What does life mean?

Erica - Unionville, Connecticut
Entered on May 5, 2008
Age Group: 18 - 30
Themes: question
  • Podcasts

    Sign up for our free, weekly podcast of featured essays. You can download recent episodes individually, or subscribe to automatically receive each podcast. Learn more.

  • FAQ

    Frequently asked questions about the This I Believe project, educational opportunities and more...

  • Top Essays USB Drive

    This USB drive contains 100 of the top This I Believe audio broadcasts of the last ten years, plus some favorites from Edward R. Murrow's radio series of the 1950s. It's perfect for personal or classroom use! Click here to learn more.

I believe in discovering one’s personal meaning out of life.

Existentialism has hit a chord in me since I finished reading Albert Camus’s The Stranger (the French L’Étranger) and The Myth of Sisyphus when I was seventeen. The idea that Sisyphus- a man forever condemned to push a rock up a mountain then watch it roll back down every time- could find contentment in his absurd life fascinated me. And if he could avoid misery using some form of self-control, why can’t anyone with a difficult life do the same?

It was fall of my senior year when my madness began. As the unruly stack of homework and college applications grew steadily on the corner of my desk, I suddenly had the urge to light it all on fire. In between bouts of anger and frustration for all the work ahead of me, I asked myself, why do I have to meet and exceed society’s expectations? If I treat others with the utmost respect as is deserved, I should be able to live my life doing what I want, how I want. And if they don’t like it, they can linger in the distress that I’ve abandoned out of their own free will to do so.

In a world where so many people are deathly ill or imprisoned (more often mental imprisonment) or leading lives that make it hard to wake up each morning with a smile, it doesn’t seem like we are any closer to finding a universal “meaning of life.” A more viable philosophy just may be “to each his own.”

I’m not in any way encouraging narcissism. I simply believe in the freedom to embrace everything life hasn’t taken away. To wallow in one’s own misery is pointless and a waste of time. To drown in a sea of shame, fear and hate is not how I wish for my life to end.

While still being respectful and honoring others’ rights, I am going to live my life on my own terms. I challenge everyone to set their own expectations for themselves and work to meet them, while simultaneously evaluating their own efforts.

Society today offers no excuses for the struggling. We are taught from the moment we are born how to become “successful”. Make a lot of money, have a family, be educated and politically correct. Each person is put through the system and as the societal machine sputters along, it manufactures all kinds of people. Never in this process however, are we handed the meaning of life itself. That is a quest all our own; its boundaries are infinite. That is where hope is found and happiness is achieved- in our individual journeys for meaning.

I do want to spend my life making positive differences in the world and in others’ lives. Not because it is “the right thing to do” or because it will insure my place in heaven, or because I want to be known as a good person. That is simply the path I have chosen for myself. To follow it will bring me the most happiness- and happiness is what I am striving for.

How do you know if you will be happy? Some might question. I propose that we are each in full control of our own emotions. We choose to feel happy or angry, and we choose how we let those emotions affect our lives.

I refuse to live my life asleep. To be fully awake is to step back, examine ourselves, and train our minds to be amazed each day at the wonder of the world around us.

So what does life mean?

You tell me.