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Quotations About the Meaning of Life

Updated on October 24, 2016
Colleen Swan profile image

A lover of the written word Colleen has a Master's degree in English literature and enjoys finding unique and poignant quotes

The Thinker: Sculpted by Auguste Rodin

The Thinker. A sculpture in Madrid by François-Auguste-René Rodin: 12th November 1840 to 17th November 1917
The Thinker. A sculpture in Madrid by François-Auguste-René Rodin: 12th November 1840 to 17th November 1917 | Source

A Never - Ending Question

I have a past life, and I occasionally reflect upon it, but there is no meaning to that existence. What’s done is undone in the next, and I can only offer answers to unasked questions which at least provides me with a reason to have lived again. Roland Pinter

But that is the object of long living that man should cease to care about life. The search remains constant despite the basic knowledge that its answer can never fully be found. Robert Louis Stevenson

So many people seem unhappy because they’re not doing something important. But what does it matter what a man does, provided he gives, contributes? You must make yourself love what you do, and do it as best you can. What other reason for life can we ever really know for sure? Ed Louette

Extract from Prince Charles Millennium Speech

A chance to rediscover the profound wisdom of those who have made the difficult journey through this life before us; those who, like our Lord Jesus Christ, taught us that this life is but one passing phase of our existence and that reality lies within each one of us.

We must first of all understand that life is more profound than we are told it is. After all, the likelihood of life beginning by chance is about as great as a hurricane blowing through a scrap yard and assembling a Rolls-Royce.

Titus Lucretius: Protracted Life


The Human Character

A picture of human life such as a great artist can give, surprises even the trivial and the selfish into that attention to what is apart from themselves, which may be called the raw material of moral sentiment. George Eliot

The majority of mankind is lazy minded, incurious, absorbed in vanities, and tepid in emotion, and is therefore incapable of either much doubt or much faith. T. S. Eliot

Every true man who is a little above the level of the beasts and plants does not live for the sake of living without knowing how to live, but he lives so as to give a meaning and a value of his own. Luigi Pirandello

It were no slight attainment could we merely fulfil what the nature of man implies. Epictetus

Life is seldom as unendurable as, to judge by the facts, it logically ought to be. Brooks Atkinson

Pietro Aretino: Our Reality is Broken Glass


Individual Existence

Better a thousand times even a swiftly fading, ephemeral moment of life than the epoch long unconsciousness of the stone. Edwin Way Teale

Human beings are like timid punctuation marks sprinkled among the incomprehensible sentences of life. Jean Giraudoux

The individual who has to justify his existence by his own efforts is in eternal bondage to himself. Eric Hoffer

It is because nations tend to stupidity and baseness that mankind moves so slowly; it is because individuals have a capacity for better things that it moves at all. George Gissing

We must each find our separate meaning in the persuasion of our days until we meet in the meaning of the world. Christopher Fry

All I ask of life is a constant and exaggerated sense of my own importance. Unknown

The four stages of man are infancy, childhood, adolescence and obsolescence. Unknown

Sculpture of the Merman; Half Man and Half Fish by Otto Petri 1907


Evolution and Ego

Each man carries the vestiges of his birth; the slime and eggshells of his primeval past with him to the end of his days. Some never become human, remaining frog, lizard, ant. Some are human above the waist, fish below. Hermann Hesse

A just conception of life is too large a thing to grasp during the short interval of passing through it. Thomas Hardy

Our lives are but a little while, so let them run as sweetly as you can, and give no thought to grief from day to day. For time is not concerned to keep our hopes, but hurries on its business, and is gone. Euripides

While it is still before, afterwards has no power, but afterwards its is the kingdom, the power and the glory. You do not ask yourself, what am I doing? You know. What you do ask yourself, is what have I done? You will never know. Elizabeth Bowen

All my life I wanted to be someone; I guess I should have been more specific. Jane Wagner

Nothing mortal is enduring, and there is nothing sweet which does not presently end in bitterness. Petrarch

Ugo Betti February 4th 1892 to June 9th 1953: A Famous Italian Author and Play Writer


Quotes by Ugo Betti

At a given moment I open my eyes and exist. And therefore that, during all eternity, what was there? Nothing.

Life is one vast tangled conglomeration, inflamed with passion.

How is it possible for the brand of justice to be indelibly imprinted, and upon what, when we and all the things connected with us shall be transmuted and destroyed.

We cannot bear to regard ourselves simply as play things of blind chance; we cannot admit to feeling ourselves abandoned.

Douglas Adams: 11 March 1952 to 11 May 2001 was a Famous English Writer and Satirist

His best know work was the: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy,
His best know work was the: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, | Source

Two Classics from Douglas Adams

"There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened."

"A race of hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings once built themselves a gigantic super computer called “Deep Thought” to calculate once and for all the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything. For seven and a half million years “Deep Thought” computed and calculated, and in the end announced that the answer was in fact Forty-two"

John Cage: Our Understanding


Quotes by Rainer Maria Rilke: 4th December 1875 to 29th December 1926: Was a Famous Austrian Lyricist and Novelist

Fate loves to invent patterns and designs. Its difficulty lies in complexity. But life itself is difficult because of its simplicity. It has only a few things of a grandeur not fit for us.

If we think of this existence of the individual as a larger or smaller room, it appears evident that most people learn to know only a corner of their room, a place by the window, a strip floor on which they walk up and down.

Fate and Survival

We only become what we are by the radical and deep seated refusal of that which others have made of us. Jean Paul Sartre

Our Lives are an unanswered question, but let’s still believe in the dignity and importance of the question. Tennessee Williams

As generations come and go, their arts, their customs, ebb and flow; fate, fortune, sweep strong powers away, and feeble of themselves, decay. William Wordsworth

Relating his experiences after the 911 attack, Hingson recounts: “Friends and family have often asked me if I felt survivor’s remorse. I did not. I think it is because there is no real answer to why Roselle and I survived. … I do know this: since I am alive, I must be here for a reason.” Source: Thunder Dog: The True Story of a Blind Man: Michael Hingson and Susy Flory

A woman bathing by Rembrandt: 15th July 1606 to 4th October 1669: One of the Greatest European Painters.


The Burden of Mortality

No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man. Heraclitus

All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is sure. Mark Twain

It is not likely that any complete life has ever been lived which was not a failure in the secret judgment of the person that lived it. Mark Twain

It’s a burden to us even to be human beings; men with our own real body and blood; we are ashamed of it, we think it a disgrace and try to contrive to be some sort of impossible generalized man. Dostoevsky

We mortals cross the oceans of this world each in his average cabin of a life; the best’s not big, the worst yields elbow room. Robert Browning

Man as we know him is a poor creature; but he is halfway between an ape and a god, and he is travelling in the right direction. William Ralph Inge

Nothing can be meaner than the anxiety to live on, to live on anyhow and in any shape. George Santayana

A 9 year old Boy Discusses the Meaning of Life and the Universe

Pathway to Destiny

To have his path made clear for him is the aspiration of every human being in our beclouded and tempestuous existence. Joseph Conrad

There are men here and there to whom the whole of life is like an after dinner hour with a cigar; easy, pleasant, empty, perhaps enlivened by some fable of strife to be forgotten before the end is told. Joseph Conrad

Charles Lindbergh: February 4th 1902 to August 26th 1974: was an Author and Aviator Famous for the First Solo Flight from America to Paris May 21st 1927


Instinct and Reality

Any coward can sit in his home and criticize a pilot for flying into a mountain in a fog. But I would rather, by far, die on a mountainside than in bed. What kind of man would live where there is no daring? And is life so dear that we should blame men for dying in adventure? Is there a better way to die? Charles Lindbergh

To live is like to love; all reason is against it, and all healthy instinct for it. Samuel Butler

Man is the only one in whom the instinct of life falters long enough to enable it to ask the question why? Joseph Wood Krutch

Whatever profits man, that is the truth. In him all nature is comprehended, in all nature only he is created, and all nature only for him. He is the measure of all things, and his welfare is the sole and single criterion of truth. Thomas Mann

Non Serious Quips

If we could perfect human nature, we might also expect a perfect state of things. Goethe

Life is like an onion, which one peels crying. Unknown

Life is too short for men to take it seriously. George Bernard Shaw

The Vision of Mankind

The scenes of our being are like pictures done in rough mosaic. Looked at close, they produce no effect. There is nothing beautiful to be found in them, unless you stand some distance off. Schopenhauer

The felt unreliability of human experience brought about by the inhuman acceleration of historical change has led every sensitive modern mind to the recording of some kind of nausea of intellectual vertigo. Susan Sontag

As an adolescent I aspired to lasting fame, I craved factual certainty, and I thirsted for a meaningful vision of human life, so I became a scientist. This is like becoming an archbishop so you can meet girls. Matt Cartmill

Man is a beautiful machine that works very badly. He is like a watch of which the most that can be said is that its cosmetic effect is good. H. L. Mencken

Cyril Connolly: The Maze We Wander


Fruits and Frustrations

I treasure this strange combination found in very few persons: a fierce desire for life as well as a lucid perception of the ultimate futility of the quest. Madeleine Gobeil

Meanings change amazingly. When people get accustomed to horrors, these form the foundations for good style. Boris Pasternak

Life stands on the verge of a single breath; and this world is an existence between two nonentities. Sa’di

We do not have a childhood, a maturity, an old age; several times during our lives we have our seasons, but their course is not well known; it is not clearly laid out. Jules Renard

Michel Eyquem de Montaigne: February 28th 1533 to September 13th 1592 was an Influential French Renaissance Writer



Man, in good earnest, is a marvelous vain, fickle, and unstable subject, and on whom it is very hard to form any certain and uniform judgment.

The wise man lives as long as he ought, not so long as he can.

There is nothing so fine and legitimate as well and duly to play the man; nor science so arduous as well and naturally to know how to live.

Moments of Destiny

No trumpets sound when the important decisions of our life are made. Destiny is made known silently. Agnes de Mille

Our life’s a moment and less than a moment, but even this mite nature has mockingly humored with some appearance of a longer span. Seneca

The Bible is the one supreme source of revelation of the meaning of life, the nature of God and spiritual nature and need of men. It is the only guide of life which really leads the spirit in the way of peace and salvation. Woodrow Wilson

Existence and Eternity

All life is a struggle, the effort to be itself. Jose Ortega Y Gasset

Life: That brief interlude between nothingness and eternity.Unknown

That I exist is a perpetual surprise which is life. Rabindranath Tagore

Being is the great explainer. Thoreau

Change and Consequence

Change is the law of life, and those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future. John F. Kennedy

It is exciting and emancipating to believe we are one of nature’s latest experiments, but what if the experiment is unsuccessful? V. S. Pritchett

Deem not life a thing of consequence. For look at the yawning void of the future, and at that other limitless space, the past. Marcus Aurelius

Children, who play life, discern its true law and relations more clearly than men, who fail to live it worthily, but who think that they are wiser by experience, that is, by failure. Thoreau

What is more enthralling to the human mind than this splendid, boundless, colored mutability of life in the making. David Grayson

The Pursuit of Purpose

The indefatigable pursuit of an unattainable perfection, even though it consists in nothing more than the pounding of an old piano, alone gives a meaning to our life on this unavailing star. Logan Pearsall

The laws of science, as we know them at present, contain many fundamental numbers, like the size of the electric charge of the proton and electron. The remarkable thing is that the values of these numbers seem to have been finely adjusted to make possible the development of life. Stephen Hawking

Life is the only art that we are required to practice without preparation, and without being allowed the preliminary trials, the failures and botches, that are essential for the training of a mere beginner. Lewis Mumford

William Hazlitt: We Do What We Cannot


Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: 29th June 1900 to 31st July 1944: was a Famous French Writer, Poet, and Aviator

Saint Exupery

A man has many parts, he is virtually everything, and you are free to select in him that part which pleases you.

What set us against one another are not our aims; as they all come to the same thing; but our methods, which are the fruit of our varied reasoning.

In anything at all, perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away.

Realization of the Transitory

The measure of a man’s life is the well spending of it, and not the length. Plutarch

It’s hard to recognize that life isn’t a holding action, but a process. It’s hard to learn that we don’t leave the best parts of ourselves behind, back in the dugout or the office. We own what we learned back there. The experiences and the growth are grafted onto our lives. And when we exit, we can take ourselves along quite gracefully. Ellen Goodman

It has been difficult for man to realize that his life is all an art. It has been more difficult to conceive it so than to act it so. Havelock Ellis

To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you lived; that is to have succeeded. Ralph Waldo Emerson

Too many people are thinking of security instead of opportunity. They seem more afraid of life than death. James F Byrnes

We Are What We Think

Anything good in life is either illegal, immoral or fattening. Unknown

Men must live and create. Live to the point of tears. Albert Camus

Life consists of what a man is thinking of all day. Emerson

The Flesh is Finite

Life is an end in itself, and the only question as to whether it is worth living is whether you have enough of it. Oliver Wendell Holmes

The flesh believes that pleasure is limitless and that it requires unlimited time; but the mind, understanding the end and limit of the flesh and ridding itself of fears of the future, secures a complete life and has no longer any need for unlimited time. Epicurus

The two virtues most needed in modern life are honesty and simplicity. (Amended) William Morris

What is the meaning of life? That was all a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with the years. The great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark. Virginia Woolf

Time as a State of Mind

To say that we live is the same as saying that we find ourselves in an atmosphere of definite possibilities. Jose Ortega Y Gasset

When your life is a leaf that the seasons tear off and condemn, they will bind you with love that is graceful and green as a stem. Source: A song lyric by Leonard Cohen

Youth is not a time of life, it is a state of mind; it is a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a vigor of the emotions, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over love of ease. Samuel Ullman

Whether seventy or sixteen, there is in every being’s heart the love of wonder, the sweet amazement at the stars and the starlike things and thoughts, the undaunted challenge of events, the unfailing childlike appetite for what next, and the joy and the game of life. Samuel Ullman

Elbert Hubbard: A Serious View


A Humorous Angle

  • Question: How many existentialists does it take to screw in a light bulb?
  • Answer: Two. One to screw it in and one to observe how the light bulb itself symbolizes a single incandescent beacon of subjective reality in a netherworld of endless absurdity reaching out toward a maudlin cosmos of nothingness.


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Robert Louis Stevenson’s Advice on Finding Contentment and Happiness Throughout One’s Life

  1. Make up your mind to be happy: learn to find pleasure in simple things.
  2. Make the best of your circumstances: no one has everything and everyone has something of sorrow intermingled with the gladness of life. The trick is to make the laughter outweigh the tears.
  3. Don't take yourself too seriously: don’t think that somehow you should be protected from misfortune that befalls others.
  4. You can't please everybody: don’t let criticism hurt you.
  5. Don't let your neighbors set your standards: be yourself.
  6. Do the things you enjoy doing, but always stay out of debt.
  7. Don't borrow trouble: imaginary things are harder to bear than actual ones.
  8. Since hate poisons the soul, don’t cherish enmities or grudges: avoid people who make you unhappy.
  9. Have many interests: if you can’t travel, read about new places.
  10. Don't hold postmortems: don’t spend your life brooding over sorrows or mistakes: don’t be one who never gets over things.
  11. Do what you can for those less fortunate than yourself.
  12. Keep busy at something: a busy person never has time to be unhappy.


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    • Colleen Swan profile imageAUTHOR

      Colleen Swan 

      5 years ago from County Durham

      Thank you Peggy. I believe quotes should impart a little bit of enjoyable advice; it is what we look for.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Interesting compilation of quotes about the meaning of life. I particularly liked the ending 12 tips of advice on how to find contentment and happiness.

    • Colleen Swan profile imageAUTHOR

      Colleen Swan 

      5 years ago from County Durham

      Thank you for your kind words.

    • kerlund74 profile image


      5 years ago from Sweden

      Wonderful collection:)

      In life I follow my heart and intuition and I try to live like: "you never regret what you did, only what you didn't".

    • Colleen Swan profile imageAUTHOR

      Colleen Swan 

      5 years ago from County Durham

      Thank you Gilbert. This article could have run into several more pages. I had to end it with Stevenson's tips or else write a book.

    • rebelogilbert profile image

      Gilbert Arevalo 

      5 years ago from Hacienda Heights, California

      Robert Louis Stevenson is one of my favorite authors. I thought his list was interesting. His advice is worth consideration. I think it's great you like to write and attempt to make sense out of life yourself, Colleen. It is a heavy subject but at least we can try to find more value out of our everyday activities.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      5 years ago from SW England

      Yes indeed!

    • Colleen Swan profile imageAUTHOR

      Colleen Swan 

      5 years ago from County Durham

      Thank you Annart. Glad you enjoyed this. I have used many quotes by Heraclitus in my hubs. This one felt right to go with the picture by Rembrandt.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      5 years ago from SW England

      This is a great compilation, Colleen. I particular like 'No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man. Heraclitus'. I also like the list from Robert Louis Stevenson. In fact, it all makes for a great read.



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