The meaning of ‘meaning of life’

Meaning of Life

“Ya, it’s Greek to me!”

“People have enough to live by but nothing to live for. They have means but no meaning” – Viktor E. Frankl posits in his book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’. In the book, he narrates his life as an inmate in the Aushwitz Concentration Camp during World War II and his theories on what made some people endure the atrocities and come out alive while so many others just gave up.

He says “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.” However this ‘why’ is not always an easy answer. This ‘why’ has been a source of existential angst from Siddhartha Gautama to Calvin, not necessarily leading to enlightenment or even peace of mind for most people.

This ‘why’ could be for reasons as varied as love or revenge, accumulating wealth and power or changing the world for the better, fame or family, unabashed hedonism or spiritual enlightenment.

As varied as the reasons could be, we still find people from 7 to 70 wondering what their purpose in life really is. Some even make it their purpose to find their purpose.

But I think obsessing over it isn’t as helpful as obsessing over ‘to be or not to be’ or which lingerie to wear on your date. The attitude that’s helped me not go insane while trying to figure ‘why the fc*!’ am I here’ is to keep looking for the answers but not seeking them, questioning even the most mundane but not getting hung up on finding the answer.

Doing this with an open mind has led me to intuitively traverse Tony Hsieh’s (CEO of 3P’s Pyramid which he spells out in his book Delivering Happiness (A book I’d highly recommend for entrepreneurs and all humans too).

According to Tony Hsieh, there are 3 types of happiness or the 3P’s Happiness Pyramid (Fig. 3.pee)


Tony Hsieh's Happiness Framework, 3P's of happiness

Fig. 3.pee

If there’s one thing in common between all the 6 billion homo sapiens in the world, it’s probably that we all have a common purpose of looking for ways to be happy. Unfortunately (or fortunately) I’m no different.

My happiness chasing started at the bottom P for ‘Pleasure’, ‘Pleasure’ being synonymous with girlfriends and money, thinking hedonism is the ‘soul’ purpose of my existence. Soon realization dawned that hedonistic pleasures were all short lived. Like Tony says. “The moment the stimuli goes away, the happiness levels drop immediately. In other words, this type of happiness is the shortest lasting.”

I sensed this even more so in my first corporate role. I was blessed to be working with a company many in my B-school batch would’ve happily traded their porn collection for. I was also blessed with a couple of clients who sucked blood for a living in my first year itself. While I was busy trying to stop the blood sucking, the pleasures were somewhere getting sucked out of my life.

Added to that, I realized that there was no way I could survive more than a leap year reading Gartner and IDC reports (“I barely managed to not flunk my Engineering Exams and now you want me to learn about ‘not so tasty chips’ all over again!”).

Somewhere I became clear that I definitely didn’t want to spend 50% of my waking hours sans passion. I did however love just about everything about movies and music. A little bit of introspection and a little help from the Universe later (she works in mysterious ways, not always like-worthy, in the short run at least), I transitioned to the entertainment industry where I spent a decade ‘not working’. ‘Passion’ outlasted ‘Pleasure’ by 10 years.

The Universe has ways of making the uncomfortable comfortable as well as the comfortable uncomfortable. There was a phase in one of my companies where I was lucky to work under a Hitler incarnate. Even though the experience turned a dream role into a nightmare, I say lucky because it was probably the genesis of my questioning existence.

I became certain I wasn’t born to be a slave. We are all born free and freedom is what we all intuitively seek. Armed with this thought I started my quest for entrepreneurship. Somewhere along this quest it became clear to me that I want to make a difference in as many ways as possible, to attempt to change the world for the better. This ‘Purpose’ has stayed with me and is what drives me to create value in what I’m building.

And if we were to believe Tony Hsieh or Viktor Frankl then this ‘higher-purpose’ (life revolving around something bigger than yourself that has meaning to you) type of happiness is the longest lasting.

While it’s still early days for me, I would tend to agree. This also in no way makes me (or anyone driven by a higher purpose), holier than thou. No pseudo modesty here, it just truly doesn’t! Some of the most interesting people even at seventy have never known why they graced this world. All it means is that the chances of longer lasting happiness is higher if there’s a purpose behind your raison d’être

This also doesn’t mean one needs to live sans ‘Pleasure’ or ‘Passion’. Pleasure will still exist. It just means one needs to question the need to chase ‘Pleasure’. It’s something like what Viktor Frankl quite eloquently describes about ‘success’. He says, “Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it.”

It doesn’t end here for me though. Like Calvin says, “Happiness isn’t enough for me, I demand euphoria.”  

Happiness isn't enough for me, enlightenment

Enlightenment the answer to euphoria?

The more I explore, the more it points me in the direction of spiritual enlightenment. Which in simple Pali means finding out ‘Who am I?” and ‘What am I here for?’ So my search for the meaning of ‘meaning of life’ continues. I also suspect this is the mother of all ‘Meaning of Life’. If we can find the answer to this then…

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