 124–29; Craig 1994/2013, 161–67) or of objective values more generally (Cottingham 2005, 37–57), where a lack of such would render our lives nonsensical. According to this argument, lower goods such as animal pleasure or desire satisfaction could exist without God, but higher ones pertaining to meaning in life, particularly moral virtue, could not. However, critics point to many non-moral sources of meaning in life (e.g., Kekes 2000; Wolf 2010), with one arguing that a universal moral code is not necessary for meaning in life, even if, say, beneficent actions are (Ellin 1995, 327). In addition, there are a variety of naturalist and non-naturalist accounts of objective morality––and of value more generally––on offer these days, so that it is not clear that it must have a supernatural source in God’s will.

One recurrent objection to the idea that God’s purpose could make life meaningful is that if God had created us with a purpose in mind, then God would have degraded us and thereby undercut the possibility of us obtaining meaning from fulfilling the purpose. The objection harks back to Jean-Paul Sartre, but in the analytic literature it appears that Kurt Baier was the first to articulate it (1957/2000, 118–20; see also Murphy 1982, 14–15; Singer 1996, 29; Kahane 2011; Lougheed 2020, 121–41). Sometimes the concern is the threat of punishment God would make so that we do God’s bidding, while other times it is that the source of meaning would be constrictive and not up to us, and still other times it is that our dignity would be maligned simply by having been created with a certain end in mind (for some replies to such concerns, see Hanfling 1987, 45–46; Cottingham 2005, 37–57; Lougheed 2020, 111–21).

There is a different argument for an extreme God-based view that focuses less on God as purposive and more on God as infinite, unlimited, or ineffable, which Robert Nozick first articulated with care (Nozick 1981, 594–618; see also Bennett-Hunter 2014; Waghorn 2014). The core idea is that for a finite condition to be meaningful, it must obtain its meaning from another condition that has meaning. So, if one’s life is meaningful, it might be so in virtue of being married to a person, who is important. Being finite, the spouse must obtain his or her importance from elsewhere, perhaps from the sort of work he or she does. This work also must obtain its meaning by being related to something else that is meaningful, and so on. A regress on meaningful conditions is present, and the suggestion is that the regress can terminate only in something so all-encompassing that it need not (indeed, cannot) go beyond itself to obtain meaning from anything else. And that is God. The standard objection to this relational rationale is that a finite condition could be meaningful without obtaining its meaning from another meaningful condition. Perhaps it could be meaningful in itself, without being connected to something beyond it, or maybe it could obtain its meaning by being related to something else that is beautiful or otherwise valuable for its own sake but not meaningful (Nozick 1989, 167–68; Thomson 2003, 25–26, 48).

A serious concern for any extreme God-based view is the existence of apparent counterexamples. If we think of the stereotypical lives of Albert Einstein, Mother Teresa, and Pablo Picasso, they seem meaningful even if we suppose there is no all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-good spiritual person who is the ground of the physical world (e.g., Wielenberg 2005, 31–37, 49–50; Landau 2017). Even religiously inclined philosophers have found this hard to deny these days (Quinn 2000, 58; Audi 2005; Mawson 2016, 5; Williams 2020, 132–34).

Largely for that reason, contemporary supernaturalists have tended to opt for moderation, that is, to maintain that God would greatly enhance the meaning in our lives, even if some meaning would be possible in a world without God. One approach is to invoke the relational argument to show that God is necessary, not for any meaning whatsoever, but rather for an ultimate meaning. “Limited transcendence, the transcending of our limits so as to connect with a wider context of value which itself is limited, does give our lives meaning––but a limited one. We may thirst for more” (Nozick 1981, 618). Another angle is to appeal to playing a role in God’s plan, again to claim, not that it is essential for meaning as such, but rather for “a cosmic significance....intead of a significance very limited in time and space” (Swinburne 2016, 154; see also Quinn 2000; Cottingham 2016, 131). Another rationale is that by fulfilling God’s purpose, we would meaningfully please God, a perfect person, as well as be remembered favorably by God forever (Cottingham 2016, 135; Williams 2020, 21–22, 29, 101, 108). Still another argument is that only with God could the deepest desires of human nature be satisfied (e.g., Goetz 2012; Seachris 2013, 20; Cottingham 2016, 127, 136), even if more surface desires could be satisfied without God.

In reply to such rationales for a moderate supernaturalism, there has been the suggestion that it is precisely by virtue of being alone in the universe that our lives would be particularly significant; otherwise, God’s greatness would overshadow us (Kahane 2014). There has also been the response that, with the opportunity for greater meaning from God would also come that for greater anti-meaning, so that it is not clear that a world with God would offer a net gain in respect of meaning (Metz 2019, 34–35). For example, if pleasing God would greatly enhance meaning in our lives, then presumably displeasing God would greatly reduce it and to a comparable degree. In addition, there are arguments for extreme naturalism (or its “anti-theist” cousin) mentioned below (sub-section 3.3).

Notice that none of the above arguments for supernaturalism appeals to the prospect of eternal life (at least not explicitly). Arguments that do make such an appeal are soul-centered, holding that meaning in life mainly comes from having an immortal, spiritual substance that is contiguous with one’s body when it is alive and that will forever outlive its death. Some think of the afterlife in terms of one’s soul entering a transcendent, spiritual realm (Heaven), while others conceive of one’s soul getting reincarnated into another body on Earth. According to the extreme version, if one has a soul but fails to put it in the right state (or if one lacks a soul altogether), then one’s life is meaningless.

There are three prominent arguments for an extreme soul-based perspective. One argument, made famous by Leo Tolstoy, is the suggestion that for life to be meaningful something must be worth doing, that something is worth doing only if it will make a permanent difference to the world, and that making a permanent difference requires being immortal (see also Hanfling 1987, 22–24; Morris 1992, 26; Craig 1994). Critics most often appeal to counterexamples, suggesting for instance that it is surely worth your time and effort to help prevent people from suffering, even if you and they are mortal. Indeed, some have gone on the offensive and argued that helping people is worth the sacrifice only if and because they are mortal, for otherwise they could invariably be compensated in an afterlife (e.g., Wielenberg 2005, 91–94). Another recent and interesting criticism is that the major motivations for the claim that nothing matters now if one day it will end are incoherent (Greene 2021).

A second argument for the view that life would be meaningless without a soul is that it is necessary for justice to be done, which, in turn, is necessary for a meaningful life. Life seems nonsensical when the wicked flourish and the righteous suffer, at least supposing there is no other world in which these injustices will be rectified, whether by God or a Karmic force. Something like this argument can be found in Ecclesiastes, and it continues to be defended (e.g., Davis 1987; Craig 1994). However, even granting that an afterlife is required for perfectly just outcomes, it is far from obvious that an eternal afterlife is necessary for them, and, then, there is the suggestion that some lives, such as Mandela’s, have been meaningful precisely in virtue of encountering injustice and fighting it.

A third argument for thinking that having a soul is essential for any meaning is that it is required to have the sort of free will without which our lives would be meaningless. Immanuel Kant is known for having maintained that if we were merely physical beings, subjected to the laws of nature like everything else in the material world, then we could not act for moral reasons and hence would be unimportant. More recently, one theologian has eloquently put the point in religious terms: “The moral spirit finds the meaning of life in choice. It finds it in that which proceeds from man and remains with him as his inner essence rather than in the accidents of circumstances turns of external fortune....(W)henever a human being rubs the lamp of his moral conscience, a Spirit does appear. This Spirit is God....It is in the ‘Thou must’ of God and man’s ‘I can’ that the divine image of God in human life is contained” (Swenson 1949/2000, 27–28). Notice that, even if moral norms did not spring from God’s commands, the logic of the argument entails that one’s life could be meaningful, so long as one had the inherent ability to make the morally correct choice in any situation. That, in turn, arguably requires something non-physical about one’s self, so as to be able to overcome whichever physical laws and forces one might confront. The standard objection to this reasoning is to advance a compatibilism about having a determined physical nature and being able to act for moral reasons (e.g., Arpaly 2006; Fischer 2009, 145–77). It is also worth wondering whether, if one had to have a spiritual essence in order to make free choices, it would have to be one that never perished.

Like God-centered theorists, many soul-centered theorists these days advance a moderate view, accepting that some meaning in life would be possible without immortality, but arguing that a much greater meaning would be possible with it. Granting that Einstein, Mandela, and Picasso had somewhat meaningful lives despite not having survived the deaths of their bodies (as per, e.g., Trisel 2004; Wolf 2015, 89–140; Landau 2017), there remains a powerful thought: more is better. If a finite life with the good, the true, and the beautiful has meaning in it to some degree, then surely it would have all the more meaning if it exhibited such higher values––including a relationship with God––for an eternity (Cottingham 2016, 132–35; Mawson 2016, 2019, 52–53; Williams 2020, 112–34; cf. Benatar 2017, 35–63). One objection to this reasoning is that the infinity of meaning that would be possible with a soul would be “too big,” rendering it difficult for the moderate supernaturalist to make sense of the intution that a finite life such as Einstein’s can indeed count as meaningful by comparison (Metz 2019, 30–31; cf. Mawson 2019, 53–54). More common, though, is the objection that an eternal life would include anti-meaning of various kinds, such as boredom and repetition, discussed below in the context of extreme naturalism (sub-section 3.3).

3. Naturalism

Recall that naturalism is the view that a physical life is central to life’s meaning, that even if there is no spiritual realm, a substantially meaningful life is possible. Like supernaturalism, contemporary naturalism admits of two distinguishable variants, moderate and extreme (Metz 2019). The moderate version is that, while a genuinely meaningful life could be had in a purely physical universe as known well by science, a somewhat more meaningful life would be possible if a spiritual realm also existed. God or a soul could enhance meaning in life, although they would not be major contributors. The extreme version of naturalism is the view that it would be better in respect of life’s meaning if there were no spiritual realm. From this perspective, God or a soul would be anti-matter, i.e., would detract from the meaning available to us, making a purely physical world (even if not this particular one) preferable.

Cross-cutting the moderate/extreme distinction is that between subjectivism and objectivism, which are theoretical accounts of the nature of meaningfulness insofar as it is physical. They differ in terms of the extent to which the human mind constitutes meaning and whether there are conditions of meaning that are invariant among human beings. Subjectivists believe that there are no invariant standards of meaning because meaning is relative to the subject, i.e., depends on an individual’s pro-attitudes such as her particular desires or ends, which are not shared by everyone. Roughly, something is meaningful for a person if she strongly wants it or intends to seek it out and she gets it. Objectivists maintain, in contrast, that there are some invariant standards for meaning because meaning is at least partly mind-independent, i.e., obtains not merely in virtue of being the object of anyone’s mental states. Here, something is meaningful (partially) because of its intrinsic nature, in the sense of being independent of whether it is wanted or intended; meaning is instead (to some extent) the sort of thing that merits these reactions.

There is logical space for an orthogonal view, according to which there are invariant standards of meaningfulness constituted by what all human beings would converge on from a certain standpoint. However, it has not been much of a player in the field (Darwall 1983, 164–66).

According to this version of naturalism, meaning in life varies from person to person, depending on each one’s variable pro-attitudes. Common instances are views that one’s life is more meaningful, the more one gets what one happens to want strongly, achieves one’s highly ranked goals, or does what one believes to be really important (Trisel 2002; Hooker 2008). One influential subjectivist has recently maintained that the relevant mental state is caring or loving, so that life is meaningful just to the extent that one cares about or loves something (Frankfurt 1988, 80–94, 2004). Another recent proposal is that meaningfulness consists of “an active engagement and affirmation that vivifies the person who has freely created or accepted and now promotes and nurtures the projects of her highest concern” (Belliotti 2019, 183).

Subjectivism was dominant in the middle of the twentieth century, when positivism, noncognitivism, existentialism, and Humeanism were influential (Ayer 1947; Hare 1957; Barnes 1967; Taylor 1970; Williams 1976). However, in the last quarter of the twentieth century, inference to the best explanation and reflective equilibrium became accepted forms of normative argumentation and were frequently used to defend claims about the existence and nature of objective value (or of “external reasons,” ones obtaining independently of one’s extant attitudes). As a result, subjectivism about meaning lost its dominance. Those who continue to hold subjectivism often remain suspicious of attempts to justify beliefs about objective value (e.g., Trisel 2002, 73, 79, 2004, 378–79; Frankfurt 2004, 47–48, 55–57; Wong 2008, 138–39; Evers 2017, 32, 36; Svensson 2017, 54). Theorists are moved to accept subjectivism typically because the alternatives are unpalatable; they are reasonably sure that meaning in life obtains for some people, but do not see how it could be grounded on something independent of the mind, whether it be the natural or the supernatural (or the non-natural). In contrast to these possibilities, it appears straightforward to account for what is meaningful in terms of what people find meaningful or what people want out of their lives. Wide-ranging meta-ethical debates in epistemology, metaphysics, and the philosophy of language are necessary to address this rationale for subjectivism.

There is a cluster of other, more circumscribed arguments for subjectivism, according to which this theory best explains certain intuitive features of meaning in life. For one, subjectivism seems plausible since it is reasonable to think that a meaningful life is an authentic one (Frankfurt 1988, 80–94). If a person’s life is significant insofar as she is true to herself or her deepest nature, then we have some reason to believe that meaning simply is a function of those matters for which the person cares. For another, it is uncontroversial that often meaning comes from losing oneself, i.e., in becoming absorbed in an activity or experience, as opposed to being bored by it or finding it frustrating (Frankfurt 1988, 80–94; Belliotti 2019, 162–70). Work that concentrates the mind and relationships that are engrossing seem central to meaning and to be so because of the subjective elements involved. For a third, meaning is often taken to be something that makes life worth continuing for a specific person, i.e., that gives her a reason to get out of bed in the morning, which subjectivism is thought to account for best (Williams 1976; Svensson 2017; Calhoun 2018).

Critics maintain that these arguments are vulnerable to a common objection: they neglect the role of objective value (or an external reason) in realizing oneself, losing oneself, and having a reason to live (Taylor 1989, 1992; Wolf 2010, 2015, 89–140). One is not really being true to oneself, losing oneself in a meaningful way, or having a genuine reason to live insofar as one, say, successfully maintains 3,732 hairs on one’s head (Taylor 1992, 36), cultivates one’s prowess at long-distance spitting (Wolf 2010, 104), collects a big ball of string (Wolf 2010, 104), or, well, eats one’s own excrement (Wielenberg 2005, 22). The counterexamples suggest that subjective conditions are insufficient to ground meaning in life; there seem to be certain actions, relationships, and states that are objectively valuable (but see Evers 2017, 30–32) and toward which one’s pro-attitudes ought to be oriented, if meaning is to accrue.

So say objectivists, but subjectivists feel the pull of the point and usually seek to avoid the counterexamples, lest they have to bite the bullet by accepting the meaningfulness of maintaining 3,732 hairs on one’s head and all the rest (for some who do, see Svensson 2017, 54–55; Belliotti 2019, 181–83). One important strategy is to suggest that subjectivists can avoid the counterexamples by appealing to the right sort of pro-attitude. Instead of whatever an individual happens to want, perhaps the relevant mental state is an emotional-perceptual one of seeing-as (Alexis 2011; cf. Hosseini 2015, 47–66), a “categorical” desire, that is, an intrinsic desire constitutive of one’s identity that one takes to make life worth continuing (Svensson 2017), or a judgment that one has a good reason to value something highly for its own sake (Calhoun 2018). Even here, though, objectivists will argue that it might “appear that whatever the will chooses to treat as a good reason to engage itself is, for the will, a good reason. But the will itself....craves objective reasons; and often it could not go forward unless it thought it had them” (Wiggins 1988, 136). And without any appeal to objectivity, it is perhaps likely that counterexamples would resurface.

Another subjectivist strategy by which to deal with the counterexamples is the attempt to ground meaningfulness, not on the pro-attitudes of an individual valuer, but on those of a group (Darwall 1983, 164–66; Brogaard and Smith 2005; Wong 2008). Does such an intersubjective move avoid (more of) the counterexamples? If so, does it do so more plausibly than an objective theory?

Objective naturalists believe that meaning in life is constituted at least in part by something physical beyond merely the fact that it is the object of a pro-attitude. Obtaining the object of some emotion, desire, or judgment is not sufficient for meaningfulness, on this view. Instead, there are certain conditions of the material world that could confer meaning on anyone’s life, not merely because they are viewed as meaningful, wanted for their own sake, or believed to be choiceworthy, but instead (at least partially) because they are inherently worthwhile or valuable in themselves.

Morality (the good), enquiry (the true), and creativity (the beautiful) are widely held instances of activities that confer meaning on life, while trimming toenails and eating snow––along with the counterexamples to subjectivism above––are not. Objectivism is widely thought to be a powerful general explanation of these particular judgments: the former are meaningful not merely because some agent (whether it is an individual, her society, or even God) cares about them or judges them to be worth doing, while the latter simply lack significance and cannot obtain it even if some agent does care about them or judge them to be worth doing. From an objective perspective, it is possible for an individual to care about the wrong thing or to be mistaken that something is worthwhile, and not merely because of something she cares about all the more or judges to be still more choiceworthy. Of course, meta-ethical debates about the existence and nature of value are again relevant to appraising this rationale.

Some objectivists think that being the object of a person’s mental states plays no constitutive role in making that person’s life meaningful, although they of course contend that it often plays an instrumental role––liking a certain activity, after all, is likely to motivate one to do it. Relatively few objectivists are “pure” in that way, although consequentialists do stand out as clear instances (e.g., Singer 1995; Smuts 2018, 75–99). Most objectivists instead try to account for the above intuitions driving subjectivism by holding that a life is more meaningful, not merely because of objective factors, but also in part because of propositional attitudes such as cognition, conation, and emotion. Particularly influential has been Susan Wolf’s hybrid view, captured by this pithy slogan: “Meaning arises when subjective attraction meets objective attractiveness” (Wolf 2015, 112; see also Kekes 1986, 2000; Wiggins 1988; Raz 2001, 10–40; Mintoff 2008; Wolf 2010, 2016; Fischer 2019, 9–23; Belshaw 2021, 160–81). This theory implies that no meaning accrues to one’s life if one believes in, is satisfied by, or cares about a project that is not truly worthwhile, or if one takes up a truly worthwhile project but fails to judge it important, be satisfied by it, or care about it. A related approach is that, while subjective attraction is not necessary for meaning, it could enhance it (e.g., Audi 2005, 344; Metz 2013, 183–84, 196–98, 220–25). For instance, a stereotypical Mother Teresa who is bored by and alienated from her substantial charity work might have a somewhat significant existence because of it, even if she would have an even more significant existence if she felt pride in it or identified with it.

There have been several attempts to capture theoretically what all objectively attractive, inherently worthwhile, or finally valuable conditions have in common insofar as they bear on meaning in a person’s life. Over the past few decades, one encounters the proposals that objectively meaningful conditions are just those that involve: positively connecting with organic unity beyond oneself (Nozick 1981, 594–619); being creative (Taylor 1987; Matheson 2018); living an emotional life (Solomon 1993; cf. Williams 2020, 56–78); promoting good consequences, such as improving the quality of life of oneself and others (Singer 1995; Audi 2005; Smuts 2018, 75–99); exercising or fostering rational nature in exceptional ways (Smith 1997, 179–221; Gewirth 1998, 177–82; Metz 2013, 222–36); progressing toward ends that can never be fully realized because one’s knowledge of them changes as one approaches them (Levy 2005); realizing goals that are transcendent for being long-lasting in duration and broad in scope (Mintoff 2008); living virtuously (May 2015, 61–138; McPherson 2020); and loving what is worth loving (Wolf 2016). There is as yet no convergence in the field on one, or even a small cluster, of these accounts.

One feature of a large majority of the above naturalist theories is that they are aggregative or additive, objectionably treating a life as a mere “container” of bits of life that are meaningful considered in isolation from other bits (Brännmark 2003, 330). It has become increasingly common for philosophers of life’s meaning, especially objectivists, to hold that life as a whole, or at least long stretches of it, can substantially affect its meaningfulness beyond the amount of meaning (if any) in its parts.

For instance, a life that has lots of beneficence and otherwise intuitively meaning-conferring conditions but that is also extremely repetitive (à la the movie Groundhog Day ) is less than maximally meaningful (Taylor 1987; Blumenfeld 2009). Furthermore, a life that not only avoids repetition but also ends with a substantial amount of meaningful (or otherwise desirable) parts seems to have more meaning overall than one that has the same amount of meaningful (desirable) parts but ends with few or none of them (Kamm 2013, 18–22; Dorsey 2015). Still more, a life in which its meaningless (or otherwise undesirable parts) cause its meaningful (desirable) parts to come about through a process of personal growth seems meaningful in virtue of this redemptive pattern, “good life-story,” or narrative self-expression (Taylor 1989, 48–51; Wong 2008; Fischer 2009, 145–77; Kauppinen 2012; May 2015, 61–138; Velleman 2015, 141–73). These three cases suggest that meaning can inhere in life as a whole, that is, in the relationships between its parts, and not merely in the parts considered in isolation. However, some would maintain that it is, strictly speaking, the story that is or could be told of a life that matters, not so much the life-story qua relations between events themselves (de Bres 2018).

There are pure or extreme versions of holism present in the literature, according to which the only possible bearer of meaning in life is a person’s life as a whole, and not any isolated activities, relationships, or states (Taylor 1989, 48–51; Tabensky 2003; Levinson 2004). A salient argument for this position is that judgments of the meaningfulness of a part of someone’s life are merely provisional, open to revision upon considering how they fit into a wider perspective. So, for example, it would initially appear that taking an ax away from a madman and thereby protecting innocent parties confers some meaning on one’s life, but one might well revise that judgment upon learning that the intention behind it was merely to steal an ax, not to save lives, or that the madman then took out a machine gun, causing much more harm than his ax would have. It is worth considering how far this sort of case is generalizable, and, if it can be to a substantial extent, whether that provides strong evidence that only life as a whole can exhibit meaningfulness.

Perhaps most objectivists would, at least upon reflection, accept that both the parts of a life and the whole-life relationships among the parts can exhibit meaning. Supposing there are two bearers of meaning in a life, important questions arise. One is whether a certain narrative can be meaningful even if its parts are not, while a second is whether the meaningfulness of a part increases if it is an aspect of a meaningful whole (on which see Brännmark 2003), and a third is whether there is anything revealing to say about how to make tradeoffs between the parts and whole in cases where one must choose between them (Blumenfeld 2009 appears to assign lexical priority to the whole).

Naturalists until recently had been largely concerned to show that meaning in life is possible without God or a soul; they have not spent much time considering how such spiritual conditions might enhance meaning, but have, in moderate fashion, tended to leave that possibility open (an exception is Hooker 2008). Lately, however, an extreme form of naturalism has arisen, according to which our lives would probably, if not unavoidably, have less meaning in a world with God or a soul than in one without. Although such an approach was voiced early on by Baier (1957), it is really in the past decade or so that this “anti-theist” position has become widely and intricately discussed.

One rationale, mentioned above as an objection to the view that God’s purpose constitutes meaning in life, has also been deployed to argue that the existence of God as such would necessarily reduce meaning, that is, would consist of anti-matter. It is the idea that master/servant and parent/child analogies so prominent in the monotheist religious traditions reveal something about our status in a world where there is a qualitatively higher being who has created us with certain ends in mind: our independence or dignity as adult persons would be violated (e.g., Baier 1957/2000, 118–20; Kahane 2011, 681–85; Lougheed 2020, 121–41). One interesting objection to this reasoning has been to accept that God’s existence is necessarily incompatible with the sort of meaning that would come (roughly stated) from being one’s own boss, but to argue that God would also make greater sorts of meaning available, offering a net gain to us (Mawson 2016, 110–58).

Another salient argument for thinking that God would detract from meaning in life appeals to the value of privacy (Kahane 2011, 681–85; Lougheed 2020, 55–110). God’s omniscience would unavoidably make it impossible for us to control another person’s access to the most intimate details about ourselves, which, for some, amounts to a less meaningful life than one with such control. Beyond questioning the value of our privacy in relation to God, one thought-provoking criticism has been to suggest that, if a lack of privacy really would substantially reduce meaning in our lives, then God, qua morally perfect person, would simply avoid knowing everything about us (Tooley 2018). Lacking complete knowledge of our mental states would be compatible with describing God as “omniscient,” so the criticism goes, insofar as that is plausibly understood as having as much knowledge as is morally permissible.

Turn, now, to major arguments for thinking that having a soul would reduce life’s meaning, so that if one wants a maximally meaningful life, one should prefer a purely physical world, or at least one in which people are mortal. First and foremost, there has been the argument that an immortal life could not avoid becoming boring (Williams 1973), rendering life pointless according to many subjective and objective theories. The literature on this topic has become enormous, with the central reply being that immortality need not get boring (for more recent discussions, see Fischer 2009, 79–101, 2019, 117–42; Mawson 2019, 51–52; Williams 2020, 30–41, 123–29; Belshaw 2021, 182–97). However, it might also be worth questioning whether boredom is sufficient for meaninglessness. Suppose, for instance, that one volunteers to be bored so that many others will not be bored; perhaps this would be a meaningful sacrifice to make. Being bored for an eternity would not be blissful or even satisfying, to be sure, but if it served the function of preventing others from being bored for an eternity, would it be meaningful (at least to some degree)? If, as is commonly held, sacrificing one’s life could be meaningful, why not also sacrificing one’s liveliness?

Another reason given to reject eternal life is that it would become repetitive, which would substantially drain it of meaning (Scarre 2007, 54–55; May 2009, 46–47, 64–65, 71; Smuts 2011, 142–44; cf. Blumenfeld 2009). If, as it appears, there are only a finite number of actions one could perform, relationships one could have, and states one could be in during an eternity, one would have to end up doing the same things again. Even though one’s activities might be more valuable than rolling a stone up a hill forever à la Sisyphus, the prospect of doing them over and over again forever is disheartening for many. To be sure, one might not remember having done them before and hence could avoid boredom, but for some philosophers that would make it all the worse, akin to having dementia and forgetting that one has told the same stories. Others, however, still find meaning in such a life (e.g., Belshaw 2021, 197, 205n41).

A third meaning-based argument against immortality invokes considerations of narrative. If the pattern of one’s life as a whole substantially matters, and if a proper pattern would include a beginning, a middle, and an end, it appears that a life that never ends would lack the relevant narrative structure. “Because it would drag on endlessly, it would, sooner or later, just be a string of events lacking all form....With immortality, the novel never ends....How meaningful can such a novel be?” (May 2009, 68, 72; see also Scarre 2007, 58–60). Notice that this objection is distinct from considerations of boredom and repetition (which concern novelty ); even if one were stimulated and active, and even if one found a way not to repeat one’s life in the course of eternity, an immortal life would appear to lack shape. In reply, some reject the idea that a meaningful life must be akin to a novel, and intead opt for narrativity in the form of something like a string of short stories that build on each other (Fischer 2009, 145–77, 2019, 101–16). Others, though, have sought to show that eternity could still be novel-like, deeming the sort of ending that matters to be a function of what the content is and how it relates to the content that came before (e.g., Seachris 2011; Williams 2020, 112–19).

There have been additional objections to immortality as undercutting meaningfulness, but they are prima facie less powerful than the previous three in that, if sound, they arguably show that an eternal life would have a cost, but probably not one that would utterly occlude the prospect of meaning in it. For example, there have been the suggestions that eternal lives would lack a sense of preciousness and urgency (Nussbaum 1989, 339; Kass 2002, 266–67), could not exemplify virtues such as courageously risking one’s life for others (Kass 2002, 267–68; Wielenberg 2005, 91–94), and could not obtain meaning from sustaining or saving others’ lives (Nussbaum 1989, 338; Wielenberg 2005, 91–94). Note that at least the first two rationales turn substantially on the belief in immortality, not quite immortality itself: if one were immortal but forgot that one is or did not know that at all, then one could appreciate life and obtain much of the virtue of courage (and, conversely, if one were not immortal, but thought that one is, then, by the logic of these arguments, one would fail to appreciate limits and be unable to exemplify courage).

The previous two sections addressed theoretical accounts of what would confer meaning on a human person’s life. Although these theories do not imply that some people’s lives are in fact meaningful, that has been the presumption of a very large majority of those who have advanced them. Much of the procedure has been to suppose that many lives have had meaning in them and then to consider in virtue of what they have or otherwise could. However, there are nihilist (or pessimist) perspectives that question this supposition. According to nihilism (pessimism), what would make a life meaningful in principle cannot obtain for any of us.

One straightforward rationale for nihilism is the combination of extreme supernaturalism about what makes life meaningful and atheism about whether a spiritual realm exists. If you believe that God or a soul is necessary for meaning in life, and if you believe that neither is real, then you are committed to nihilism, to the denial that life can have any meaning. Athough this rationale for nihilism was prominent in the modern era (and was more or less Camus’ position), it has been on the wane in analytic philosophical circles, as extreme supernaturalism has been eclipsed by the moderate variety.

The most common rationales for nihilism these days do not appeal to supernaturalism, or at least not explicitly. One cluster of ideas appeals to what meta-ethicists call “error theory,” the view that evaluative claims (in this case about meaning in life, or about morality qua necessary for meaning) characteristically posit objectively real or universally justified values, but that such values do not exist. According to one version, value judgments often analytically include a claim to objectivity but there is no reason to think that objective values exist, as they “would be entities or qualities or relations of a very strange sort, utterly different from anything else in the universe” (Mackie 1977/1990, 38). According to a second version, life would be meaningless if there were no set of moral standards that could be fully justified to all rational enquirers, but it so happens that such standards cannot exist for persons who can always reasonably question a given claim (Murphy 1982, 12–17). According to a third, we hold certain beliefs about the objectivity and universality of morality and related values such as meaning because they were evolutionarily advantageous to our ancestors, not because they are true. Humans have been “deceived by their genes into thinking that there is a distinterested, objective morality binding upon them, which all should obey” (Ruse and Wilson 1986, 179; cf. Street 2015). One must draw on the intricate work in meta-ethics that has been underway for the past several decades in order to appraise these arguments.

In contrast to error-theoretic arguments for nihilism, there are rationales for it accepting that objective values exist but denying that our lives can ever exhibit or promote them so as to obtain meaning. One version of this approach maintains that, for our lives to matter, we must be in a position to add objective value to the world, which we are not since the objective value of the world is already infinite (Smith 2003). The key premises for this view are that every bit of space-time (or at least the stars in the physical universe) have some positive value, that these values can be added up, and that space is infinite. If the physical world at present contains an infinite degree of value, nothing we do can make a difference in terms of meaning, for infinity plus any amount of value remains infinity. One way to question this argument, beyond doubting the value of space-time or stars, is to suggest that, even if one cannot add to the value of the universe, meaning plausibly comes from being the source of certain values.

A second rationale for nihilism that accepts the existence of objective value is David Benatar’s (2006, 18–59) intriguing “asymmetry argument” for anti-natalism, the view that it is immoral to bring new people into existence because doing so would always be on balance bad for them. For Benatar, the bads of existing (e.g., pains) are real disadvantages relative to not existing, while the goods of existing (pleasures) are not real advantages relative to not existing, since there is in the latter state no one to be deprived of them. If indeed the state of not existing is no worse than that of experiencing the benefits of existence, then, since existing invariably brings harm in its wake, it follows that existing is always worse compared to not existing. Although this argument is illustrated with experiential goods and bads, it seems generalizable to non-experiential ones, including meaning in life and anti-matter. The literature on this argument has become large (for a recent collection, see Hauskeller and Hallich 2022).

Benatar (2006, 60–92, 2017, 35–63) has advanced an additional argument for nihilism, one that appeals to Thomas Nagel’s (1986, 208–32) widely discussed analysis of the extremely external standpoint that human persons can take on their lives. There exists, to use Henry Sidgwick’s influential phrase, the “point of view of the universe,” that is, the standpoint that considers a human being’s life in relation to all times and all places. When one takes up this most external standpoint and views one’s puny impact on the world, little of one’s life appears to matter. What one does in a certain society on Earth over 75 years or so just does not amount to much, when considering the billions of temporal years and billions of light-years that make up space-time. Although this reasoning grants limited kinds of meaning to human beings, from a personal, social, or human perspective, Benatar both denies that the greatest sort of meaning––a cosmic one––is available to them and contends that this makes their lives bad, hence the “nihilist” tag. Some have objected that our lives could in fact have a cosmic significance, say, if they played a role in God’s plan (Quinn 2000, 65–66; Swinburne 2016, 154), were the sole ones with a dignity in the universe (Kahane 2014), or engaged in valuable activities that could be appreciated by anyone anywhere anytime (Wolf 2016, 261–62). Others naturally maintain that cosmic significance is irrelevant to appraising a human life, with some denying that it would be a genuine source of meaning (Landau 2017, 93–99), and others accepting that it would be but maintaining that the absence of this good would not count as a bad or merit regret (discussed in Benatar 2017, 56–62; Williams 2020, 108–11).

Finally, a distinguishable source of nihilism concerns the ontological, as distinct from axiological, preconditions for meaning in life. Perhaps most radically, there are those who deny that we have selves. Do we indeed lack selves, and, if we do, is a meaningful life impossible for us (see essays in Caruso and Flanagan 2018; Le Bihan 2019)? Somewhat less radically, there are those who grant that we have selves, but deny that they are in charge in the relevant way. That is, some have argued that we lack self-governance or free will of the sort that is essential for meaning in life, at least if determinism is true (Pisciotta 2013; essays in Caruso and Flanagan 2018). Non-quantum events, including human decisions, appear to be necessited by a prior state of the world, such that none could have been otherwise, and many of our decisions are a product of unconscious neurological mechanisms (while quantum events are of course utterly beyond our control). If none of our conscious choices could have been avoided and all were ultimately necessited by something external to them, perhaps they are insufficient to merit pride or admiration or to constitute narrative authorship of a life. In reply, some maintain that a compatibilism between determinism and moral responsibility applies with comparable force to meaning in life (e.g., Arpaly 2006; Fischer 2009, 145–77), while others contend that incompatibilism is true of moral responsibility but not of meaning (Pereboom 2014).

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How to cite this entry . Preview the PDF version of this entry at the Friends of the SEP Society . Look up topics and thinkers related to this entry at the Internet Philosophy Ontology Project (InPhO). Enhanced bibliography for this entry at PhilPapers , with links to its database.
  • Delon, N., 2021, “ The Meaning of Life ”, a bibliography on PhilPapers.
  • Metz, T., 2021, “ Life, Meaning of ”, in Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy , E. Mason (ed.).
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  • Seachris, J., 2021, “ Meaning of Life: The Analytic Perspective ”, in Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy , J. Fieser and B. Dowden (eds.).

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Essays About Life: Top 5 Examples Plus 7 Prompts

Life envelops various meanings; if you are writing essays about life , discover our comprehensive guide with examples and prompts to help you with your essay .

What is life? You can ask anyone; I assure you, no two people will have the same answer. How we define life relies on our beliefs and priorities. One can say that life is the capacity for growth or the time between birth and death. Others can share that life is the constant pursuit of purpose and fulfillment. Life is a broad topic that inspires scholars, poets, and many others. It stimulates discussions that encourage diverse perspectives and interpretations. 

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5 Essay Examples

1. essay on life by anonymous on toppr.com, 2. the theme of life, existence and consciousness by anonymous on gradesfixer.com, 3. compassion can save life by anonymous on papersowl.com, 4. a life of consumption vs. a life of self-realization by anonymous on ivypanda.com, 5. you only live once: a motto for life by anonymous on gradesfixer.com, 1. what is the true meaning of life, 2. my life purpose, 3. what makes life special, 4. how to appreciate life, 5. books about life, 6. how to live a healthy life, 7. my idea of a perfect life.

“…quality of Life carries huge importance. Above all, the ultimate purpose should be to live a meaningful life. A meaningful life is one which allows us to connect with our deeper self.”

The author defines life as something that differentiates man from inorganic matter. It’s an aspect that processes and examines a person’s actions that develop through growth. For some, life is a pain because of failures and struggles, but it’s temporary. For the writer, life’s challenges help us move forward, be strong, and live to the fullest. You can also check out these essays about utopia .

“… Kafka defines the dangers of depending on art for life. The hunger artist expresses his dissatisfaction with the world by using himself and not an external canvas to create his artwork, forcing a lack of separation between the artist and his art . Therefore, instead of the art depending on the audience, the artist depends on the audience, meaning when the audience’s appreciation for work dwindles, their appreciation for the artist diminishes as well, leading to the hunger artist’s death.”

The essay talks about “ A Hunger Artist ” by Franz Kafka, who describes his views on life through art . The author analyzes Kafka’s fictional main character and his anxieties and frustrations about life and the world. This perception shows how much he suffered as an artist and how unhappy he was. Through the essay , the writer effectively explains Kafka’s conclusion that artists’ survival should not depend on their art .

“Compassion is that feeling that we’ve all experienced at some point in our lives. When we know that there is someone that really cares for us. Compassion comes from that moment when we can see the world through another person’s eyes.”

The author is a nurse who believes that to be professional, they need to be compassionate and treat their patients with respect, empathy, and dignity. One can show compassion through small actions such as talking and listening to patients’ grievances. In conclusion, compassion can save a person’s life by accepting everyone regardless of race, gender, etc.

“… A life of self-realization is more preferable and beneficial in comparison with a life on consumption. At the same time, this statement may be objected as person’s consumption leads to his or her happiness.”

The author examines Jon Elster’s theory to find out what makes a person happy and what people should think and feel about their material belongings. The essay mentions a list of common activities that make us feel happy and satisfied, such as buying new things. The writer explains that Elster’s statement about the prevalence of self-realization in consumption will always trigger intense debate.

“Appreciate the moment you’ve been given and appreciate the people you’ve been given to spend it with, because no matter how beautiful or tragic a moment is, it always ends. So hold on a little tighter, smile a little bigger, cry a little harder, laugh a little louder, forgive a little quicker, and love a whole lot deeper because these are the moments you will remember when you’re old and wishing you could rewind time.”

This essay explains that some things and events only happen once in a person’s life. The author encourages teenagers to enjoy the little things in their life and do what they love as much as they can. When they turn into adults, they will no longer have the luxury to do whatever they want.

The author suggests doing something meaningful as a stress reliever, trusting people, refusing to give up on the things that make you happy, and dying with beautiful memories. For help with your essays, check out our round-up of the best essay checkers .

7 Prompts for Essays About Life

Essays About Life: What is the true meaning of life?

Life encompasses many values and depends on one’s perception. For most, life is about reaching achievements to make themselves feel alive. Use this prompt to compile different meanings of life and provide a background on why a person defines life as they do.

Take Joseph Campbell’s, “Life has no meaning. Each of us has meaning, and we bring it to life. It is a waste to be asking the question when you are the answer,” for example. This quote pertains to his belief that an individual is responsible for giving life meaning. 

For this prompt, share with your readers your current purpose in life. It can be as simple as helping your siblings graduate or something grand, such as changing a national law to make a better world. You can ask others about their life purpose to include in your essay and give your opinion on why your answers are different or similar.

Life is a fascinating subject, as each person has a unique concept. How someone lives depends on many factors, such as opportunities, upbringing, and philosophies. All of these elements affect what we consider “special.”

Share what you think makes life special. For instance, talk about your relationships, such as your close-knit family or best friends. Write about the times when you thought life was worth living. You might also be interested in these essays about yourself .

Life in itself is a gift. However, most of us follow a routine of “wake up, work (or study), sleep, repeat.” Our constant need to survive makes us take things for granted. When we endlessly repeat a routine, life becomes mundane. For this prompt, offer tips on how to avoid a monotonous life, such as keeping a gratitude journal or traveling.

Many literary pieces use life as their subject. If you have a favorite book about life, recommend it to your readers by summarizing the content and sharing how the book influenced your outlook on life. You can suggest more than one book and explain why everyone should read them.

For example, Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist” reminds its readers to live in the moment and never fear failure.

Essays About Life: How to live a healthy life?

To be healthy doesn’t only pertain to our physical condition. It also refers to our mental, spiritual, and emotional well-being. To live a happy and full life, individuals must strive to be healthy in all areas. For this prompt, list ways to achieve a healthy life. Section your essay and present activities to improve health, such as eating healthy foods, talking with friends, etc.

No one has a perfect life, but describe what it’ll be like if you do. Start with the material things, such as your house, clothes, etc. Then, move to how you connect with others. In your conclusion, answer whether you’re willing to exchange your current life for the “perfect life” you described and why.  See our essay writing tips to learn more!

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Question of the Month

What is the meaning of life, the following answers to this central philosophical question each win a random book. sorry if your answer doesn’t appear: we received enough to fill twelve pages….

Why are we here? Do we serve a greater purpose beyond the pleasure or satisfaction we get from our daily activities – however mundane or heroic they may be? Is the meaning of life internal to life, to be found inherently in life’s many activities, or is it external, to be found in a realm somehow outside of life, but to which life leads? In the internal view it’s the satisfaction and happiness we gain from our actions that justify life. This does not necessarily imply a selfish code of conduct. The external interpretation commonly makes the claim that there is a realm to which life leads after death. Our life on earth is evaluated by a supernatural being some call God, who will assign to us some reward or punishment after death. The meaning of our life, its purpose and justification, is to fulfill the expectations of God, and then to receive our final reward. But within the internal view of meaning, we can argue that meaning is best found in activities that benefit others, the community, or the Earth as a whole. It’s just that the reward for these activities has to be found here, in the satisfactions that they afford within this life, instead of in some external spirit realm.

An interesting way to contrast the internal and external views is to imagine walking through a beautiful landscape. Your purpose in walking may be just to get somewhere else – you may think there’s a better place off in the distance. In this case the meaning of your journey through the landscape is external to the experience of the landscape itself. On the other hand, you may be intensely interested in what the landscape holds. It may be a forest, or it may contain farms, villages. You may stop along the way, study, learn, converse, with little thought about why you are doing these things other than the pleasure they give you. You may stop to help someone who is sick: in fact, you may stay many years, and found a hospital. What then is the meaning of your journey? Is it satisfying or worthwhile only if you have satisfied an external purpose – only if it gets you somewhere else? Why, indeed, cannot the satisfactions and pleasures of the landscape, and of your deeds, be enough?

Greg Studen, Novelty, Ohio

A problem with this question is that it is not clear what sort of answer is being looked for. One common rephrasing is “What is it that makes life worth living?”. There are any number of subjective answers to this question. Think of all the reasons why you are glad you are alive (assuming you are), and there is the meaning of your life. Some have attempted to answer this question in a more objective way: that is to have an idea of what constitutes the good life . It seems reasonable to say that some ways of living are not conducive to human flourishing. However, I am not convinced that there is one right way to live. To suggest that there is demonstrates not so much arrogance as a lack of imagination.

Another way of rephrasing the question is “What is the purpose of life?” Again we all have our own subjective purposes but some would like to think there is a higher purpose provided for us, perhaps by a creator. It is a matter of debate whether this would make life a thing of greater value or turn us into the equivalent of rats in a laboratory experiment. Gloster’s statement in King Lear comes to mind: “As flies to wanton boys we are to the gods – they kill us for their sport.” But why does there have to be a purpose to life separate from those purposes generated within it? The idea that life needs no external justification has been described movingly by Richard Taylor. Our efforts may ultimately come to nothing but “the day was sufficient to itself, and so was the life.” ( Good and Evil , 1970) In the “why are we here?” sense of the question there is no answer. It would be wrong, however, to conclude that life is meaningless. Life is meaningful to humans, therefore it has meaning.

Rebecca Linton, Leicester

When the question is in the singular we search for that which ties all values together in one unity, traditionally called ‘the good’. Current consideration of the good demands a recognition of the survival crises which confront mankind. The threats of nuclear war, environmental poisoning and other possible disasters make it necessary for us to get it right. For if Hannah Arendt was correct concerning the ‘banality of evil’ which affected so many Nazi converts and contaminated the German population by extension, we may agree with her that both Western rational philosophy and Christian teaching let the side down badly in the 20th century.

If we then turn away from Plato’s philosophy, balanced in justice, courage, moderation and wisdom; from Jewish justice and Christian self-denial; if we recognize Kant’s failure to convince populations to keep his three universal principles, then shall we look to the moral relativism of the Western secular minds which admired Nietzsche? Stalin’s purges of his own constituents in the USSR tainted this relativist approach to the search for the good. Besides, if nothing is absolute, but things have value only relative to other things, how do we get a consensus on the best or the worst? What makes your social mores superior to mine – and why should I not seek to destroy your way? We must also reject any hermit, monastic, sect or other loner criteria for the good life. Isolation will not lead to any long-term harmony or peace in the Global Village.

If with Nietzsche we ponder on the need for power in one’s life, but turn in the opposite direction from his ‘superman’ ideal, we will come to some form of the Golden Rule [‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’]. However, we must know this as an experiential reality. There is life-changing power in putting oneself in the place of the other person and feeling for and with them. We call this feeling empathy .

Persons who concentrate on empathy should develop emotional intelligence. When intellectual intelligence does not stand in the way of this kind of personal growth, but contributes to it, we can call this balance maturity . Surely the goal or meaning of human life is therefore none other than finding oneself becoming a mature adult free to make one’s own decisions, yet wanting everyone in the world to have this same advantage. This is good!

Ernie Johns, Owen Sound, Ontario

‘Meaning’ is a word referring to what we have in mind as ‘signification’, and it relates to intention and purpose. ‘Life’ is applied to the state of being alive; conscious existence. Mind, consciousness, words and what they signify, are thus the focus for the answer to the question. What seems inescapable is that there is no meaning associated with life other than that acquired by our consciousness, inherited via genes, developed and given content through memes (units of culture). The meanings we believe life to have are then culturally and individually diverse. They may be imposed through hegemony; religious or secular, benign or malign; or identified through deliberate choice, where this is available. The range is vast and diverse; from straightforward to highly complex. Meaning for one person may entail supporting a football team; for another, climbing higher and higher mountains; for another, being a parent; for another, being moved by music, poetry, literature, dance or painting; for another the pursuit of truth through philosophy; for another through religious devotions, etc. But characteristic of all these examples is a consciousness that is positively and constructively absorbed, engaged, involved, fascinated, enhanced and fulfilled. I would exclude negative and destructive desires; for example of a brutal dictator who may find torturing others absorbing and engaging and thus meaningful. Such cases would be too perverse and morally repugnant to regard as anything other than pathological.

The meaning of life for individuals may diminish or fade as a consequence of decline or difficult or tragic circumstances. Here it might, sadly, be difficult to see any meaning of life at all. The meaning is also likely to change from one phase of life to another, due to personal development, new interests, contexts, commitments and maturity.

Colin Brookes, Woodhouse Eaves, Leicestershire

It is clearly internet shopping, franchised fast food and surgically-enhanced boobs. No, this is not true. I think the only answer is to strip back every layer of the physical world, every learnt piece of knowledge, almost everything that seems important in our modern lives. All that’s left is simply existence. Life is existence: it seems ‘good’ to be part of life. But really that’s your lot! We should just be thankful that our lifespan is longer than, say, a spider, or your household mog.

Our over-evolved human minds want more, but unfortunately there is nothing more. And if there is some deity or malignant devil, then you can be sure they’ve hidden any meaning pretty well and we won’t see it in our mortal lives. So, enjoy yourself; be nice to people, if you like; but there’s no more meaning than someone with surgically-enhanced boobs, shopping on the net while eating a Big Mac.

Simon Maltman, By email

To ask ‘What is the meaning of life?’ is a poor choice of words and leads to obfuscation rather than clarity. Why so?

To phrase the question in this fashion implies that meaning is something that inheres in an object or experience – that it is a quality which is as discernible as the height of a door or the solidity of matter. That is not what meaning is like. It is not a feature of a particular thing, but rather the relationship between a perceiver and a thing, a subject and an object, and so requires both. There is no one meaning of, say, a poem, because meaning is generated by it being read and thought about by a subject. As subjects differ so does the meaning: different people evaluate ideas and concepts in different ways, as can be seen from ethical dilemmas. But it would be wrong to say that all these meanings are completely different, as there are similarities between individuals, not least because we belong to the same species and are constructed and programmed in basically the same way. We all have feelings of fear, attachment, insecurity and passion, etc.

So to speak of ‘the meaning of life’, is an error. It would be more correct to refer to the ‘meanings of life’, but as there are currently around six billion humans on Earth, and new psychological and cultural variations coming into being all the time, to list and describe all of these meanings would be a nigh on impossible task.

To ‘find meaning in life’ is a better way of approaching the issue, ie, whilst there is no single meaning of life, every person can live their life in a way which brings them as much fulfilment and contentment as possible. To use utilitarian language, the best that one can hope for is a life which contains as great an excess of pleasure over pain as possible, or alternatively, a life in which as least time as possible is devoted to activities which do not stimulate, or which do nothing to promote the goals one has set for oneself.

Steve Else, Swadlincote, Derbyshire

The meaning of life is not being dead.

Tim Bale, London

The question is tricky because of its hidden premise that life has meaning per se . A perfectly rational if discomforting position is given by Nietzsche, that someone in the midst of living is not in a position to discern whether it has meaning or not, and since we cannot step outside of the process of living to assess it, this is therefore not a question that bears attention.

However, if we choose to ignore the difficulties of evaluating a condition while inside it, perhaps one has to ask the prior question, what is the meaning of meaning ? Is ‘meaning’ given by the greater cosmos? Or do we in our freedom construct the category ‘meaning’ and then fill in the contours and colours? Is meaning always identical with purpose? I might decide to dedicate my life to answering this particular question, granting myself an autonomously devised purpose. But is this identical with the meaning of my life? Or can I live a meaningless life with purpose? Or shall meaning be defined by purpose? Some metaphysics offer exactly this corollary – that in pursuing one’s proper good, and thus one’s meaning, one is pursuing one’s telos or purpose. The point of these two very brief summaries of approaches to the question is to show the hazards in this construction of the question.

Karen Zoppa, The University of Winnipeg

One thing one can hardly fail to notice about life is that it is self-perpetuating. Palaeontology tells us that life has been perpetuating itself for billions of years. What is the secret of this stunning success? Through natural selection, life forms adapt to their environment, and in the process they acquire, one might say they become , knowledge about that environment, the world in which they live and of which they are part. As Konrad Lorenz put it, “Life itself is a process of acquiring knowledge.” According to this interpretation of evolution, the very essence of life (its meaning?) is the pursuit of knowledge : knowledge about the real world that is constantly tested against that world. What works and is in that sense ‘true’, is perpetuated. Life is tried and proven knowledge that has withstood the test of geological time. From this perspective, adopting the pursuit of knowledge as a possible meaning of one’s life seems, literally, a natural choice. The history of science and philosophy is full of examples of people who have done just that, and in doing so they have helped human beings to earn the self-given title of Homo sapiens – man of knowledge.

Axel Winter, Wynnum, Queensland

Life is a stage and we are the actors, said William Shakespeare, possibly recognizing that life quite automatically tells a story just as any play tells a story. But we are more than just actors; we are the playwright too, creating new script with our imaginations as we act in the ongoing play. Life is therefore storytelling. So the meaning of life is like the meaning of ‘the play’ in principle: not a single play with its plot and underlying values and information, but the meaning behind the reason for there being plays with playwright, stage, actors, props, audience, and theatre. The purpose of the play is self-expression , the playwright’s effort to tell a story. Life, a grand play written with mankind’s grand imagination, has this same purpose.

But besides being the playwright, you are the audience too, the recipient of the playwrights’ messages. As playwright, actor, and audience you are an heir to both growth and self-expression. Your potential for acquiring knowledge and applying it creatively is unlimited. These two concepts may be housed under one roof: Liberty. Liberty is the freedom to think and to create. “Give me liberty or give me death,” said Patrick Henry, for without liberty life has no meaningful purpose. But with liberty life is a joy. Therefore liberty is the meaning of life.

Ronald Bacci, Napa, CA

The meaning of life is understood according to the beliefs that people adhere to. However, all human belief systems are accurate or inaccurate to varying degrees in their description of the world. Moreover, belief systems change over time: from generation to generation; from culture to culture; and era to era. Beliefs that are held today, even by large segments of the population, did not exist yesterday and may not exist tomorrow. Belief systems, be they religious or secular, are therefore arbitrary. If the meaning of life is wanted, a meaning that will transcend the test of time or the particulars of individual beliefs, then an effort to arrive at a truly objective determination must be made. So in order to eliminate the arbitrary, belief systems must be set aside. Otherwise, the meaning of life could not be determined.

Objectively however, life has no meaning because meaning or significance cannot be obtained without reference to some (arbitrary) belief system. Absent a subjective belief system to lend significance to life, one is left with the ‘stuff’ of life, which, however offers no testimony as to its meaning. Without beliefs to draw meaning from, life has no meaning, but is merely a thing ; a set of facts that, in and of themselves, are silent as to what they mean. Life consists of a series of occurrences in an infinite now, divorced of meaning except for what may be ascribed by constructed belief systems. Without such beliefs, for many the meaning of life is nothing .

Surely, however, life means something . And indeed it does when an individual willfully directs his/her consciousness at an aspect of life, deriving from it an individual interpretation, and then giving this interpretation creative expression. Thus the meaning in the act of giving creative expression to what may be ephemeral insights. Stated another way, the meaning of life is an individual’s acts of creation . What, exactly is created, be it artistic or scientific, may speak to the masses, or to nobody, and may differ from individual to individual. The meaning of life, however, is not the thing created, but the creative act itself ; namely, that of willfully imposing an interpretation onto the stuff of life, and projecting a creative expression from it.

Raul Casso, Laredo, Texas

Rather than prattle on and then discover that I am merely deciding what ‘meaning’ means, I will start out with the assumption that by ‘meaning’ we mean ‘purpose.’ And because I fear that ‘purpose’ implies a Creator, I will say ‘best purpose.’ So what is the best purpose for which I can live my life? The best purpose for which I can live my life is, refusing all the easy ways to destroy. This is not as simple as it sounds. Refusing to destroy life – to murder – wouldn’t just depend on our lack of homicidal impulses, but also on our willingness to devote our time to finding out which companies have murdered union uprisers; to finding out whether animals are killed out of need or greed or ease; to finding the best way to refuse to fund military murder, if we find our military to be murdering rather than merely protecting. Refusing to destroy resources, to destroy loves, to destroy rights, turns out to be a full-time job. Oh sure, we can get cocky and say “Well, oughtn’t we destroy injustice? Or bigotry? Or hatred?” But we would be only fooling ourselves. They’re all already negatives: to destroy injustice, bigotry, and hatred is to refuse the destruction of justice, understanding, and love. So, it turns out, we finally say “Yes” to life, when we come out with a resounding, throat-wrecking “NO!”

Carrie Snider, By email

I propose that the knowledge we have now accumulated about life discloses quite emphatically that we are entirely a function of certain basic laws as they operate in the probably unique conditions prevailing here on Earth.

The behaviour of the most elementary forms of matter we know, subatomic particles, seems to be guided by four fundamental forces, of which electromagnetism is probably the most significant here, in that through the attraction and repulsion of charged particles it allows an almost infinite variation of bonding: it allows atoms to form molecules, up the chain to the molecules of enormous length and complexity we call as nucleic acids, and proteins. All these are involved in a constant interaction with surrounding chemicals through constant exchanges of energy. From these behaviour patterns we can deduce certain prime drives or purposes of basic matter, namely:

1. Combination (bonding).

2. Survival of the combination, and of any resulting organism.

3. Extension of the organism, usually by means of replication.

4. Acquisition of energy.

Since these basic drives motivate everything that we’re made of, all the energy, molecules and chemistry that form our bodies, our brains and nervous systems, then whatever we think, say and do is a function of the operation of those basic laws Therefore everything we think, say and do will be directed towards our survival, our replication and our demand for energy to fuel these basic drives. All our emotions and our rational thinking, our loves and hates, our art, science and engineering are refinements of these basic drives. The underlying drive for bonding inspires our need for interaction with other organisms, particularly other human beings, as we seek ever wider and stronger links conducive to our better survival. Protection and extension of our organic integrity necessitates our dependence on and interaction with everything on Earth.

Our consciousness is also necessarily a function of these basic drives, and when the chemistry of our cells can no longer operate due to disease, ageing or trauma, we lose consciousness and die. Since I believe we are nothing more than physics and chemistry, death terminates our life once and for all. There is no God, there is no eternal life. But optimistically, there is the joy of realising that we have the power of nature within us, and that by co-operating with our fellow man, by nurturing the resources of the world, by fighting disease, starvation, poverty and environmental degradation, we can all conspire to improve life and celebrate not only its survival on this planet, but also its proliferation. So the purpose of life is just that: to involve all living things in the common purpose of promoting and enjoying what we are – a wondrous expression of the laws of Nature, the power of the Universe.

Peter F. Searle, Topsham, Devon

“What is the meaning of life?” is hard to get a solid grip on. One possible translation of it is “What does it all mean?” One might spend a lifetime trying to answer such a heady question. Answering it requires providing an account of the ultimate nature of the world, our minds, value and how all these natures interrelate. I’d prefer to offer a rather simplistic answer to a possible interpretation of our question. When someone asks “What is the meaning of life?,” they may mean “What makes life meaningful?” This is a question I believe one can get a grip on without developing a systematic philosophy.

The answer I propose is actually an old one. What makes a human life have meaning or significance is not the mere living of a life, but reflecting on the living of a life.

Even the most reflective among us get caught up in pursuing ends and goals. We want to become fitter; we want to read more books; we want to make more money. These goal-oriented pursuits are not meaningful or significant in themselves. What makes a life filled with them either significant or insignificant is reflecting on why one pursues those goals. This is second-order reflection; reflection on why one lives the way one does. But it puts one in a position to say that one’s life has meaning or does not.

One discovers this meaning or significance by evaluating one’s life and meditating on it; by taking a step back from the everyday and thinking about one’s life in a different way. If one doesn’t do this, then one’s life has no meaning or significance. And that isn’t because one has the wrong sorts of goals or ends, but rather has failed to take up the right sort of reflective perspective on one’s life. This comes close to Socrates’ famous saying that the unexamined life is not worth living. I would venture to say that the unexamined life has no meaning.

Casey Woodling, Gainesville, FL

For the sake of argument, let’s restrict the scope of the discussion to the human species, and narrow down the choices to

1) There is no meaning of life, we simply exist;

2) To search for the meaning of life; and

3) To share an intimate connection with humankind: the notion of love.

Humans are animals with an instinct for survival. At a basic level, this survival requires food, drink, rest and procreation. In this way, the meaning of life could be to continue the process of evolution. This is manifested in the modern world as the daily grind.

Humans also have the opportunity and responsibility of consciousness. With our intellect comes curiosity, combined with the means to understand complex problems. Most humans have, at some point, contemplated the meaning of life. Some make it a life’s work to explore this topic. For them and those like them, the question may be the answer.

Humans are a social species. We typically seek out the opposite sex to procreate. Besides the biological urge or desire, there is an interest in understanding others. We might simply gain pleasure in connecting with someone in an intimate way. Whatever the specific motivation, there is something that we crave, and that is to love and be loved.

The meaning of life may never be definitively known. The meaning of life may be different for each individual and/or each species. The truth of the meaning of life is likely in the eye of the beholder. There were three choices given at the beginning of this essay, and for me, the answer is all of the above.

Jason Hucsek, San Antonio, TX

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Essay on Life for Students and Children

500+ words essay on life.

First of all, Life refers to an aspect of existence. This aspect processes acts, evaluates, and evolves through growth. Life is what distinguishes humans from inorganic matter. Some individuals certainly enjoy free will in Life. Others like slaves and prisoners don’t have that privilege. However, Life isn’t just about living independently in society. It is certainly much more than that. Hence, quality of Life carries huge importance. Above all, the ultimate purpose should be to live a meaningful life. A meaningful life is one which allows us to connect with our deeper self.

essay on life

Why is Life Important?

One important aspect of Life is that it keeps going forward. This means nothing is permanent. Hence, there should be a reason to stay in dejection. A happy occasion will come to pass, just like a sad one. Above all, one must be optimistic no matter how bad things get. This is because nothing will stay forever. Every situation, occasion, and event shall pass. This is certainly a beauty of Life.

Many people become very sad because of failures . However, these people certainly fail to see the bright side. The bright side is that there is a reason for every failure. Therefore, every failure teaches us a valuable lesson. This means every failure builds experience. This experience is what improves the skills and efficiency of humans.

Probably a huge number of individuals complain that Life is a pain. Many people believe that the word pain is a synonym for Life. However, it is pain that makes us stronger. Pain is certainly an excellent way of increasing mental resilience. Above all, pain enriches the mind.

The uncertainty of death is what makes life so precious. No one knows the hour of one’s death. This probably is the most important reason to live life to the fullest. Staying in depression or being a workaholic is an utter wastage of Life. One must certainly enjoy the beautiful blessings of Life before death overtakes.

Get the huge list of more than 500 Essay Topics and Ideas

How to Improve Quality of Life?

Most noteworthy, optimism is the ultimate way of enriching life. Optimism increases job performance, self-confidence, creativity, and skills. An optimistic person certainly can overcome huge hurdles.

Meditation is another useful way of improving Life quality. Meditation probably allows a person to dwell upon his past. This way one can avoid past mistakes. It also gives peace of mind to an individual. Furthermore, meditation reduces stress and tension.

Pursuing a hobby is a perfect way to bring meaning to life. Without a passion or interest, an individual’s life would probably be dull. Following a hobby certainly brings new energy to life. It provides new hope to live and experience Life.

In conclusion, Life is not something that one should take for granted. It’s certainly a shame to see individuals waste away their lives. We should be very thankful for experiencing our lives. Above all, everyone should try to make their life more meaningful.

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Greater Good Science Center • Magazine • In Action • In Education

Seven Ways to Find Your Purpose in Life

Many of the people I know seem to have a deep sense of purpose. Whether working for racial justice, teaching children to read, making inspiring art, or collecting donations of masks and face shields for hospitals during the pandemic, they’ve found ways to blend their passion, talents, and care for the world in a way that infuses their lives with meaning.

Luckily for them, having a purpose in life is associated with all kinds of benefits. Research suggests that purpose is tied to having better health , longevity , and even economic success . It feels good to have a sense of purpose, knowing that you are using your skills to help others in a way that matters to you.

But how do you go about finding your purpose if it’s not obvious to you? Is it something you develop naturally over the course of a lifetime ? Or are there steps you can take to encourage more purpose in your life?


what is the purpose of life essay

Likely both, says Kendall Bronk , a researcher who directs the Adolescent Moral Development Lab at Claremont Graduate University. People can find a sense of purpose organically—or through deliberate exercises and self-reflection. Sometimes, just having someone talk to you about what matters to you makes you think more intentionally about your life and your purpose, says Bronk.

In her work with adolescents, she’s found that some teens find purpose after experiencing hardship. Maybe a kid who has experienced racism decides to become a civil rights advocate. Or one who’s suffered severe illness decides to study medicine. Of course, experiences like poverty and illness are extremely hard to overcome without help from others. But Bronk’s research suggests that having a supportive social network—caring family members, like-minded friends, or mentors, for example—helps youth to reframe hardship as a challenge they can play a role in changing for the better. That might be true of adults, too.

While hardship can lead to purpose, most people probably find purpose in a more meandering way, says Bronk—through a combination of education, experience, and self-reflection, often helped along by encouragement from others. But finding your purpose can be jump-started, too, given the right tools. In a paper titled “ Fostering Purpose Among Young Adults ,” she and her colleagues found that exercises aimed at uncovering your values, interests, and skills, as well as practicing positive emotions like gratitude, can help point you toward your purpose in life.

Here are some of her recommendations based on her research on purpose.

1. Identify the things you care about


Purpose is all about applying your skills toward contributing to the greater good in a way that matters to you. So, identifying what you care about is an important first step.

In Greater Good’s Purpose Challenge , designed by Bronk and her team, high school seniors were asked to think about the world around them—their homes, communities, the world at large—and visualize what they would do if they had a magic wand and could change anything they wanted to change (and why). Afterward, they could use that reflection to consider more concrete steps they might take to contribute toward moving the world a little closer to that ideal.

A similar process is recommended for older adults by Jim Emerman of Encore.org, an organization that helps seniors find new purpose in life. Instead of envisioning an ideal future world, though, he suggests posing three questions to yourself:

  • What are you good at?
  • What have you done that gave you a skill that can be used for a cause?
  • What do you care about in your community?

By reflecting on these questions, he says, older adults can brainstorm ideas for repurposing skills and pursuing interests developed over a lifetime toward helping the world.

2. Reflect on what matters most

Sometimes it can be hard to single out one or two things that matter most to you because your circle of care and concern is far-ranging. Understanding what you value most may help you narrow down your purpose in life to something manageable that also truly resonates with you.

There are several good values surveys to choose from, including these three recommended by PositivePsychology.com: the Valued Living Questionnaire , the Portrait Values Questionnaire , and the Personal Values Questionnaire . All have been used in research studies and may be helpful to those who feel overwhelmed by all they want to change.

Bronk found that helping people prioritize their values is useful for finding purpose. The survey used in Greater Good’s purpose challenge—where students were asked to look at common values and rank which were most important, least important, and in between—has been shown to be effective in helping people clarify their purpose.

Once you’re clearer on your deepest values, Bronk recommends asking yourself: What do these values say about you as a person? How do these values influence your daily life? How might they relate to what you want to do with the rest of your life? Doing this exercise can help you discover how you can put your values to use.

3. Recognize your strengths and talents

We all have strengths and skills that we’ve developed over our lifetimes, which help make up our unique personalities. Yet some of us may be unsure of what we have to offer.

If we need help, a survey like the VIA Character Strengths Survey can be useful in identifying our personal strengths and embracing them more fully. Then, you can take the results and think about how you can apply them toward something you really care about.

But it can also be helpful to ask others—teachers, friends, family, colleagues, mentors—for input. In the Purpose Challenge, students were asked to send emails to five people who knew them well and to pose questions like:

  • What do you think I’m particularly good at?
  • What do you think I really enjoy?
  • How do you think I’ll leave my mark on the world?

Adults can do this if they need feedback, too—either formally or informally in conversation with trusted others. People who know you well may be able to see things in you that you don’t recognize in yourself, which can point you in unexpected directions. On the other hand, there is no need to overly rely on that feedback if it doesn’t resonate. Getting input is useful if it clarifies your strengths—not if it’s way off base.

4. Try volunteering

Finding purpose involves more than just self-reflection. According to Bronk, it’s also about trying out new things and seeing how those activities enable you to use your skills to make a meaningful difference in the world. Volunteering in a community organization focused on something of interest to you could provide you with some experience and do good at the same time.

Working with an organization serving others can put you in touch with people who share your passions and inspire you. In fact, it’s easier to find and sustain purpose with others’ support —and a do-gooder network can introduce you to opportunities and a community that shares your concern. Volunteering has the added benefit of improving our health and longevity , at least for some people.

However, not all volunteer activities will lead to a sense of purpose. “Sometimes volunteering can be deadening,” Stanford University researcher Anne Colby. “It needs to be engaging. You have to feel you’re accomplishing something.” When you find a good match for you, volunteering will likely “feel right” in some way—not draining, but invigorating.

5. Imagine your best possible self

This exercise if particularly useful in conjunction with the magic-wand exercise described above. In Greater Good’s Purpose Challenge, high school students were asked to imagine themselves at 40 years of age if everything had gone as well as it could have in their lives. Then, they answered questions, like:

  • What are you doing?
  • What is important to you?
  • What do you really care about, and why?

The why part is particularly important, because purposes usually emerges from our reasons for caring, says Bronk.

Of course, those of us who are a bit older can still find these questions valuable. However, says Bronk, older folks may want to reflect back rather than look ahead. She suggests we think about what we’ve always wanted to do but maybe couldn’t because of other obligations (like raising kids or pursuing a career). There seems to be something about seeing what you truly want for yourself and the world that can help bring you closer to achieving it, perhaps by focusing your attention on the people and experiences you encounter that may help you get there.

6. Cultivate positive emotions like gratitude and awe

To find purpose, it helps to foster positive emotions, like awe and gratitude. That’s because each of these emotions is tied to well-being, caring about others, and finding meaning in life, which all help us focus on how we can contribute to the world.

In her study with young adults, Bronk found that practicing gratitude was particularly helpful in pointing students toward purpose. Reflecting on the blessings of their lives often leads young people to “ pay it forward ” in some way, which is how gratitude can lead to purpose.

There are many ways to cultivate awe and gratitude. Awe can be inspired by seeing the beauty in nature or recalling an inspirational moment . Gratitude can be practiced by keeping a gratitude journal or writing a gratitude letter to someone who helped you in life. Whatever tools you use, developing gratitude and awe has the added benefit of being good for your emotional well-being, which can give you the energy and motivation you need to carry out your purposeful goals.

7. Look to the people you admire

Sometimes the people we admire most in life give us a clue to how we might want to contribute to a better world ourselves. Reading about the work of civil rights leaders or climate activists can give us a moral uplift that can serve as motivation for working toward the greater good.

However, sometimes looking at these larger-than-life examples can be too intimidating, says Bronk. If so, you can look for everyday people who are doing good in smaller ways. Maybe you have a friend who volunteers to collect food for the homeless or a colleague whose work in promoting social justice inspires you.

You don’t need fame to fulfill your purpose in life. You just need to look to your inner compass—and start taking small steps in the direction that means the most to you.

This article is part of a GGSC initiative on “ Finding Purpose Across the Lifespan ,” supported by the John Templeton Foundation. In a series of articles, podcast episodes, and other resources, we’ll be exploring why and how to deepen your sense of purpose at different stages of life.

About the Author

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Jill Suttie

Jill Suttie, Psy.D. , is Greater Good ’s former book review editor and now serves as a staff writer and contributing editor for the magazine. She received her doctorate of psychology from the University of San Francisco in 1998 and was a psychologist in private practice before coming to Greater Good .

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Essay on Purpose Of Life

Students are often asked to write an essay on Purpose Of Life in their schools and colleges. And if you’re also looking for the same, we have created 100-word, 250-word, and 500-word essays on the topic.

Let’s take a look…

100 Words Essay on Purpose Of Life

Understanding the purpose of life.

Life is a precious gift. Its purpose is different for everyone and depends on individual beliefs and experiences. Some people find purpose in helping others, while others find it in learning or creating. It’s about finding what makes you happy and fulfilled.

Finding Your Purpose

Discovering your purpose can take time. It’s not always clear and may change as you grow. You can start by thinking about what you love to do, what makes you feel good, and how you can make a positive impact on the world.

The Joy in Purpose

When you find your purpose, life becomes more meaningful. You feel a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction. This joy can motivate you to work harder and achieve your goals. It’s like a guiding light that leads you through life.

Living with Purpose

To live with purpose, you need to follow your heart and stay true to yourself. It’s about making choices that align with your beliefs and values. Remember, your purpose is unique to you. So, embrace it and live life to the fullest.

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250 Words Essay on Purpose Of Life

What is the purpose of life.

Life is a precious gift, and everyone has their unique way of living it. Some people think the purpose of life is to be happy, while others believe it is to help others.

Finding Happiness

Many people believe that the purpose of life is to find happiness. This could mean doing things that make us feel good, like playing games, eating our favorite food, or spending time with friends and family. It is about enjoying every moment and making the most of our time.

Helping Others

For others, life’s purpose is to help people. They find joy in making others happy or making the world a better place. This could mean doing volunteer work, helping a friend with homework, or simply being kind to everyone around us.

Learning and Growing

Some people see the purpose of life as a chance to learn and grow. They want to gain knowledge, learn new skills, and become better people. This could mean studying hard at school, reading lots of books, or trying new things.

In conclusion, the purpose of life can be different for everyone. It could be about finding happiness, helping others, or learning and growing. It’s about finding what makes you feel fulfilled and doing that. Remember, the purpose of life is a journey, not a destination. So, enjoy every step of your journey.

500 Words Essay on Purpose Of Life

Understanding ‘purpose of life’, individual purpose.

Everyone has their own purpose in life, which can be different from others. This purpose can be anything that makes you feel happy and fulfilled. For some, it could be becoming a doctor and saving lives, while for others, it could be becoming a painter and creating beautiful art. It is not about what others think is important, but what you feel is important.

Common Human Purpose

While each person has their own purpose, there are also common purposes that all humans share. These include learning, growing, and contributing to the world. We all want to learn new things, grow as people, and make the world a better place. These common purposes can help bring us together and create a sense of community.

Living Your Purpose

Once you find your purpose, it is important to live it. This means making choices and taking actions that align with your purpose. For example, if your purpose is to help others, you might choose to volunteer at a local charity. Living your purpose can give your life meaning and make you feel fulfilled.

The Importance of Purpose

Having a purpose in life is important because it gives our life direction and meaning. It helps us make decisions and set goals. It also gives us a sense of fulfillment and happiness. Without a purpose, life can feel empty and meaningless.

That’s it! I hope the essay helped you.

If you’re looking for more, here are essays on other interesting topics:

Apart from these, you can look at all the essays by clicking here .

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what is the purpose of life essay

Happier Human

19 Life Purpose Examples to Find Your True Purpose

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Since the dawn of time, philosophers and common people alike have mused over the idea of a “life purpose.”  

But what defines one’s life purpose? And what should yours be?

In simplest terms, a life purpose is your reason (or reasons) for getting up in the morning.

True purpose can guide your decisions.

It will influence your behavior and help you prioritize goals to make room for what really matters.

Purpose can offer a sense of direction… and create meaning. For some people, purpose is connected to a vocation- meaningful, satisfying work.

Ancient Greek classicists called it a “telos,” or the ultimate goal of life.  They believed that a life purpose should be was one’s central focus on their journey through time on earth. 

Modern thinkers conceptualize it as that what they were meant to do or be… what they were made for.

Whichever way you prefer to think about it, having an idea of your greater aim in life makes every day more significant and precious. It allows you to harness your energy into something bigger than just yourself.

In this article, I will provide 19 life purpose examples that may help you take one step closer to eudemonia… or “Living the Good Life”.

Table of Contents

Exercises to Find Your Life Purpose

Self-inquiry and examination through good habits help you center your thoughts and really focus on what you enjoy most in your life and gives you meaning.

Everyone has different skills and talents that make them great… and taking the time to analyze what you excel at can give you further direction to what you can call your life purpose.   Pro tip: you can have more than one!

Journaling what matters most to you

Creative journaling has many proven health benefits . From writing down your crazy dreams,  to taking note of interesting flowers you've seen that day, it gives your left brain a chance to express itself… or your right brain time to make sense of the day.

Consistency is what is important. 

If you choose a narrative approach, you give your loved ones a valuable record and tool to peer into the daily life of your family.

When you select a creative approach, such as poetry or sketching, you can get a glimpse into your subconscious and the themes of your life.

Either method works… and many of the world's most successful minds practice journaling . 

You can also start using your journal as a tool to implement your life purpose. Everything from affirmations, inspiring quotes, or a daily to-do list will be able to help you navigate the waters of setting sail in the direction of your dreams.

Writing a life purpose statement

Are you feeling bold?

If so, sit down and write down a mission statement of the purpose of your life. You might be surprised what you think of!

For your first draft, don't put too much thought into it and let the feeling of what you want to most express flow through you. Be true to yourself and don't be shy; you don't have to share it if you don't want to.

Later, revise it and flesh it out. Write out a personal manifesto if you want to. Let the written word inspire you to greater things and pay attention to the most vivid details.

Don't think too much about it, either. You can have a seemingly small or narrowed down purpose, such as becoming a vegan.  Or you may discover something greater, like becoming a human rights activist or uncovering a musical talent.  

Take what you learn from this exercise and use it to make bigger and better choices for your life.

Find good literature or media to support your new vision, and if you are really feeling inspired, volunteer or take classes to improve. 

Verbalizing to someone else what matters most

Talking about things to a compassionate listener helps our minds process what's going on in our life.

Even the process of listening to ourselves talk can help make what's going on “real” and, more importantly , give us some ideas of the right action steps to take.

Just talk about what matters.

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Always wanted to get a higher degree? Was your dream to be a painter?

Find a trusted person and talk to them about it. The enormous healing properties of letting someone know your secret desires will always shed light on those corners of your life and give you hope and a different perspective.

Visualizing what is most important in their life and what may be lacking.

Looking within helps you to clarify what's important and minimize distractions.

For example, if being healthy is important to you… you might change your diet, learn new recipes, or start a daily exercise plan.

If having more fun with your community is a goal, then you might be on the lookout for opportunities to meet new people.

Visualize what your ideal life would be like, and take steps every day to achieve it!

“If you can dream it, you can do it.” -Walt Disney

Take a deep breath, light a candle, and close your eyes. Relax and think:  where could my life go? What would I have? Where would I be? What would it feel like?

Now, let yourself write out what an ideal day would be like. Let your imagination go wild. Where would you vacation? What would you eat? What gifts would you buy the people you love?

You get the idea.

Now, ground yourself, and let yourself figure out a realistic way to align yourself to the life choices you could make to more embody that lifestyle.

It's easier than it sounds, and you can be amazed at all of the resources that reveal themselves to you when you're open and ready to receive or when you go out there and take action.

People from all walks of life benefit from the power of visualization.   From CEOs to elementary teachers, walking yourself through the necessary steps in your mind's eye helps guide you to techniques or tools for an improved life.

It can be anything from a power color to a special spot in nature from which you draw inspiration. 

19 Life Purpose Examples You May Draw Inspiration From

1. having a strong sense of family.

“I will always work to do what is best for my family. Without neglecting myself, I will seek to meet their needs. I will seek to understand their insecurities, and give them the support and unconditional love to make them feel special, important, and irreplaceable.”

Around the world, “family” ranks as the top choice when selecting one’s purpose in life. It's the foundation from which people come from… and where many people return. If you feel that friends and family are priceless treasures that can never be replaced, this purpose is definitely for you.

2. Helping Children

“I want to be a positive role model for children. Whether it's with tangibles like food or clothing, or by giving emotional support… I want to give children what they need to feel wanted, loved, and secure. I want to give children what they need to be healthy, happy, and productive.” 

Whether you're a parent or not, if you're passionate about helping children, there are many ways to achieve this goal. The obvious is to provide financially by giving food, clothing, and shelter. You can also give your time and support in other ways.

Helping with homework, listening when a child needs to talk, donating to children's causes, or volunteering are some examples.

3. Giving Back to the Community

“I want to contribute something to my community that will leave it better than it was before my contribution. I want to show others that connecting with your community is important and vital.” 

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Communities don't exist without individuals, and individuals cannot exist without being a part of some type of a community. We are interdependent beings. If you have a sense of appreciation for the significance of community, there are many ways to meet this purpose. 

You can enhance it aesthetically, or participate in other activities. You may want to take a more interpersonal approach, like being a mentor or helping a neighbor.

4. Helping Animals

“All creatures deserve to be treated with kindness. I want to show compassion to animals through caring acts that help protect them and help them survive.”

It’s no coincidence that veganism and vegetarianism grow in popularity every year. Whether it's by aligning yourself with groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), or adopting a pet , you, too, can contribute to ensuring animals are treated humanely.

5. Living a Healthy Lifestyle

“I will prioritize taking care of myself by putting my health first. I will take care of my physical and mental health needs by being mindful of what I put in my body, and focusing on my emotional and mental well-being. Self-care activities will be a part of my regular routine.”

Self-care is one of the essential ways that health can become part of a life's purpose. In order to meet any other goals in life, you must first be in good mental and physical health. 

6. Prioritizing Fitness

“I will feed the inside and outside of my body with the nourishment it needs. The right food is an obvious necessity, but I will also make sure I feed it physical exercise, and prioritize being physically fit.”

Fitness goes hand in hand with living a healthy life. It may be for medical reasons, or your aim may be to achieve a certain physical appearance or build  strength . This life purpose is for you if you're passionate about the physical, emotional, and spiritual benefits of exercise.

7. Incorporating Music

“I will make music an integral part of my life. I will use it as a source of healing and enjoyment. I will also use it as a way to connect with others, and to connect more deeply with myself.”

If you feel drawn to music, incorporating it into your life more will give many emotional benefits.

In every culture,  music  seems to be the thread that binds people. Whether you're a musician, a dancer, or simply someone who loves to listen… there is so much meaning and purpose that can be gleaned from music.

8. Appreciating Art

“I will appreciate the beauty of art. I will find ways to include it in my life, by being both a spectator and finding ways to explore my own artistic talents.”

Art has many forms and expressions, and whichever one you feel “drawn” to is totally up to you and entirely beautiful. Many people have amazing latent artistic gifts that they go their whole lives regretting not having explored further.  

You can take advantage of  adult learning  or community college opportunities to enhance your artistic skills.

9. Embracing Spirituality

“I will be a spiritual person and connect to something higher than myself. I will concern myself with being the best person I can be for myself and others. I will be guided by thoughts and actions that are kind and in my best interest, and the best interest of others.” 

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Being spiritual  can be a powerful way to embrace a larger identity and life purpose. If your focus is to grow and develop to be the best person you can be, and live a life where you show compassion to others, this mantra is ideal. 

10. Living a Happy and Ethical Life

“I will first and foremost do what it takes to make myself happy. With this continued state of being, I will be able to treat others in a respectful and kind way. My happiness will lead to actions that are just, fair, and ethical for others.”

We've probably all heard the saying, “Hurt people hurt people.” It would then follow that we can say the opposite is also true. If you're in a state of contentment, you'll give off a sense of peace that will positively affect others. 

This statement probably hits home for you if you're someone who's mindful about existing in the here-and-now. It's definitely for you if you're self-aware and value the multitude of health benefits from having a harmonious emotional and spiritual state. 

11. Empowering Others

“My life purpose is to help others see their own power and strength. I want to make each person I encounter feel better about themselves and have an added sense of self-efficacy and self-confidence.”

Here's a statement that takes infecting others with happiness and peace to a different level. The drive to empower others is ideal for someone who loves interacting with people. It requires being able to see the positives and helping individuals identify their strengths. 

12. Being True to Myself

“I want to live a life where I present to myself and others my authentic self. I want to maintain my true self while being genuine and sincere in all of my relationships and interactions with others.”

If you are someone who values your individualism, this example falls right in line. Being true to yourself may include maintaining your own unique fashion sense, dietary choices, or spiritual beliefs.

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It can be more interpersonal, where you value remaining true to another purpose you have in life, no matter what others think or say. For example, you may want to stay true to living a life as a starving artist, rather than conform to the American standard of climbing your way up the corporate ladder.

Or, it may mean holding onto independent thinking that sets you a part from the rest, and not changing your opinions or methods of expression to please others or to fit in.

At any rate, being your authentic self in all areas of life helps to achieve a healthy mental and emotional state.

13. Achieving a Meaningful Career

“I will continuously pour into myself the tools needed to be the best at what I do. I want to have a career that improves the life of others and society in some way.”

Many people choose careers based on their skills, passions, or natural talents. This purpose can help you decide what career to pursue and, therefore, what actions you need to follow to achieve it.

It can help you determine if you need to pursue a higher degree, what region you may need to live in, and even give you a realistic picture of what your income may be. For example, if you're on the fence about whether to become a social worker or a marketing executive, you may decide that a social worker better meets the task of improving lives.

14. Cultivating Healthy, Reciprocal Relationships

“I will treat others as I want to be treated. I will make sure I give as much as I receive. I will communicate with others to understand and give them what they need, instead of going off of my assumptions of their needs, so that I am truly treating them in a manner that makes them feel important and respected.”

Any time you're having multiple interactions with someone, you're having a relationship. Whether it's close friends, relatives, or co-workers, interactions with others that are built on respect and mutual give-and-take are the most productive and healthiest.

If you appreciate the value of relationships and the positive rippling effects they can have on all aspects of life, this statement may speak to you.

15. Reaching My Fullest and Highest Potential

“Realizing self-actualization means reaching your fullest and highest potential. I will use self-reflection to understand my thoughts, behaviors, patterns, talents, and skills. I will also identify my growth areas (I will not call them weaknesses). I will seek to educate myself and increase my knowledge through research, and by engaging in meaningful discussions with others who hold different viewpoints than my own. I will use all of these avenues to improve all aspects of who I am.”

If you are dedicated to self-growth and self-development , this example does a great job of summarizing many of the components necessary to accomplish a higher state of self. 

You may have more than one purpose. This one goes hand-in-hand with “Being True to Myself.” To accomplish both, you must be ready to accept the self-discovery that comes from honest self-reflection. Achieving self-actualization also requires accepting the actions or changes you find you need to make as a result of those self-discoveries.

16. Bringing Others Joy

“Simply put, I want to make others laugh. Laughter is healing. I want to give people the good feelings, relief, and connection that comes with sharing a good laugh together. Even when there's sadness, laughter can provide a glimpse of hope and joy. I want to provide the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Some purpose statements are more serious, some will take a little work, and others will take a concerted amount of time to achieve. This one is just pure fun.

If connecting with others and enjoying life are what gets you out of bed in the mornings, this example is the perfect fit. We can choose happiness , and help others to choose it, too.

17. Helping the Less Fortunate

“I will help someone who is hurting or going without. I will give my assistance in some way to help someone else gain what they are missing, to help them have a better quality of life.”

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This is for the altruistic. Helping the less fortunate takes the life purpose of contributing to the community to the next level, by getting a little more specific. It requires you to identify or consider a type of person or group of people, and the resources they need.

18. Sharing Wisdom

“As I learn and grow from my experiences, I want to share that wisdom with others.” 

This example is great for teachers, religious leaders, mentors, or anyone who enjoys articulating the lessons of their failures, successes, and life journey. Knowledge is priceless. Because everyone's experiences are different, we all have a little bit of knowledge we could share with someone else.

19. Appreciating the World Around Me 

“I will embrace nature and all of its wonders. I will take the time to enjoy what cannot be bought and sold, but what gives us its beauty and utility every second of every day, unconditionally. I will appreciate the small things, and do my part to preserve the natural reserves that make life possible.”

If you enjoy nature and the simpler things in life, and see the environment as something that needs protecting, this may resonate with you. It incorporates both appreciation and action. Like some of the others, this purpose statement is also integral to mindfulness. There's an indirect sense of benevolence, too. Without the beauty and necessities of nature — like water, land to grow fruit and vegetables, and the many valuable things that only an ecosystem left intact can provide — human life cannot exist.

Final Thoughts on a Life Purpose

No two people have the exact same life purpose… even if they value the same things, like family, they may share different visions of how that life looks.

You can use this list of 19 life purpose examples as a springboard to launch your own journey towards finding your “why.”

While these are some of the most common themes that bring meaning to many people, that isn’t to say they are your true purpose.

Which ones stand out most to you?

Has a lightbulb of inspiration appeared over your head?

Have you thought about an interest or passion that could further enrich your life?

If so… follow that fire! Don’t let it burn out!

When you take the right steps, you can make big changes with daily choices in the right direction. With these life purpose examples, you can be well on your way to developing a life you're truly proud of.

Finally, if you want to increase your happiness and life satisfaction, then watch this free video that details the 7-minute habit for planning your day to focus on what's important .

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What Is Life Purpose?

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Your life purpose consists of the central motivating aims of your life—the reasons you get up in the morning.

Purpose can guide life decisions, influence behavior, shape goals, offer a sense of direction, and create meaning. For some people, purpose is connected to vocation—meaningful, satisfying work. For others, their purpose lies in their responsibilities to their family or friends. Others seek meaning through spirituality or religious beliefs. Some people may find their purpose clearly expressed in all these aspects of life.

Purpose will be unique for everyone; what you identify as your path may be different from others. What’s more , your purpose can actually shift and change throughout life in response to the evolving priorities and fluctuations of your own experiences.

Questions that may come up when you reflect upon your life purpose are:

  • Where do I belong?
  • When do I feel fulfilled ?

Each of us has a unique purpose

susan

I have a job as a legal aide, which is pretty interesting and pays fairly well. But my real love is music. I love to play my cello, and I practice a few hours a day. I especially love to perform for others and bring beauty to a special occasion, like a wedding.

Randall

A few years ago, my father was very sick in the hospital. I was so impressed by the nurses there and how they made such a difference to my father and our family that I decided that I wanted to have a job like that. So I went to nursing school, and now I work as an RN in a local clinic.

Jackie

I have always felt that my purpose is to take care of others. Now I have the opportunity to do that every day with my children.

Your life purpose is your contribution

Some people feel hesitant about pursuing their life purpose because they worry that it sounds like a self-serving or selfish quest. However, true purpose is about recognizing your own gifts and using them to contribute to the world—whether those gifts are playing beautiful music for others to enjoy, helping friends solve problems, or simply bringing more joy into the lives of those around you.

Richard Leider, a nationally-ranked coach and purpose expert, says that “genuine purpose points to the end of a self-absorbed, self-serving relationship to life.” When your authentic purpose becomes clear, you will be able to share it with the whole world.

The equation for purpose is G + P + V = P.

( gifts + passions + values = purpose)

Richard Leider

How life purpose evolves

Questions about life purpose may arise at any time in life, but you may notice that they are especially prevalent during times of transition or crisis—for example, a career or educational change, personal loss, or long-distance move. (Sharon Daloz Parks calls these events “life’s shipwrecks.”)

Our life can be seen as a nautilus that adds new chambers to its shell as it grows and needs more space. Likewise, as people grow into a different phase of life, their old chambers can feel cramped. They begin to ask what they can do to expand their space. 

Moving into new chambers opens up the way for new possibilities to emerge, allowing our life purpose to evolve. But this can also prompt physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual transitions and even sometimes a chaotic period as we begin to ask new questions.

This is the secret to a fully alive life: to reframe our life questions over and over.

As we do, at different stages of our lives, we find different questions and different possibilities.

Photo of little boy lies at home in bed hugging a toy bear with his bearded father reading fairytale book.

Try the Life Spiral Exercise

Viewing your life in a big-picture context can help you develop a better picture of where you came from and where you’d like to go. Use this exercise to see your whole story, from birth to death.

Print out the exercise.

Leider, R. (2010). A year of living purposefully. Living on Purpose. Retrieved from http://richardleiderblog.info/ .

Parks, S.D. (2011). Big questions, worthy dreams: Mentoring emerging adults in their search for meaning, purpose, and faith. New York: Jossey-Bass.

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The Meaning and Purpose of My Life, Essay Example

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In determining the meaning and purpose of my life, I believe that it must fulfill qualities within myself and cater to others.  That is, I believe that we must strive to be the best human beings that we are able to be, while contributing to society and being able to help others.  Purpose in my life is found in intertwining the needs of others from what I am able to do and share.

In regards to my life, I believe that I should remain optimistic and positive in all walks of my life.  While I will falter, this is something that is important and that I continue to strive after.  Using my talents and abilities to these ends is also important for me, so that I may be successful, accomplish my goals, and be able to contribute to those around me.

Ultimately serving others is essential.  It would be unethical or immoral to believe that I can find meaning or purpose in my life, if I am not making others’ lives easier and more meaningful as well.  Personally and through my work and other endeavors, I wish to be able to serve others’ needs and desires to be able to contribute to society.

I believe a large part of meaning in life is dynamic.  Here and now I don’t believe that I can summarize the meaning and purpose of my life, as this is ever changing and evolving according to the dimensions and experiences of my life.  Therefore, to a certain extent, I am still figuring out the purpose of my life.

Wherever life takes me, I believe it is vital nonetheless to hold on to certain high standards.  Making the best of myself and opportunities presented to me, I believe, is one important aspect of finding meaning in life.  Additionally, I see being able to share gifts and talents with others is crucial in living a meaningful life as well.  In these standards I hope to find the constantly changing meanings in my life and life experiences.

Personally I find Plato’s Theory of Forms and Allegory of the Cave particularly engaging.  These two concepts are very interesting to approach academically as well as in a personal light.  In this I have found a couple of ways that it has impacted the way I view reality and life in general.

Theory of Forms

One engaging aspect of the theory of forms is its dual meaning.  On one hand, according to Plato, the Theory of Forms is ontological.  However, on another, it is metaphorically and accurately true pertaining to knowledge and its pursuit.  In these two views the Theory of Forms has a number of implications.

I believe there are personal implications to the ontological view of the Theory of Forms.  For instance, when we are younger, we certainly ascribe to the concept of a “perfect person” and try to emulate it in some way.  Perhaps for some, like myself, this carries on into later stages of life as we try to be perfect, at least in beneficial ways.

In this manner, the Form can allow us to see something real, even if we do not believe in an ontological reality of something perfect existing.  For instance, perhaps there is not a perfect person or a perfect love, at least outside of religious contexts, yet people in all walks of life seem to hold on to the Form of something.  Why?  Even if it can only exist in our minds, it is certainly relevant, applicable, and positive for our lives.

In this manner the ontological reality of Plato’s form can be metaphorically applicable to one’s life.  One doesn’t have to hold that all things truly have a Form, a perfect construct of something.  Yet it can certainly hold meaning, even if it exists only in the mind.

From this I find the Theory of Forms enlightening in the pursuit of knowledge.  It is perfectly reasonable to hold the ideal of a concept or state of being in one’s mind.  It can certainly allow us to move forward and grow as a person.

Allegory of the Cave

Plato’s Allegory of the Cave also presents a number of interesting implications in one’s life.  It certainly provides those along the same lines of the Theory of Forms, as it is of course interrelated.  In regards to how it has changed my thinking, Plato’s Allegory of the Cave I believe has allowed me to appreciate the pursuit of knowledge more fully.

In regards to the essence of the Allegory of the Cave, in more practical terms we certainly find ourselves in limited knowledge at times.  At time we may only see the shadows of a situation, and are often led to wrong choices and observations at times in our life due to ignorance.  Quite simply, in keeping with philosophy in general and the Allegory of the Cave, we must realize the worth of knowledge and more accurately, wisdom.

To this end in itself the Allegory of the Cave is quite interesting.  I think we can all recall a difficult time in our lives, or a wrong decision that could have been made better with wisdom.  While this can be certainly made into a generalization if we perpetuate this line of logic furthermore, it serves as an example of why wisdom is important.

The Allegory serves as a lesson in times of insecurities.  Relative to personal and more general terms, we often find ourselves lost in certain situations.  For instance, one can find himself or herself lost with regards to politics, or the turmoil of a personal relationship.  Yet, in a sense, we often see the shadows of the situation.

In this we are called to realize our own limitations.  We must realize the place of true knowledge and wisdom, which is, as Plato expresses, not of this world.  In responding to personal and general situations, we must find true knowledge from within, and not necessarily in reaction to events in the temporal world.

I chose these two concepts from Plato as they certainly link to the meaning of one’s life.  In my life these two concepts, when applied, allow me to see the significance and purpose of my life.  When these are used the purpose of my life is better clarified.

The Theory of Forms represents the way in which I can strive to be a better person.  I hold to the ultimate concept of something, the Form.  In the Form, such as becoming the “perfect” version of myself, in regards to my goals and standards, I can adhere to some extent in this way.

The Allegory of the Cave also allows me to view the limitations of one’s knowledge.  As I develop my knowledge and wisdom in my life, a part of this involves knowing one’s limits.  We must, out of our own wisdom, realize that we lack it in some respects.  While this is certainly reminiscent of Plato’s “knowing that I know nothing at all,” I think this can hold true for all of us.  We must realize that we only see the shadows in life at times, and strive after the Form of what we are attaining.  That is how we are better able to clarify meaning and purpose in life, and certainly in my life.

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Home — Essay Samples — Philosophy — Meaning of Life — Finding the Purpose: Why is Life Important

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Finding The Purpose: Why Life is Important

  • Categories: Meaning of Life Purpose Trust

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10 min read

Published: Nov 26, 2019

Words: 1987 | Pages: 4 | 10 min read

Table of contents

Introduction, why life is important, works cited.

  • Burnet, C. (n.d.). Only I Can Change My Life. [Quote]. Retrieved from Goodreads website: https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/8938229-only-i-can-change-my-life-no-one-can-do
  • Keller, H. (n.d.). Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it. [Quote]. Retrieved from Goodreads website: https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/86764-although-the-world-is-full-of-suffering-it-is
  • Pele (n.d.). Success is no accident, it is perseverance, learning, sacrifice, and most of all loving what you're doing. [Quote].
  • Purpose Guide. (n.d.). The Importance of Finding Purpose in Life.
  • Purpose Fairy. (n.d.). 15 Powerful Lessons I've Learned from Life.
  • Segerstrom, S. C., & Vohs, K. D. (2009). Managing resources: Dual-task performance and resource allocation in normal adults. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 138(1), 101–126.
  • Seneca. (n.d.). Life is too important to be taken seriously. [Quote]. Retrieved from AZQuotes website: https://www.azquotes.com/quote/1136886
  • Silvia, P. J. (2006). Exploring the Psychology of Interest. Oxford University Press.
  • Wong, P. T. P. (2014). The Human Quest for Meaning: Theories, Research, and Applications (2nd ed.). Routledge.

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what is the purpose of life essay

Lifehack

Life Potential

How to find a sense of purpose to live a full life.

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A satisfactory life is a “full” life. To achieve a full life, you need to have the right sense of purpose. There’s no “one purpose fits all.” You have to first understand the true meaning of having a sense of purpose, its importance, and the way to find it.

Table of Contents

What is a sense of purpose, 1. incorporate the 5 whys, 2. listen to yourself, 3. meditate.

  • 4. Distinguish the Do's From Don’ts

Case Study: A Mom Who Has Lost Her Meaning Of Life After Her Sons Have Gone To the College

Re-evaluate your life, final thoughts.

A sense of purpose is whatever you believe in. It is your driving force, your motivation, and your guiding light to work towards a life that you think will satisfy you.

Your life’s purpose is very closely linked to your sense of purpose. The only difference is that you only have one purpose in your life. But a sense of purpose is different for all aspects of life. Although, they are all aligned.

Your sense of purpose is what pushes you to achieve your goals. It is completely personal to your lifestyle and preferences. It is what keeps you on the right track in all aspects of life. So, a clear purpose will help you plan your career goals effectively. Similarly, a different sense of purpose for your relationships will encourage you to maintain your relationships accordingly.

While keeping things coherent, different purposes in different aspects of life also maintain a clear distinction among them. If you have completely different work ethics than how you plan to be with your family, your defined purposes will help you maintain the line.

Your beliefs and values play a huge role in determining your sense of purpose as well. If you have clear values in the early stages of your life, you might have a clear sense of purpose at a young age. There is no age limit to when you find a purpose. Some people only get to it after most of their life has passed.

How to Find a Sense of Purpose?

To get the most out of your life and increase your potential, you need to start by finding a sense of purpose. It’s a process that is worth every minute you spend looking for it.

You need to start with a general purpose at first. This is a broader sense of direction for your life in general. A life purpose is what you need to define foremost. This will allow you to keep everything else aligned with this broad purpose for coherence in your life.

For example, if your general life purpose is to be more at peace, you’ll work in each aspect of life to find a calm outcome. You’ll want to have good relations with your family. Career-wise, you’ll want something that promotes your mental health instead of deteriorating it. A steady source of wealth will also be a vital part of your goals and hence, it will translate to your purpose as well.

After that, you tackle all life aspects one by one. Here are the life aspects that you should go through:

  • Physical Health
  • Relationships, Family, and Social Life
  • Work and Career
  • Wealth and Money
  • Spiritual Wellness
  • Mental Strength

aspects of life

In each of these aspects, you need to look beyond what’s apparent. To find the true purpose in each regard, you have to look for the hidden opportunities so that you can identify your true driving force.

After that, you should invest your time and energy in this direction to reap good results. To do so, you can implement the following methods that will ease the whole journey for you.

The 5 whys are a self-interrogatory technique. They play a very effective role when it comes to discovering your sense of purpose. The 5 whys ensure that whatever you end up finalizing is coherent with your intent.

With the help of the 5 whys, you can find all the answers that you’re looking for. The best part is that you’re the only one involved in the process so everything you end up finding out it 100% true to you. This is why it is a great method to use if you want to find a sense of purpose that will stick with you for life.

This technique will get you on track towards the direction where you’ll find your purpose. In fact, this is the step where you’ll do most of the work. The rest of the steps are just ways to strengthen what you’ve got in mind.

Your mind is very likely to tell you your purpose on its own. All you’ve got to do is listen to yourself. One easy way to do so is to consciously shift your focus to what’s on your mind.

Every morning when you wake up, what are the things that you think of first? Similarly, what are the thoughts that go through your mind before you go to sleep? Or when you randomly drift into a thinking spree during work?

All these thoughts are your mind’s way to communicate with you. Find what’s common in them to give yourself a direction to work in.

Meditation is not only a great way to organize your thoughts, but it is also a source of encouragement for your mind to define a sense of purpose. [1]

Even a 5-minute session squeezed in your morning or evening routine is enough. It gives your mind the space it needs to get your mental processes in order. Once that is done, you’ll find it way easier to understand them. Extracting meaning out of what seemed senseless previously will be a piece of cake with the help of meditation. However, you’ll have to be consistent.

4. Distinguish the Do’s From Don’ts

Sit down and make a list of what you want to do in life versus what you would never want to do. Be as broad or narrow as you want. Pinpoint all the details of everything you want to steer clear from. These are the things your purpose will be far in nature from. On the contrary, your sense of purpose will be closely related to the things that you are naturally inclined towards.

With a picture in mind of the dos and don’ts clarified, it will be easier for your mind to establish an idea that suits your life choices.

Melanie is a mom of two. She loves her family. In fact she loves it so much that she actually quit her full time job and dedicated her whole life to her family. She has two lovely sons. Everything seemed to go well until her sons went to the college. She suddenly felt empty as if something was missing in life. Doubting her meaning of life, she started to feel very upset. Her husband couldn’t really understand why she became so emotional, so they argued more often and their relationship suffered. Melanie has thought about picking up her painting hobby and doing something about it. But she also felt that she was too old to do so.

Seeking for help to get unstuck, she took our Life Assessment . Melanie realized that she had very low score for “Work & Career Prosperity.” It seemed that after her sons going to college, she experienced an Empty Nest Syndrome . To get unstuck from where she was, she had to rediscover her meaning for life.

She was really eager to change her life, so after taking the Life Assessment, she took a leap of faith and enrolled for Lifehack’s Full Life Framework Course to see what she could do to live a fulffiling life.

Through the first few sessions, Melanie realized that raising his sons was her only motivation for life over the past 20 years. This was why she doubted her meaning of life when her sons no longer needed her to take care of. She was encouraged to take up painting again to add back spark in her life. So she started to paint at home again. She even joined interest groups to meet more people who shared the same hobby as she did. Of course she still struggled when she just started to take up painting again — everything just didn’t look well on her paintaings. But with the new mindset she developed and the skillsets she learned throughout the Full Life Framework Course (and the support from her new friends), she got over the obstacles one by one.

I’ve learned that recently, Melanie has even started to teach the kids in her neighborhood to paint! With a more energetic life and a more positive attitude, her relationship with her husband has never been this good as well.

If you want to find out how well you’re doing with your life too, you can take our Life Assessment for free now!

How to Strengthen Your Sense of Purpose

If you follow these steps to find your sense of purpose, it will be strong enough to stay consistent for life. However, there is a chance that while your purpose was clear at first, you’ve been feeling lost now.

This isn’t something to fret over. The ups and downs in life can shake your circumstances and your purpose too. You can easily re-focus your perspective on your well-defined purpose. You can also find a new purpose that suits your new circumstances.

If it happens to be so, don’t feel like you’ve failed in life. It is alright if you lose your emphasis during challenging times.

Start with reminding yourself of the sense of purpose you were following previously. Think about it. Think of how it affected your life and decisions. This isn’t an easy thought process. It will take you days or even weeks to come to a conclusion.

You’ll have to go through your desired achievements, short-term and long-term goals, and most importantly, your past. Evaluate all these facts of your life.

Then, question yourself to find out if the same purpose still aligns with your life choices or not.

If the answer to the question is yes, your sense of purpose is perfectly fine. All that you need is some motivation to put it into practical implementation. You need to remind yourself of all the benefits of having a clear sense of purpose.

Everything that you achieved because of your sense of purpose, everything that you wish to achieve will serve as your source of motivation. You can even start to connect your purpose with your passion to achieve more: How To Connect Passion and Purpose For Fulfillment In Life

If you think your sense of purpose has done you no good or will no longer be of any use, you require a new sense of purpose. This is possible in case you went through major changes in life. Your sense of purpose can also get hazy if you failed to define a strong one initially.

Having a sense of purpose is a fool-proof way to a fully satisfactory life. It leads to ease in prioritization, strengthens morals and values, aligns all your life goals, and helps you stay focused. The clarity in life is only possible if you have your sense of purpose sorted.

So, get on with the process right away. You’ll have a sorted life in no time once you’re done with defining your purposes in all aspects of life!

Featured photo credit: Ilya Shishikhin via unsplash.com

[1]^Intentional Insights:

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Introduction to the Holocaust

  • Invasion of the Soviet Union, June 1941
  • Gay Men under the Nazi Regime
  • Paragraph 175 and the Nazi Campaign against Homosexuality
  • Lesbians under the Nazi Regime
  • Antisemitism
  • How Many People did the Nazis Murder?
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<p>Jews from <a href="/narrative/10727">Subcarpathian Rus</a> get off the deportation train and assemble on the ramp at the <a href="/narrative/3673">Auschwitz-Birkenau</a> killing center in occupied Poland. May 1944. </p>

The Holocaust was the systematic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of six million European Jews by the Nazi German regime and its allies and collaborators. The Holocaust was an evolving process that took place throughout Europe between 1933 and 1945.

Antisemitism was at the foundation of the Holocaust. Antisemitism, the hatred of or prejudice against Jews, was a basic tenet of Nazi ideology. This prejudice was also widespread throughout Europe.

Nazi Germany’s persecution of Jews evolved and became increasingly more radical between 1933 and 1945. This radicalization culminated in the mass murder of six million Jews.

During World War II, Nazi Germany and its allies and collaborators killed nearly two out of every three European Jews using deadly living conditions, brutal mistreatment, mass shootings and gassings, and specially designed killing centers.

  • Final Solution
  • Third Reich
  • World War II

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The Holocaust (1933–1945) was the systematic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of six million European Jews by the Nazi German regime and its allies and collaborators. 1 In addition to perpetrating the Holocaust, Nazi Germany also persecuted and murdered millions of other victims .  

What was the Holocaust? 

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum defines the years of the Holocaust as 1933–1945. The Holocaust era began in January 1933 when Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party came to power in Germany. It ended in May 1945, when the Allied Powers defeated Nazi Germany in World War II. The Holocaust is also sometimes referred to as “the Shoah,” the Hebrew word for “catastrophe.”

Boycott of Jewish-owned businesses

By the end of the Holocaust, the Nazi German regime and their allies and collaborators had murdered six million European Jews. 

Why did the Nazis target Jews?

The Nazis targeted Jews because the Nazis were radically antisemitic. This means that they were prejudiced against and hated Jews. In fact, antisemitism was a basic tenet of their ideology and at the foundation of their worldview. 

The Nazis falsely accused Jews of causing Germany’s social, economic, political, and cultural problems. In particular, they blamed them for Germany’s defeat in World War I (1914–1918). Some Germans were receptive to these Nazi claims. Anger over the loss of the war and the economic and political crises that followed contributed to increasing antisemitism in German society. The instability of Germany under the Weimar Republic (1918–1933), the fear of communism , and the economic shocks of the Great Depression also made many Germans more open to Nazi ideas, including antisemitism.

However, the Nazis did not invent antisemitism. Antisemitism is an old and widespread prejudice that has taken many forms throughout history. In Europe, it dates back to ancient times. In the Middle Ages (500–1400), prejudices against Jews were primarily based in early Christian belief and thought, particularly the myth that Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus. Suspicion and discrimination rooted in religious prejudices continued in early modern Europe (1400–1800). At that time, leaders in much of Christian Europe isolated Jews from most aspects of economic, social, and political life. This exclusion contributed to stereotypes of Jews as outsiders. As Europe became more secular, many places lifted most legal restrictions on Jews. This, however, did not mean the end of antisemitism. In addition to religious antisemitism, other types of antisemitism took hold in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries. These new forms included economic, nationalist, and racial antisemitism. In the 19th century, antisemites falsely claimed that Jews were responsible for many social and political ills in modern, industrial society. Theories of race, eugenics , and Social Darwinism falsely justified these hatreds. Nazi prejudice against Jews drew upon all of these elements, but especially racial antisemitism . Racial antisemitism is the discriminatory idea that Jews are a separate and inferior race. 

Chart with the title

Where did the Holocaust take place?

The Holocaust was a Nazi German initiative that took place throughout German- and Axis-controlled Europe. It affected nearly all of Europe’s Jewish population, which in 1933 numbered 9 million people. 

The Holocaust began in Germany after Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor in January 1933. Almost immediately, the Nazi German regime (which called itself the Third Reich ) excluded Jews from German economic, political, social, and cultural life. Throughout the 1930s, the regime increasingly pressured Jews to emigrate. 

But the Nazi persecution of Jews spread beyond Germany. Throughout the 1930s, Nazi Germany pursued an aggressive foreign policy . This culminated in World War II, which began in Europe in 1939. Prewar and wartime territorial expansion eventually brought millions more Jewish people under German control. 

Nazi Germany’s territorial expansion began in 1938–1939. During this time, Germany annexed neighboring Austria and the Sudetenland and occupied the Czech lands. On September 1, 1939, Nazi Germany began World War II (1939–1945) by attacking Poland . Over the next two years, Germany invaded and occupied much of Europe, including western parts of the Soviet Union . Nazi Germany further extended its control by forming alliances with the governments of Italy , Hungary , Romania , and Bulgaria . It also created puppet states in Slovakia and Croatia. Together these countries made up the European members of the Axis alliance , which also included Japan. 

By 1942—as a result of annexations, invasions, occupations, and alliances—Nazi Germany controlled most of Europe and parts of North Africa. Nazi control brought harsh policies and ultimately mass murder to Jewish civilians across Europe. 

The Nazis and their allies and collaborators murdered six million Jews.

Geography of the Holocaust

How did Nazi Germany and its allies and collaborators persecute Jewish people? 

Between 1933 and 1945, Nazi Germany and its allies and collaborators implemented a wide range of anti-Jewish policies and measures. These policies varied from place to place. Thus, not all Jews experienced the Holocaust in the same way. But in all instances, millions of people were persecuted simply because they were identified as Jewish. 

Throughout German-controlled and aligned territories, the persecution of Jews took a variety of forms:

  • Legal discrimination in the form of antisemitic laws . These included the Nuremberg Race Laws and numerous other discriminatory laws.
  • Various forms of public identification and exclusion. These included antisemitic propaganda , boycotts of Jewish-owned businesses , public humiliation , and obligatory markings (such as the Jewish star badge worn as an armband or on clothing). 
  • Organized violence. The most notable example is Kristallnacht . There were also isolated incidents and other pogroms (violent riots).
  • Physical Displacement. Perpetrators used forced emigration, resettlement, expulsion, deportation, and ghettoization to physically displace Jewish individuals and communities.
  • Internment. Perpetrators interned Jews in overcrowded ghettos , concentration camps , and forced-labor camps, where many died from starvation, disease, and other inhumane conditions.
  • Widespread theft and plunder. The confiscation of Jews’ property, personal belongings, and valuables was a key part of the Holocaust. 
  • Forced labor . Jews had to perform forced labor in service of the Axis war effort or for the enrichment of Nazi organizations, the military, and/or private businesses. 

Many Jews died as a result of these policies. But before 1941, the systematic mass murder of all Jews was not Nazi policy. Beginning in 1941, however, Nazi leaders decided to implement the mass murder of Europe’s Jews. They referred to this plan as the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question.” 

What was the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question”?

The Nazi “Final Solution to the Jewish Question” (“ Endlösung der Judenfrage ”) was the deliberate and systematic mass murder of European Jews. It was the last stage of the Holocaust and took place from 1941 to 1945. Though many Jews were killed before the "Final Solution" began, the vast majority of Jewish victims were murdered during this period.

Young girls pose in a yard in the town of Ejszyszki (Eishyshok)

Mass Shootings

The Nazi German regime perpetrated mass shootings of civilians on a scale never seen before. After Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, German units began to carry out mass shootings of local Jews. At first, these units targeted Jewish men of military age. But by August 1941, they had started massacring entire Jewish communities. These massacres were often conducted in broad daylight and in full view and earshot of local residents. 

Mass shooting operations took place in more than 1,500 cities, towns, and villages across eastern Europe. German units tasked with murdering the local Jewish population moved throughout the region committing horrific massacres. Typically, these units would enter a town and round up the Jewish civilians. They would then take the Jewish residents to the outskirts of the town. Next, they would force them to dig a mass grave or take them to mass graves prepared in advance. Finally, German forces and/or local auxiliary units would shoot all of the men, women, and children into these pits. Sometimes, these massacres involved the use of specially designed mobile gas vans. Perpetrators would use these vans to suffocate victims with carbon monoxide exhaust.

Germans also carried out mass shootings at killing sites in occupied eastern Europe. Typically these were located near large cities. These sites included Fort IX in Kovno (Kaunas), the Rumbula and Bikernieki Forests in Riga , and Maly Trostenets near Minsk . At these killing sites, Germans and local collaborators murdered tens of thousands of Jews from the Kovno, Riga, and Minsk ghettos. They also shot tens of thousands of German, Austrian, and Czech Jews at these killing sites. At Maly Trostenets, thousands of victims were also murdered in gas vans.

The German units that perpetrated the mass shootings in eastern Europe included Einsatzgruppen (special task forces of the SS and police), Order Police battalions, and Waffen-SS units. The German military ( Wehrmacht ) provided logistical support and manpower. Some Wehrmacht units also carried out massacres. In many places, local auxiliary units working with the SS and police participated in the mass shootings. These auxiliary units were made up of local civilian, military, and police officials.

As many as 2 million Jews were murdered in mass shootings or gas vans in territories seized from Soviet forces. 

Killing Centers

Photograph of Dawid Samoszul

German authorities, with the help of their allies and collaborators, transported Jews from across Europe to these killing centers. They disguised their intentions by calling the transports to the killing centers “resettlement actions” or “evacuation transports.” In English, they are often referred to as “deportations.” Most of these deportations took place by train. In order to efficiently transport Jews to the killing centers, German authorities used the extensive European railroad system , as well as other means of transportation. In many cases the railcars on the trains were freight cars; in other instances they were passenger cars. 

The conditions on deportation transports were horrific. German and collaborating local authorities forced Jews of all ages into overcrowded railcars. They often had to stand, sometimes for days, until the train reached its destination. The perpetrators deprived them of food, water, bathrooms, heat, and medical care. Jews frequently died en route from the inhumane conditions.

The vast majority of Jews deported to killing centers were gassed almost immediately after their arrival. Some Jews whom German officials believed to be healthy and strong enough were selected for forced labor. 

My mother ran over to me and grabbed me by the shoulders, and she told me "Leibele, I'm not going to see you no more. Take care of your brother."  — Leo Schneiderman  describing arrival at Auschwitz, selection, and separation from his family

At all five killing centers, German officials forced some Jewish prisoners to assist in the killing process. Among other tasks, these prisoners had to sort through victims’ belongings and remove victims’ bodies from the gas chambers. Special units disposed of the millions of corpses through mass burial, in burning pits, or by burning them in large, specially designed crematoria .

Nearly 2.7 million Jewish men, women, and children were murdered at the five killing centers. 

What were ghettos and why did German authorities create them during the Holocaust? 

Ghettos were areas of cities or towns where German occupiers forced Jews to live in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions. German authorities often enclosed these areas by building walls or other barriers. Guards prevented Jews from leaving without permission. Some ghettos existed for years, but others existed only for months, weeks, or even days as holding sites prior to deportation or murder. 

German officials first created ghettos in 1939–1940 in German-occupied Poland. The two largest were located in the occupied Polish cities of Warsaw and Lodz (Łódź). Beginning in June 1941, German officials also established them in newly conquered territories in eastern Europe following the German attack on the Soviet Union. German authorities and their allies and collaborators also established ghettos in other parts of Europe. Notably, in 1944, German and Hungarian authorities created temporary ghettos to centralize and control Jews prior to their deportation from Hungary. 

The Purpose of the Ghettos

German authorities originally established the ghettos to isolate and control the large local Jewish populations in occupied eastern Europe. Initially, they concentrated Jewish residents from within a city and the surrounding area or region. However, beginning in 1941, German officials also deported Jews from other parts of Europe (including Germany) to some of these ghettos. 

Jewish forced labor became a central feature of life in many ghettos. In theory, it was supposed to help pay for the administration of the ghetto as well as support the German war effort. Sometimes, factories and workshops were established nearby in order to exploit the imprisoned Jews for forced labor. The labor was often manual and grueling. 

Life in the Ghettos

Charlene Schiff describes conditions in the Horochow ghetto

Jews in the ghettos sought to maintain a sense of dignity and community. Schools, libraries, communal welfare services, and religious institutions provided some measure of connection among residents. Attempts to document life in the ghettos, such as the Oneg Shabbat archive and clandestine photography, are powerful examples of spiritual resistance . Many ghettos also had underground movements that carried out armed resistance. The most famous of these is the Warsaw ghetto uprising in 1943.    

Liquidating the Ghettos

Beginning in 1941–1942, Germans and their allies and collaborators murdered ghetto residents en masse and dissolved ghetto administrative structures. They called this process “liquidation.” It was part of the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question.” The majority of Jews in the ghettos were murdered either in mass shootings at nearby killing sites or after deportation to killing centers. Most of the killing centers were deliberately located near the large ghettos of German-occupied Poland or on easily-accessible railway routes. 

Who was responsible for carrying out the Holocaust and the Final Solution?

Many people were responsible for carrying out the Holocaust and the Final Solution. 

At the highest level, Adolf Hitler inspired, ordered, approved, and supported the genocide of Europe’s Jews. However, Hitler did not act alone. Nor did he lay out an exact plan for the implementation of the Final Solution. Other Nazi leaders were the ones who directly coordinated, planned, and implemented the mass murder. Among them were Hermann Göring , Heinrich Himmler , Reinhard Heydrich , and Adolf Eichmann . 

However, millions of Germans and other Europeans participated in the Holocaust. Without their involvement, the genocide of the Jewish people in Europe would not have been possible. Nazi leaders relied upon German institutions and organizations; other Axis powers; local bureaucracies and institutions; and individuals. 

German Institutions, Organizations, and Individuals

Adolf Hitler addresses an SA rally

As members of these institutions, countless German soldiers , policemen , civil servants , lawyers, judges , businessmen , engineers, and doctors and nurses chose to implement the regime’s policies. Ordinary Germans also participated in the Holocaust in a variety of ways. Some Germans cheered as Jews were beaten or humiliated. Others denounced Jews for disobeying racist laws and regulations. Many Germans bought, took, or looted their Jewish neighbors' belongings and property. These Germans’ participation in the Holocaust was motivated by enthusiasm, careerism, fear, greed, self-interest, antisemitism, and political ideals, among other factors. 

Non-German Governments and Institutions

Nazi Germany did not perpetrate the Holocaust alone. It relied on the help of its allies and collaborators. In this context, “allies” refers to Axis countries officially allied with Nazi Germany. “Collaborators” refers to regimes and organizations that cooperated with German authorities in an official or semi-official capacity. Nazi Germany’s allies and collaborators included:

  • The European Axis Powers and other collaborationist regimes (such as Vichy France ). These governments passed their own antisemitic legislation and cooperated with German goals.
  • German-backed local bureaucracies, especially local police forces. These organizations helped round up, intern, and deport Jews even in countries not allied with Germany, such as the Netherlands .
  • Local auxiliary units made up of military and police officials and civilians. These German-backed units participated in massacres of Jews in eastern Europe (often voluntarily). 

The terms “allies” and “collaborators” can also refer to individuals affiliated with these governments and organizations.

Individuals across Europe 

Throughout Europe, individuals who had no governmental or institutional affiliation and did not directly participate in murdering Jews also contributed to the Holocaust. 

One of the deadliest things that neighbors, acquaintances, colleagues, and even friends could do was denounce Jews to Nazi German authorities. An unknown number chose to do so. They revealed Jews’ hiding places, unmasked false Christian identities, and otherwise identified Jews to Nazi officials. In doing so, they brought about their deaths. These individuals’ motivations were wide-ranging: fear, self-interest, greed, revenge, antisemitism, and political and ideological beliefs.

Individuals also profited from the Holocaust. Non-Jews sometimes moved into Jews’ homes, took over Jewish-owned businesses, and stole Jews’ possessions and valuables. This was part of the widespread theft and plunder that accompanied the genocide. 

Most often individuals contributed to the Holocaust through inaction and indifference to the plight of their Jewish neighbors. Sometimes these individuals are called bystanders . 

Who were the other victims of Nazi persecution and mass murder?

The Holocaust specifically refers to the systematic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of six million Jews. However, there were also millions of other victims of Nazi persecution and murder . In the 1930s, the regime targeted a variety of alleged domestic enemies within German society. As the Nazis extended their reach during World War II, millions of other Europeans were also subjected to Nazi brutality. 

The Nazis classified Jews as the priority “enemy.” However, they also targeted other groups as threats to the health, unity, and security of the German people. The first group targeted by the Nazi regime consisted of political opponents . These included officials and members of other political parties and trade union activists. Political opponents also included people simply suspected of opposing or criticizing the Nazi regime. Political enemies were the first to be incarcerated in Nazi concentration camps . Jehovah’s Witnesses were also incarcerated in prisons and concentration camps. They were arrested because they refused to swear loyalty to the government or serve in the German military.

The Nazi regime also targeted Germans whose activities were deemed harmful to German society. These included men accused of homosexuality , persons accused of being professional or habitual criminals, and so-called asocials (such as people identified as vagabonds, beggars, prostitutes, pimps, and alcoholics). Tens of thousands of these victims were incarcerated in prisons and concentration camps. The regime also forcibly sterilized and persecuted Afro-Germans . 

People with disabilities were also victimized by the Nazi regime. Before World War II, Germans considered to have supposedly unhealthy hereditary conditions were forcibly sterilized. Once the war began, Nazi policy radicalized. People with disabilities, especially those living in institutions, were considered both a genetic and a financial burden on Germany. These people were targeted for murder in the so-called Euthanasia Program .

The Nazi regime employed extreme measures against groups considered to be racial, civilizational, or ideological enemies. This included Roma (Gypsies) , Poles (especially the Polish intelligentsia and elites), Soviet officials , and Soviet prisoners of war . The Nazis perpetrated mass murder against these groups.

How did the Holocaust end? 

Defeat of Nazi Germany, 1942-1945

But liberation did not bring closure. Many Holocaust survivors faced ongoing threats of violent antisemitism and displacement as they sought to build new lives. Many had lost family members, while others searched for years to locate missing parents, children, and siblings.

How did some Jews survive the Holocaust? 

Despite Nazi Germany’s efforts to murder all the Jews of Europe, some Jews survived the Holocaust. Survival took a variety of forms. But, in every case, survival was only possible because of an extraordinary confluence of circumstances, choices, help from others (both Jewish and non-Jewish), and sheer luck. 

Survival outside of German-Controlled Europe 

Some Jews survived the Holocaust by escaping German-controlled Europe. Before World War II began, hundreds of thousands of Jews emigrated from Nazi Germany despite significant immigration barriers. Those who immigrated to the United States, Great Britain, and other areas that remained beyond German control were safe from Nazi violence. Even after World War II began, some Jews managed to escape German-controlled Europe. For example, approximately 200,000 Polish Jews fled the German occupation of Poland. These Jews survived the war under harsh conditions after Soviet authorities deported them further east into the interior of the Soviet Union.

Survival in German-Controlled Europe

A smaller number of Jews survived inside German-controlled Europe. They often did so with the help of rescuers. Rescue efforts ranged from the isolated actions of individuals to organized networks, both small and large. Throughout Europe, there were non-Jews who took grave risks to help their Jewish neighbors, friends, and strangers survive. For example, they found hiding places for Jews, procured false papers that offered protective Christian identities, or provided them with food and supplies. Other Jews survived as members of partisan resistance movements . Finally, some Jews managed, against enormous odds, to survive imprisonment in concentration camps, ghettos, and even killing centers. 

Displaced persons wait

In the aftermath of the Holocaust, those Jews who survived were often confronted with the traumatic reality of having lost their entire families and communities. Some were able to go home and chose to rebuild their lives in Europe. Many others were afraid to do so because of postwar violence and antisemitism . In the immediate postwar period, those who could not or would not return home often found themselves living in displaced persons camps . There, many had to wait years before they were able to immigrate to new homes.

In the aftermath of the Holocaust, the world has struggled to come to terms with the horrors of the genocide, to remember the victims, and to hold perpetrators responsible . These important efforts remain ongoing.

Series: After the Holocaust

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Liberation of Nazi Camps

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The Aftermath of the Holocaust: Effects on Survivors

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Displaced Persons

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About Life after the Holocaust

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Postwar Trials

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What is Genocide?

Genocide timeline, series: the holocaust.

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"Final Solution": Overview

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Forced Labor: An Overview

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Mass Shootings of Jews during the Holocaust

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Gassing Operations

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Deportations to Killing Centers

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Killing Centers: An Overview

Switch series, critical thinking questions.

What can we learn from the massive size and scope of the Holocaust?

Across Europe, the Nazis found countless willing helpers who collaborated or were complicit in their crimes. What motives and pressures led so many individuals to persecute, to murder, or to abandon their fellow human beings?

Were there warning signs of what was to come before the Nazis came to power in 1933? Before the start of mass killing in 1941?

In this context, “allies” refers to Axis countries officially allied with Nazi Germany. “Collaborators” refers to regimes and organizations that cooperated with German authorities in an official or semi-official capacity. These German-backed collaborators included some local police forces, bureaucracies, and paramilitary units. The terms “allies” and “collaborators” can also refer to individuals affiliated with these governments and organizations.

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