I’m sure many others have struggled with this concept. After all, it’s something humankind has struggled with for millennia. Since my site and my blog deals with The Lifequest and “how to CHANGE MY LIFE ” why not take a crack at the ultimate issue in how to change – WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LIFE?
Meaning and the Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything – I got to thinking that, dealing with an issue like this is almost like the question raised in the book THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY. A question was posed to a supercomputer named “Deep Thought” as“What is the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything?”Deep Thought, after considering and calculating for 7.5 million years, responded with the answer: 42. This did not sit well with the population?
Now, lest you think there’s no “meaning” behind the number 42, please allow me to digress for just a moment. The answer may seem silly and insignificant at first glance, but, consider the following:
In Science, it is the atomic number of molybdenum. Not earthshaking but, consider that it is the critical angle, rounded to whole degrees for which a rainbow appears. In 1966, a mathematician named Paul Cooper theorized that the fastest, most efficient way to travel across continents would be to bore a straight hollow tube directly through the earth connecting a set of antipodes, remove the air from the tube and fall through. This is known as the “gravity train” and would take exactly 42 minutes. (Lewis Carroll proposed the same idea in 1893 in Sylvie and Bruno Concluded.)
WHAT IS THE MEANING OF “42?” – In Japanese culture, the number 42 is considered unlucky because the numerals, when pronounced separately — shi no (four two) — sound like the phrase, “unto death.”
There are 42 principles of Ma’at, the Ancient Egyptian personification of physical and moral law, order, and truth. 42 is the number with which God creates the Universe in Kabbalistic tradition. The number 42 is the number of generations in the Gospel of Matthew’s version of the Genealogy of Jesus.
In Judaism – the Babylonian Talmud – the “Forty-Two Lettered Name” was ascribed to God.
The Gutenberg Bible is also known as the “42-line Bible, as the book contained 42 lines per page.
The Sutra of 42 Sections is a Buddhist scripture.
Lewis Carroll, who was a mathematician, made repeated use of the number in his writings.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland had 42 illustrations; the White Queen announces her age as “one hundred and one, five months and a day.” Assuming the Red Queen and the White Queen are the same age, that would make their combined age 74,088 days, which is 42 x 42 x 42!
There are many examples from Music, TV and film and video games that we will not go into here.
In sports, Jackie Robinson’s number was 42 (there’s even a movie about him called that). Many great sports figures whose jerseys have been retired are 42, including James Worthy, Ronnie Lott, Sid Luckman, Pat Tillman, Bruce Sutter.
It’s the number of spots on a pair of standard six-sided dice; the number of “eyes” in a standard deck of playing cards; the number of gallons in a barrel of oil; the number of territories in the board game Risk. And on and on.
Deep Thought may actually have been on to something. Taken together, one might conclude that 42 really is the answer to life, the universe, and everything.
Of course, what was missing from this answer, according to Deep Thought, was, well, in the words of Deep thought, “I don’t think you asked the right question.”
Are You Asking the Right Question About the Meaning of Life?
This presented a real conundrum. And so they set about to find the ultimate question to life, the universe, and everything. The Mice, who were placed on earth to train humans in the scientific method, raised a lot of potential questions, such as:
Are we stronger than the elements?
What’s yellow and dangerous?
What do you get when you multiply 6 by 9?
How many Vogons does it take to change a lightbulb?
How many roads does a man walk down?
The Mice eventually chose the last question.
The protagonists in the story, however, were not satisfied with that question and, eventually, selected a question by randomly pulling Scrabble tiles out of a bag which formed the question, “What do you get if you multiply 6 times 9?”
Curiously, it was one of the exact questions the Mice listed.
Now, again, lest you think this is not relevant to our story, consider that 6 x 9, in Base 13 math equals 42! (To which Douglas Adams responded, “I don’t make jokes in Base 13!”)
So, what in God’s name, you’re thinking, does any of this have to do with “meaning?” And I say, in a very round-about way, everything. The difficulty, as is the original question posed in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy…is the question.
We most often hear the question asked, “What is the meaning of life?” or its corollary, “What is the purpose of life?”
To really answer that question, I believe we have to make just a slight modification in the wording.
Change the Question Slightly – Meaning IN Life!
Michael Steger, a well-known psychologist who studies the question of “meaning” thinks that asking “What’s the meaning of life ” is also the wrong way to look at it. Instead, he, too thinks the question should be posed as “What is the meaning in life?” and “What is the purpose in life?”
The former “of,” as posed by Jonathan Haidt in his magnificent book, “The Happiness Hypothesis,” more nearly relates to “What is the purpose for which human beings were placed on earth?” The answer to which we can never know, but must be either that you believe in a god who had something to do with it or it all just happened by matter and energy interacting with the physical laws of the universe.
But, when we ask the meaning or the purpose “in” life, we are asking, again, from Haidt, “How ought I to live?” “What should I do to have a good, happy, fulfilling, and meaningful life?”
We then can look for a set of guiding principles, a set of goals, a set of values that “can guide our actions and give our choices in life meaning.”
It reminds me of another scene, taken from Monty Python’s “Meaning of Life,” in the closing scene, the answer to the question is read by Michael Palin, who says: “Try to be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book now and then, get some walking in, and try to live in harmony with people of all creeds and nations.”
Shallow, in relation to the issue but, still, not bad advice.
So, the question remains for you, “What is the meaning of your life?” or is it “What is the meaning in your life?” What is the purpose of your life?” or is it “What is the purpose in your life?”
Which are you better off trying to answer?
Please Explore this Question a Little More…
MEANING IN LIFE QUESTIONNAIRE (MLQ)
Please take a moment to think about what makes your life and existence feel important and significant to you. Please respond to the following statements as truthfully and accurately as you can, and also please remember that these are very subjective questions and that there are no right or wrong answers.
WHAT THE MEANING IN LIFE QUESTIONNAIRE MEASURES:
The Meaning in Life Questionnaire (by Michael Steger – see below) assesses two dimensions of meaning in life using 10 items rated on a seven-point scale from “Absolutely True” to “Absolutely Untrue.” The Presence of Meaning subscale measures how full respondents feel their lives are of meaning. The Search for Meaning subscale measures how engaged and motivated respondents are in efforts to find meaning or deepen their understanding of meaning in their lives.
Please answer according to the scale below:
1. I understand my life’s meaning. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
2. I am looking for something that makes my life feel meaningful. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
3. I am always looking to find my life’s purpose. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
4. My life has a clear sense of purpose. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
5. I have a good sense of what makes my life meaningful. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
6. I have discovered a satisfying life purpose. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
7. I am always searching for something that makes my life feel significant. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8. I am seeking a purpose or mission for my life. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
9. My life has no clear purpose. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
10. I am searching for meaning in my life. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Create Presence and Search subscales:
Presence = 1, 4, 5, 6, & 9-reverse-coded
Search = 2, 3, 7, 8, & 10
If you’re interested in other brief assessments of meaning, purpose, and happiness, you can visit the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania. Go here:
If you’d like a more in depth assessment of “meaning” and would also like to contribute to a scientific study of “meaning,” please visit Dr. Michael Steger’s web site at Colorado State University.
Or follow him on line and learn more about the scientific study of “meaning.”
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