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Thoughts on the Meaning of Life.

Updated on August 2, 2016

Sometimes in life, the meaning of what we’re doing becomes a puzzle and most of us ask, at one time or another, ‘what’s this life thing all about anyway?’ For what it’s worth, here’s my take on it.

The traditional view of the meaning of life is to live a life with meaning. This is sometimes called teleologism. Well that’s fine if you feel you have meaning to or in your life. But what if you don’t? Where do you find meaning and how do you know that have it when you find it?

The Wheel of Life.

Take a moment and imagine a wheel. Not your car wheel or a trolley wheel, but an old fashioned cogged wheel, like the ones in the pictures here. The cogs are the ‘teeth’ on the wheel that fit together to turn its neighbour, which turns another neighbouring wheel etc.

Traditional clocks and watches use these cogs and wheels within wheels to make their mechanisms work, but in order for that to happen, each cog and wheel needs to correctly do its job.

So let’s expand this picture a little further and use it as a metaphor for life.

A lot of us go in search of something worthy to do in order to justify our presence on the planet – volunteering, caring, saving the world for example. However some find that, while it seemed like a good idea and they admire the people whose lives are taken up with their cause, it really doesn’t ‘fit’ who they are. This can lead to a sense of failure and doom that they’ll never find meaning in their lives.

Let’s go back to the cogged wheel again. If every little wheel and its cogs is working in the right way, doing the best it can, then the whole wheel keeps turning in the right way. The world keeps turning because each piece is running as it should.

What does this mean for me?

So if you’re a parent to the next generation, a CEO of a multinational, a hairdresser, rocket scientist, street cleaner, farmer, writer, teacher, nurse, doctor, entertainer – whatever role you play – doing it right means that the cog and the wheel next to you can do his/her job well and so on.

For example: If you’ve eaten today, a farmer somewhere has nurtured the land, sewn the crop, fed, watered and harvested it; someone has taken it and turned it into whatever you ate. Without that farmer and all the other cogs and wheels in the supply chain, none of us would eat. The same is true for the clean water we take for granted, our energy and power supplies, the people who look after our health when it fails us...the list is endless.

You can think of these cogged wheels in communities, corporations, families, countries and the entire world.

When it breaks down.

Rogue states such as Zimbabwe where leaders hoard wealth and are corrupt have populations that are savaged by war, disease, poverty and starvation. They’re a good example of the wheel, or that country’s wheel, not working at all.

In the West, you only have to look to the banking sector to see that how individuals and corporations who have acted incorrectly (perhaps through ignorance or greed or both) have brought the world’s economics to its knees. People have lost their jobs, businesses, homes, health and families because of the actions of some cogs in some wheels that are seemingly unrelated to them. This is a good example of one wheel not working as it should and its impact on all the other wheels that rely on it.

And your point is...?

Well, my point is that if you’re looking for meaning in your life you don’t have to make dramatic changes to find it.

  • Do what you do and do it well.
  • Look around you and understand how you, as a cog in a wheel, impact on those around you.
  • Think ‘what if’ – what if you did your job or played your role badly or you vanished and there was no one to take your place? What would be the impact? What would go wrong, both in your immediate wheel and in the broader lives of those around you? This counts in every role you play in your life.
  • At the end of each day, reflect on the things you’ve done – what went well and what didn’t - and think about how you can do even better tomorrow.
  • Have a look at 10 ideas for rules for life if you’re on a quest to live a better life.

By living your life with meaning and purpose will have found the meaning of life.


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