We have all asked ourselves this question, maybe once or twice, maybe a thousand times, but the answer to the question turns out to be so simple, so eloquent, so meaningful, when it is asked from a position of total hopelessness.
Taken from Man’s Search For Meaning (p.113), by the late Dr Viktor E. Frankl, this is the most sensible and acceptable explanation of the age old question, ‘what is the meaning of life?’ I have ever read. It is a question we should all ask ourselves on a regular basis, for as you will see, there is no one single answer.
”I doubt whether a doctor [we] can answer this question in general terms. For the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour.
What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.
To put the question in general terms would be comparable to the question posed to a chess champion: “Tell me, Master, what is the best move in the world?” There simply is no such thing as the best or even a good move apart from a particular situation in a game and the particular personality of one’s opponent.
The same holds for human existence. One should not search for an abstract meaning of life. Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfilment.
Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus, everyone’s task is as unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it. As each situation in life represents a challenge to man and presents a problem for him to solve, the question of the meaning of life may actually be reversed.
Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.”
This short explanation, taking less than a page in the book, encapsulates an answer to which I can relate.
The book itself covers Dr Frankl’s own struggle for survival in Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps. It has tragic as well as surprisingly humorous passages, but reading it will leave you forever changed and, I believe, better for the experience.