Meaning of Life, Purpose of Living
The diamond cannot be polished without friction, nor the person perfected without trials. Chinese proverb
Strange is our situation here upon earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to a divine purpose… Many times a day, I realize how much my outer and inner life is built upon the labors of people, both living and dead, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I have received. Albert Einstein
We know we can’t take our possessions with us when we die, that materialism doesn’t bring soul satisfaction. Every generation of young people has asked questions about why we’re here, the nature of the creation, and what happens after death. SpeakOut respondents are no exception. Teens are more likely to ask about these philosophical questions than younger kids and girls than boys.
Some young people don’t see a deeper meaning:
What is the point of human life? If there is a God, did he just put us there for his amusement? We are born, get educated, be as happy as possible, and die. And any impact we make on future generations seems just as fruitless because they aren’t going to do anything different. Born, live, die. Is there anything else?
Rachel, 14, f, Pennsylvania
Just like nature evolves, so does the human spirit. We also appreciate and enjoy the creation. Water, carbon, and sunlight are needed to generate life, but I think there’s also a creative Intelligence behind it. Hindus and Buddhists say there are cycles of creation and destruction. A similar idea is developed in a book by Ervin Laszlo called Science and the Akashic Field. The purpose of life is evolution, to develop our potential and enjoy the process. Humans are making progress in some areas, such as increasing awareness of women’s rights to equality or the injustice of child labor or the recognition we’re responsible for global warming and pollution.
A short video teaches in “10 Rules for Being Human” that life is about learning lessons—there are no mistakes. Challenges are repeated until they’re learned. Other people are mirrors for your issues. To learn how to cope with your challenges, look within and listen to your intuition.
Life was meant to be a mystery or else we would be born with the answers. Deanna, 15, Quebec
Do you think that the way the world is falling down is destiny or it is the mistake of mankind? Anas, 15, m, Pakistan
Is it worth having fun and dying young or being cautious and dying of old age? Skipper, 15, m, Quebec
In the end is it worth it? We go through so much pain and suffer and in the end we die. Is it better to party up, be crazy and vagrant, or is it better to be study, go to college and be stuck paying debt, working 9 to 5, etc.?
Sara, 15, f, North Carolina
Partying gets old and isn’t fulfilling, based on a chemical high followed by a downer. Some jobs are enjoyable, so I think you can combine work and play. Learning at university and meeting new people is fun, as is a job where you’re learning and providing service.
How do you know what you’re supposed to do with your life? How will you know what God wants? Sometimes it just seems so meaningless. I go to school. I go to the mall. I go hang out with friends. I do homework. What does it all add up to? I’ll die eventually. Is all of this just for entertainment? I mean, what do you get a job for? Why do we do what we do in everyday life? Is there any reward that we’re working towards? Mavo, 15, f, Minnesota
What is the point in life as when you work hard and study for all your life, you’re then old and then you die and you don’t have the youth and the incentive to go and enjoy yourself anymore? Teri, 16, f, United Kingdom
I can’t answer why I’m in the world. I guess I was luck to be born. I live for me, for my life. There are so many things that are not fair in the world. Many good people that deserve to be happy or should get more out of life suffer. Many people who have excess amounts of everything don’t appreciate what they have and have no idea how well off they are. Marina, 17, f, Germany
After much contemplation, I’ve concluded that life is without purpose. The best we can do is make life worthwhile by enjoying it. If your circumstances make you unable to enjoy life, you’re screwed and I would understand if you wanted to take yourself out. Badeiaa, 18, f, Israel
What is the most important thing in life? Reika, 17, f, Japan
To be true to your principles and become all you can be. Author Deepak Chopra, MD, suggests asking yourself these questions to help you define your values and purposes, implying that one of our purposes is to help others:
What is my principal life focus?
What have I felt when I have had a peak experience (transcendental moment or epiphany)?
What contribution do I want to make in my life to my community and the world?
Who are my heroes and heroines in history, religion, and philosophy? (Try to name five)
What are the qualities I most admire in these heroes and heroines?
What is the principal quality I look for in a good friend?
What are my unique skills and talents?
What are the best qualities I possess in my personal relations?
How might I best put these skills and qualities into service for a peaceful, just and sustainable world?
I am here on earth still searching the answer from my own question, “What for I live?” Until I get the answer, maybe I will say, “I want to live on earth just for see how beautiful the earth is,” and I am sure all questions be there in myself. Search, wait, and see. The answer will be come. Nurinda, 16, f, Indonesia
The meaning of life is to stay alive and pro-create. I think of humans more as animals rather than owners of the planet. We try to make our race survive and our communities flourish. Once we’re wealthy enough to survive easily, we spend our time keeping ourselves comfortable and occupied so that we don’t have to worry about our purpose or why we exist. I don’t fit god in the equation as an almighty power that humans should serve. I believe religion is something people imagine so that they can envision themselves as still alive after they die. I don’t think there is a divine plan we all fall under; we don’t have purpose; we just are. Zamboni, 17, m, Minnesota
I don’t know why I must be here; sometimes I feel I’m just a useless human, filling this earth without any use. Riza, 17, f, Indonesia
Shamans, philosophers, prophets, and theologians have been trying to figure out the meaning of life since ancient times. The “ah ha” insight for me was reading Huston Smith’s book The Religions of Man when I was in high school and also, later, learning about science. If you study a single human cell, the complexity and intelligence is awe-inspiring, the way DNA replicates and the quality checks on accuracy, the way cell receptors check on informational substances trying to enter the cell, the transport of parts of the cell as they move around doing their work, and so on. To me, this suggests a higher intelligence that loves to create and to teach us how to create as well. So one of the purposes of life is to get smarter, more creative, and more in love with the creation, including yourself.
How do we really know we exist, and it’s not all a dream?
Piggytron, 18, f, California
“Am I a man dreaming I’m a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming I’m a man?” This question was asked by Chuang-tzu, an early Chinese Taoist master after he woke up from a dream. It can be answered by saying both realities exist. Life is a kind of dream. The Matrix movie series and the DVD What The Bleep Do We Know? explore this idea of our perception of reality being an illusion, just as Plato and the Buddha did much earlier in Greece and India. Albert Einstein said imagination encircles our planet, as the next level of consciousness itself. Imagination feeds and is greater than knowledge, he believed. So, it’s good to dream as well as to be logical. The painter Andrew Wyeth said, “I dream a lot. I do more painting when I’m not painting.”
Some young people think God provides meaning:
I’m here on earth because the god felt lonely and the world was too plain.
Glory, 9, f, Thailand
I was born in the earth created by God and my purpose is I want to amuse all people and also want to be success people. Anugrah, 15, m, Indonesia
I’m here on earth to serve the Lord Almighty. My purpose is to live a spiritual life, have a better future, help the needy and change the world. ?, f, 16, Kenya
God send us here for examination; we came here to see what can we do on the earth or which kind of things we can make and detect. Ihsan, 16, m, Afghanistan
I’m here because my father and my mother and my Lord desire to make me available. If not, I wouldn’t be here. My purpose is to do lot of things before I die (with some conditions that permitted by my religion). Nurinda, 16, f, Indonesia
According to Islam, there are 124,000 messengers. We have a belief that Muhammad is God’s last messenger and there will be no messenger coming to us till the end of life. So the responsibility lies on us to spread our religion peacefully. That is why we are here in this world.
Just look at it this way, this life is a test for us. It’s like an examination hall. Every single step is like a subject. Every good deed is like a plus point and every bad deed is like a minus point. We have angels with us that are appointed by God to write our good and bad deeds. We die because we have to go to back where we came from and get our grade sheets. We have to face eternity. People with good grade sheets will go to heaven and will live happily in it forever. People with bad ones will go to hell and will get punishment for their bad deeds. Now, it’s common sense. We are here to be good and spread goodness. Be noble, respectful and nice to your parents. Listen to them and love them. In the end, you will end up together. I hope all of my family lives together in Heaven.
Hassan, 17, m, Pakistan
I would like to keep my eyes healthy and bright and beautiful, to let my glasses see God. Loi Yinhui, 20, f, China
Some think life’s meaning is to do good.
I think I’m here to make my parents happy, and to do important and good works so that I can be remembered by everybody even when I’m dead. Another purpose is to make the earth heaven by removing unnecessary evils, such as the trafficking in girls. Barsha, 15, f, Nepal
To help poor and needy people and receive love and blessings from them. My purpose is to gain name and fame and reward from people. I would like to make a water supply to villages and nutrition and electricity. Springy, 15, m, India
I think I’m here on earth to make the people on earth unite and help each other in loving grand care so there will be no violence. Nara, 15, m, Indonesia
I am living on earth to make this place like heaven with my hard labor.
Susmita, 16, f, Nepal
I think I am a visitor [on earth]. I have a mission, but like everyone, I don’t know what it is. I think that after death we will know our mission on earth. That’s why I try to do a lot of good works. Dadash, 16, m, Azerbaijan
I’m here on earth to continue with God’s creation by implementing new things in my daily life. ?, f, 16, Kenya
Note: Kenyan students often mentioned God or Allah. Religion is part of the national curriculum and questions on it included in the national exam.
I think my main purpose is to make other people feel better, to make their life better or fill some specific target in their lives and then go. That’s what I think about everyone in my life–that they are here to make my life better, fill some specific target or teach me a lesson about life, and then go.
Aviram, 16, m, Israel
I’m gonna pick up those pieces which are forgotten and broken by careless people then make them whole again. I’ll be someone who can heal this world. Avina, 17, f, Indonesia
Allah gave me a life. I will be a leader. Miftahul, 17, m, Indonesia
The reason why we are here on earth is to give as much warmth, positive feeling and energy as we can and certainly receive it all back.
Giorgi, 17, m, Georgia (the country)
You should ask my parents why they born me, and I think the answer is that they need me, so I come to this world. Because they love me very much, I grow up healthy. So I live in this world to bring happiness to my parents, to make them feel happy, satisfied, proud and delighted. Dalang, 17, m, rural China
[The rural students from various western provinces often agreed that their purpose in life is to care for their parents and country.]
“Hearing about youth like these makes me feel that there is still hope for a better world,” adds Shehroz from Pakistan.
Some think they’re here to enjoy and love life.
I’m here to have a gorgeous life. Marie-Desiree, 9, f, Chad
Life is a big journey. Rizka, 16, f, Indonesia
Why is life so complicated? Raina, 16, f, Lanai, Hawaii
Shehoz believes, “If life was not complicated, it would have been monotonous. Complications, hurdles and challenges are all that make life spicy and worth living.
I would like to change my thinking towards the materialistic world and my attitude. I am here to experience happiness and sorrow, to be happy and love nature. Also, to enhance peace, prosperity and harmony. Sabin, 17, m, Bhutan
I am sure that everybody has come on earth for some reason, to do something special in his/her life. But understanding what this thing actually is can be difficult. I think that one day I will find out why I am here on earth, but now I just follow my chosen path and enjoy every pleasant moment! Marina, 18, f, Bulgaria
I am sure that everybody has come on earth for some reason to do something special in his/her life. But understanding what this thing actually is can be difficult. I think that one day I will find out why I am here on earth, but now I will just follow my chosen path and enjoy every pleasant moment! Marina, 18, f, Indonesia
My purpose is to love and to be loved. Dessy, 18, f, Bulgaria
My purpose is to evolve and develop self. God is energy, which started everything and keeps it going; it’s all connected. Joao, 19, m, Brazil
Personal Purpose and Values
What do young people value and want? Materialist values focus on economic and physical security, while, according to Ronald Inglehart’s theory, Postmaterialist values focus on freedom, self-expression, and quality of life. Young people are more likely to be in the latter camp, which is therefore the future value system. An AIESCE (global college student organization) report describes the play between local and global values:
Young people are absorbing new ideas, values, beliefs and codes through the connected world, mass media and new information technologies; but they are also growing up with the traditional cultural values of their own societies. This blending of local and globalized cultures may become more like a collision, with accompanying tensions and challenges. Exposure to new information has both positive and negative sides. With very little opportunity to find out about sexual and reproductive health through their families or at school, for example, young people get information through the Internet, often from their peers. Although this is better than no information at all, young people may come to believe rumors, myths or “urban legends.” Some people feel that unfiltered information acquired from the Internet leads to conflict with traditional values. The tension between local and globalized values is clearer in regard to sexual and reproductive health than with many other social issues. But despite the global media’s impulse to uniformity, there are still wide differences among regions and countries in patterns of marriage, sexuality and reproduction. Local values are still the determinants of attitudes and practice. . .. Given the opportunity, young people can be highly effective as builders of peace, as participants in civil society; as bearers of new ideas, and as mediators between cultural tradition and cultural change.
A survey of 17,000 young people (aged 16 to 29 in 17 countries) reported for developed countries, as in Italy, entry into adulthood is delayed by more time in studies and difficulty finding jobs. Youth expect work should not just be a way to earn money but also give meaning to life. They want a good job with a high salary—especially the males, and also want work that allows for flexibility and balance with home life.
Young women are more interested in the quality of work and more family-oriented. But both genders value family a lot, as a personal resource and source of affection. Young people desire independence and many Northern Europeans view the individual as the basic unit of society rather than the family; 47% of Europeans view the family as the foundation, compared to 62% of Americans. Friends provide a very important source of identity, as well as family. When asked what a good life means to them, most young people said it consists of having a family and children, feeling needed, spending time with friends, and having an exciting and meaningful job. Material goals like having a lot of money were only cited as important by about 30%.
A report for the United Nations referred to a 1996 poll of 25,000 middle-class high school students from five continents, which found them to be more similar than different. Personal achievement and a desire “to make something of themselves” was valued by 80% of the world’s youth, and they also valued family. Young people in developing nations worried more about crime and the environment, while those in industrialized nations worried the future of the world and tended to reject “the old way of doing things.”
A commentator on an Israeli survey of youth, a member of the Knesset (parliament), Tzipi Livni worried that, “We are witnessing an erosion of values amongst the youth.” The Chairman of the Knesset’s Education Committee, Zevulon Orlev, stated: “This distressing information illustrates the education system has neglected its responsibility in teaching students about human and Zionist values, Judaism, and democracy.” But perhaps adult values are simply different than young Israelis, as only 2% of them believe the government is the most trustworthy institution, while 35% believe the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) is the most trustworthy. Other findings they may have worried about are 47% do not think Israel’s education system is preparing them to serve as good citizens, 50% think Israeli Arabs should not be given the same rights as the Israeli Jews, and only slightly over half, (57%) believe Judaism has a reasonable influence on life in Israel. But this is a typical finding that global youth do not respect institutions; they shape their own beliefs.
UNICEF conducted a large survey of young people, aged 9 to 17, about 10,000 youth in 17 countries, from 1999 to 2001. In East Asia and Pacific, the young people most valued respect for elders but almost one third (31%) said money is the most important thing, especially in rural areas–without gender differences. Korea was an exception with low respect for elders and authority figures. Many also value not stealing, respecting others, telling the truth, and helping others—all from 85% to 61%. Most say they apply these values in their daily life. They most admire their parents, entertainers, and friends. Political and religious figures got little mention.
A comparison of youth values in the US and Pakistan is given by Hassan, an exchange student in the Mid West, in regards to respect for elders:
My personal experience from USA regarding attitude and manners of kids towards elders was horrible. I would see my host brother using the F-word right in front of my host father in his face. That’s disrespectful. It’s sad but I must say that in Europe, teens are getting more disrespectful day by day towards their parents and elders. When they are 18, they think they are the smartest kids in the world and can pretty much do anything. But that is not true at all.
I interviewed an Indian woman, 28, who said when she was a girl her family emphasized that girls should not wear short skirts or low-cut tops out of respect for elders. Body functions were not mentioned in company; when she first started menstruating she thought she was bleeding and came to her mother about it when she was with friends. Her mother spanked her for mentioning such as thing. Of course she didn’t get sex education at home either, but gathered information from friends. Now, she reports, in good schools reproductive processes are part of the curriculum and educated parents inform their kids. In villages and in some families, elders are still greeting by touching their feet as a sign of respect.
Elders and ancestors are revered in traditional African societies. In a description of West African spirituality, the authors explain that there is higher Spirit that creates energy called Nyama (like qi in China or prana in India) and many intermediaries and spirits found in nature and in animals. “All that is visible corresponds to an invisible source.” The goal is to maintain relationship with Spirit and not to be attached to material things: “We take what is essential for survival; anything more is sacrilege.” People who inherit high levels of nyama are shamans, diviners (as with reading cowrie shells), and storytellers/historians. These leaders can direct nyama to help the people with information, rituals, ceremonies, initiations into secret societies and adulthood, sacrifices of animals or food and water, protective charms, sacred symbols, and herbal healing. Elders teach and govern the village, as they are closest to the ancestors. To show respect, shoes are removed in the presence of ancestors, heads are bowed, and they are helped if carrying loads. Ancestors serve as the closest intermediary to Spirit and are guardian sprits. Before eating, a piece of food or some alcohol may be placed on the ground as an offering for an ancestor. If you drink a beer, you pour a little on the ground for them.
My purpose is to show other people love and show other people how to love others.
Marin, 10, f, California
Everybody has a mission. I’m interested in global warming, violence, and improving prejudice against workers. They don’t make enough money. We need to create more jobs, lower taxes, and have better schools. Eva, 11, f, Brazil
I was the chosen one from God to go down to earth to bring more happiness to my parents’ lives. Mariana, 11, f, Brazil
My life is like a drama in seven ages and when I play a role I like to do something for poor people by giving money, clothes, etc. Saikiran, 14, m, India
Because my ancestors live on earth. To protect the earth.
George, 16, m, China
To live in order to make myself and my relatives happy. Coffee, 16, f, China
I am living to change the current situation of my family. I don’t want to live in the countryside as a farmer like my parents; I want to go outside to make great achievements. But I’m losing the dream of leaving the countryside, how can you clear up the confusions in my mind, so that I can keep struggling and don’t give up my dream, and be resolute to leave the countryside. I advocate that the people plant trees, to beautify the environment and protect our home.
Liuyuxia, 16, f, rural China
My purpose is to help change the world one person at a time.
Kalynn, 16, f, Wisconsin
To remain immortal by doing good works helping the helpless children in my society. Dayaram, 17, m, Nepal
I don’t feel I have a set purpose. I don’t believe I am on the Earth for any reason, but that’s not to say I can’t achieve anything with my time here. I would like to become a doctor so that I can help people through illnesses, not just in the Western world, but also through volunteering and providing my services elsewhere. Michael, 19, m, England
To become mature as a sprit and then go to paradise. Clinton, 11, m, Nigeria
I would try and change myself to a better person for the hereafter and try not to do those things that would cause me to go to hell. Rabia, 13, f, Tanzania
I think life is God’s gift who is playing with us on earth like a playing thing. Deepak, 15, m, India
God is watching at me and be a good woman. Lilac, 16, f, China
The sperm met the ovum and changed into me. My purpose is to have a good life with a hard work and pray to Allah who gave me the soul.
Bella, 16, m, Indonesia
I’m living to fulfill the promises of God and my purpose is to serve him diligently to the end. ?, 18, f, Nigeria
People don’t have purposes, you know. They’re just born, and then they complain for a while, and then they’re gone forever. I guess the purpose, if there were one, would be to make your own purpose. It’s not like we’re robots or something, with an idea in mind upon conception–we need to find stuff we like, and do it. Make our own paths. It’s not like there’s a big label hovering over people’s heads saying ‘Doctor’ or ‘Serial killer’ from the moment they are born. People make choices, and they do things, and all these actions shape who they were, are, and will be. Everything is fluid.
If we’re just talking about the purpose of humans in general… I don’t think there is one of those either. We just happened. To think that people have a purpose is to assume that humans are better, or more important than, other living (and non-living) things. What makes us more important than a lump of lead? We can paint and sing and kill each other in interesting ways, yes, but why is that better than having an atomic number of 82, and being useful for many things? We humans tend to assume that we are more important than other things-even other people.
Look at religion. The Jews are the chosen ones. No, wait, the Muslims are the chosen ones. Hey! God said that we Christians are the chosen ones! It’s a big mess, and having a purpose specifically chosen for us, but not for any other things, is in the same vein, a way of elevating our status, a way of reassuring ourselves that we are important, and that we will be remembered. We have no more purpose than the waves–we just live on. The only purpose you will find today is in goal setting- and we make that ourselves, it’s not like our path has been plotted out for us before we ever came into being. We make our own purpose. Tom, 14, m, New Zealand
Yours is the view of Existential philosophers like Jean-Paul Sartre. It is useful to define your own purpose, but I would explore the insights of other philosophers and theologians.
I don’t need to think about that because I know that we don’t have a purpose or a why, it’s just life. Akira, 15, m, Brazil
I think people exist simply to exist. If we knew our purpose, than life would be much easier and clearer to understand. However, I think that finding our purpose is part of the challenge and intrigue of life. Ideally, I think my purpose may be to live to my fullest potential. Meaning, if I live a healthy and balanced life, then I can be best equipped to put my strengths to good use to help the world. But often times, I feel insignificant when thinking about myself in relation to humanity and its history. It seems like things just happen for no reason, and like life is often absurd and pointless. What does it all amount to? This is where I agree with many existentialist tenets that urge people to live life as if a God exists and as if it makes a difference. Becky, 17, f, California
Is it worth trying to find the answer to what we are meant to do? To be the most intelligent? Or is it better to just enjoy life? Brian, 19, m, Mexico
Many youth around me are wasting their times. This may because they don’t have a clear objective. They do not know what to do when they graduate from university, what is the goal of their life. In my country most students who entered the university just want to fulfill their parents’ dream. They do not learn for themselves and their own goal. Huayang Shi, Chinese university student
We are on the earth as characters in a movie who have their different roles and different habits. Our purpose is to play our role the best.
Mohammed, 15, m, India
I want to make mistakes so I can learn from it and others can learn from it. I want to be noticed, not just someone you walk passed in the street. I want to make something of myself. Talia, 15, f, Australia.
I am on this earth to understand the meaning of life, family, friends and nature with its processes. Earth is a mother who gives such an environment where everything is provided and life is a journey to struggle. ?, 19, f, Nepal
To discover how to find our life purposes, I interviewed Linda Ratto, the Executive Director and Co-Founder of the School of the New Spirituality (SNS), on July 18, 2007. She organizes retreats, after-school, and other programs for youth to develop tools for consciousness, inspired by Neale Donald Walsch’s Conversations with God books, including a book for teens.
Ms. Ratto says to ask yourself two questions: 1) Why am I alive on this planet? 2) What are my dreams and passions that I love? Sometimes it’s not easy to listen to our deep selves to get the answers about what you want, so she suggests that you experiment by taking quiet time by yourself to listen to the answers from your own mind and heart. Try taking a walk in nature or a park, dancing, yoga, painting, and discussing these two questions with your family or friends. You can also describe what roles you play, such as student, daughter, or brother. Would you like another role, like actor? Joining the school drama club might be fun. Even very young kids can participate in naming their feelings and needs. Each soul is important, as age doesn’t have anything to do with spirit. We are all souls having a human experience, no matter what the size or age.
Ms. Ratto’s SNS programs center around bringing what you love out into the world. She often leads retreats where dreams and “dreamboarding” are used. Once you get some answers, you can make a poster or a “dream board,” where you list, draw, sketch, color or somehow define ways you can make your dreams more real. Include favorite people in your life like friends and family in helping you think of ideas. Let’s say you want to spend more time with animals, but you can’t have pets in your home. You could volunteer with a pet shelter or take care of a neighbor’s pet. If you’re bored, in a funk, and don’t get answers, do something different, like use your non-dominant hand, or take a new way to school. Change it up.
To deal with a problem, such as a bully at school, and don’t have an answer, try to walk in their moccasins by asking yourself why that bully behaves in a mean way. Ask, “What’s up with that kid?” What might you have in common with that person since we’re all human beings? If you change your attitude, the problem person may change, too. Although you can’t control someone else, you can control how you react. It may help to let the person know how you feel. Do spend time thinking about the two magic questions (why are you alive and your dreams for your future), and ask yourself again some months from now when you may have changed and have a new passion.