I have a hunch that everybody out there has asked the question “What is the meaning of life?” at least once or twice. And, if you’re like me and getting close to that dreaded midlife crisis age, you’re probably asking this question more often than not.
As I was pondering this question the other week, I started thinking about that one way to look at a problem or question is to determine what the solution is NOT. It’s called the process of elimination…
I decided that it would be fun to explore what the meaning of life is NOT and perhaps glean some insights from that.
Collecting Lots of Stuff is NOT the Meaning of Life
If aliens were to observe us living in the “developed” countries (especially the US), they would probably come to the conclusion that malls are our temples and stuff is our god. We are a nation of consumers. The average credit card debt per household (that has a credit card) is over $15,000. We are buying stuff we don’t need with money we don’t have with the hope that it will make us happy. Yet, according to Your Money or Your Life, we are not happier.
The key to starting your simple living journey is to declutter your life. Go room by room, closet by closet, drawer by drawer and get rid of the things you don’t need or use. Donate or toss. Declutter one room at a time. Not all at once. Finally, make the decision to buy only things you need. Simple enough. You will feel lighter and start to have more time for things that matter.
Saying Yes! to Everybody is NOT the Meaning of Life
If you’re like me, you like to be involved. You feel like every evening should be taken up with some activity. Or at least that’s how I used to feel. I also had a lot of trouble saying no when people asked me to help out with this or participate in that. (I still have trouble with this sometimes…) However, you are only one person with one life to live. Shouldn’t you spend your time on the things that truly matter?
Make a list of the things you love. For example, here are some of the items from my “Things I Love” list:
- Running/working out
- Hanging out
- Helping people get basic necessities
- Learning about ways to protect the environment/sustainability
- Bringing order to chaos
When asked to do something, determine if it gels with your “Things I Love” list. If not, don’t do it. Focus on the things that bring you joy and contributes to a better world.
Climbing the Career Ladder is NOT the Meaning of Life
How many movies have you watched where one of the main characters is an over-worked career person who eventually sees the light and is reformed to view work as one part of life, not life itself? I can think of a few of the top of my head: Elf, Click, Keeping the Faith. The reason this is a common theme in Hollywood is because it’s the prevalent lifestyle in middle- to upper-class America. We have more conveniences and time-saving devices than any other time in history, yet we work more hours and have more stress-related illnesses.
It’s not that I’m opposed to hard work and dedication to your job. Quite the opposite (I am all about being passionate about your job). However, you can’t let the quest for climbing to the top take over your life and make you forget the other items on your “Things I Love” list. Work is one aspect of who you are. It doesn’t define you. When people die, we don’t remember the titles they held during their career. Rather, we remember their laugh, the way they touched our lives, and their contributions to the community.
Sitting in Front of a Screen is NOT the Meaning of Life
According to various Internet sources, teenagers spend an average of 7.5 hours in front of screens. Daily! That’s a lot of time NOT hanging out with friends, reading, running, playing, discovering, exploring in the woods, singing, performing in a play, and studying… This scares me.
If I have a pet peeve, it’s excessive television watching. I can’t think of a bigger waste of one’s life (except maybe excessive commuting) than watching TV. Sure, I watch TV (I happen to be a Gleek…), but it’s not my main leisure activity. As a society, we have turned inward, toward the screen, rather than going outside to chat with neighbors or have friends over for a casual dinner.
Computers and handheld devices have added to our screen time. Now Facebook threatens to be the next big addiction. I wouldn’t be surprised to see 12-step programs cropping up for social media addicts in the near future. I find myself being drawn to checking Facebook several times per day. I have even installed a Chrome plugin called StayFocused to help me limit my Facebook time. Because being on Facebook is NOT the meaning of life.
Insights Into the Meaning of Life
I see some patterns from this analysis of what the meaning of life is NOT. The meaning of life seems to be related to that which is not material and fake. It also seems to be related to that which is not selfish, inward-focused or busy.
People, animals, food, innovation, mindfulness, creativity, nature, spirituality, togetherness, sharing, stillness, learning, aesthetics, community, and caring. These are the things that matter.
How you put these different pieces together is up to you. You’re in charge of your life and making the most of it. Just remember what the meaning of life is NOT, and you’ll be well on your way to living a rich, meaningful life.