Life constitutes a range of philosophical questions regarding its purpose and significance. Conceptually, life is the act of being in existence. However, a variety of questions arise regarding the simple aspect of being in existence. For instance, most people wonder why we live, what life is all about, what is the meaning of life after all and so on. These and other questions relating to life have been a major subject in the philosophical, scientific as well as theological realms throughout history. Different theories from different cultures and approaches have attempted to demystify the phenomenon of life. In fact, the meaning of life is intensely associated with philosophical and religious perceptions of existence, meaningfulness, happiness and consciousness. For instance, a meaningful life has been explained as a broad term that encompasses a range of definitions that touch on the pursuit of happiness and satisfaction in life. Nevertheless, life is meaningful in itself but the understanding of it actually varies from one individual to another (Baumeister & Vohs, 2002). One individual may define meaningful life by achieving his or her ambitions while another may define it by the ability to change other people’s lives for the better. This paper will present a discussion on the perceptions of a meaningful life, particularly from the perspective of saint and hero.
Those who have succeeded in changing the lives of others understand that everyone was created with a specific intrinsic nature. One is entitled to following specific beliefs about life and can also hold particular prejudices. Nevertheless, in the course of life, we often encounter new truths that make us abandon our beliefs and alter our attitudes, principles and core values. Despite realizing that a human’s belief system is bound to change time and again, most people tend to believe their current opinions more than anything else. With their well founded convictions, their actions are somehow justified. Each person wants to believe that he or she is a good person and perceives life according to the prevailing circumstances. The act of pursuing a meaningful life however goes hand in hand with the positive psychology that is intrinsic in every individual.
The society sees a person as a useful constituent when he sets to improve himself, which often results from his grooming or inner urges. Moreover, when a person influences the people around him towards meaningful transformation, he is seen to serve the society in a more considerate rather than a rapacious manner (Singh, 2009). For such beneficial goals, a person needs to be innovative and this may require adopting philosophical, scientific or psychological temper. The rational attitude guides a person to re-evaluate some traditional beliefs and norms in order to probe a humanistic outlook. In history, the study of life’s meaningfulness took three routes. Finding value in human life in order to obtain meaningfulness is one of the approaches understood in history. For instance, when an individual experiences something through common sense, some creative values are reached and may produce something more to the life of such an individual. At some point in their lives, many people ask themselves, what is the meaning of life? What is a meaningful life? The answers to these questions lie in the goals people choose and the purpose they have in life while fulfilling these goals. For instance, someone may live to chase his dreams, live his dreams, expand his potential in life or become the person they wanted to be always. These are just a few suggestions into a meaningful life according to different beliefs by different people. Others just want to live and fulfil and enjoy the act of existence.
Conceptually, the lives of a hero and a saint are complementary. In both aspects, an individual gets to fulfil their purpose. Nevertheless, this interpretation of a meaningful life is a step back in explaining what a meaningful life is. One may concede that human lives, hero or saint notwithstanding, are meaningful for varied reasons. In religion, God exists to help us realize the plans that are set for our lives. This means that once God’s plan has been realized, people enjoy immortality and live in His Kingdom in eternal life. For believers, such life is the cornerstone of a meaningful life (Muzio, 2006). Essentially, two possibilities occur in this belief. Either an individual attains eternal life and fulfils his meaning of life or contributes to an even higher plan of eternal life with the Creator. Generally, people fail to understand the meaning of life until they get to a point of transition between their civilized and developed stages. However, there is a major difference between understanding the meaning of life and living a meaningful life or achieving that meaning.
Most people do not actually realize the meaning of life in the beginning until they reach the point of transition between their humanistic state and later development stages. In fact, a meaningful life is actually an evolution of an individual’s consciousness until they reach this transition point. It is a way of life and it means making the most out of every opportunity in life to facilitate the development of someone’s consciousness. A meaningful life involves a self-activation of an even higher kind of consciousness. In the human kingdom, becoming the soul is the main goal and it leads to becoming the spirit in the next kingdom after transition from current life. It therefore seems that becoming rich, having a happy family or having a good job are not the ultimate goals for a meaningful life, but just secondary factors that facilitate existence during a person’s life. None of these factors necessarily contribute to the primary goal of living a meaningful life (Bladon, 2007).
As people live according to societal standards of life, self-control and self-esteem play a major role in achieving their goals. The meaningfulness of life has a lot to do with these two values. These help people to realize the contingencies in their lives so that they can attain the desired outcomes and avoid the unwelcome ones. This gives a feeling of control and life’s meaningfulness is achieved when a person feels that they can effectively control his or her life and be able to achieve goals. Meaningfulness is however evaluated by the subject of achievement of one’s life. It is realized through positive functioning, life satisfaction, joy of achieving ambitions and positively affecting the hope of other people. A meaningful life can also be translated as physical health or general well-being. In a nutshell, the meaningfulness of life is postulated through sense of purpose, personal values, sense of self-worthiness and efficacy (Lambert et al, 2009).
Nevertheless, social exclusions have resulted in varying perceptions of meaningful life. The four requisites for a meaningful life stated previously are the main mediators of the way meaningfulness of life is perceived. However, if a person feels socially excluded, his sense of purpose in life gets diminished. Subsequently, his value, self-worth and efficacy are also diminished and life loses meaning. A positive functioning of these aspects contributes to a meaningful life for an individual. This leads to satisfaction, enjoyment and happiness, hope and eventually a higher level of individual well-being. These factors are mainly used to measure the extent of life’s meaningfulness from person to person. In fact, people tend to construct an understanding of meaningful life by connecting the life of an individual to the events surrounding these factors.
Essentially, the manifestation of the meaning of life makes sense when the benefits of life are experienced on a long term basis rather than when the greatest benefit is experienced much later. For instance, when the life of a person is celebrated more after death, such as a saint, it can be said that the benefits of life have been experienced later and may not be as meaningful as when the person was living. Similarly, a hero finds meaning in life when he lives to enjoy the benefits of the life he has lived. Critically, while there are benefits to a meaningful life, there still lacks a single way to establish life’s meaning. Those people who succeed in living a meaningful life enjoy the benefits that come along with it. They do so with positive effect, joy and overall satisfaction.
However, life brings adverse situations that cause a divergence from real benefits of a meaningful life. The meaningfulness of life can be affected by several of these conditions and result in a disordered person. However, in such situations, people are able to connect with other people and find a restoration of peace that adds meaningfulness to their lives (Larson et al, 1998). With this, they are able to leave a mark in the society by rendering a good life to others through their life’s experiences. It is a natural tendency for human beings to attempt to leave a mark in the society. The society and culture provides people with the opportunity to extend their symbolic acts that transform other people’s lives in one way or another. In fact, the society provides a virtually structured way for people to create symbolic forms of influence including monuments and exemplary productions among a host of others. On the other hand, culture provides individuals with the opportunity to live up to prevalent societal standards which boosts their self-esteem and streamlines their moral well-being.
An average person holds the belief that their persona is their ‘self’. Therefore, a person is more inclined towards living to satisfy the desires of the self in order to make progress and keep abreast with the evolution of the soul. The notion that “we only live once” makes individuals feel that they must fulfil their desires before their lives end. To such people, life is not meaningful if they fail to accomplish the desires in their personas. However, if they succeed in accomplishing these desires, they feel that they have lived meaningful lives. This thinking actually dominates a vast majority of human beings and it affects the progress of life’s meaning. Eventually, people grow tired of pursuing some of these desires and start pursuing something new. This can be regarded as the time when they actually start knowing the meaning of their lives. Without knowing what we need to satisfy in life, then the meaningfulness of life fades and we cannot achieve it. However, with the right definition of what we want in life, we are able to make meaningful progress towards living meaningful lives.
In conclusion, every person is unique in character and in the way he or she perceives the meaning of life. People have unique sets of experiences and most importantly, unique missions in life. A meaningful is therefore a function of a person’s unique experiences in life with respect to his mission in life and the goals he wishes to accomplish during his lifetime. These factors are however guided by qualitative development in refining one’s consciousness so as to gain emotional, intellectual, spiritual and moral perfection. Quantitatively, humans also want to increase their power and also refine their conscious energies. Precisely, to live meaningful lives, we need to utilise those opportunities that are within our reach so as to fulfil our life’s desires.