The word “life” has endless meanings associated with it. Why are we here? What is the meaning of life? What does life mean to us? Why were you given the gift of life?
The fact is that life is undeniably precious. The likelihood of you being born on this earth is less than one in four hundred trillion. It’s hard to deny that, with those odds, you were put on this planet for a reason – perhaps to fulfill a role in some larger plan.
In this article, we aim to shed some light on all of these questions, and potentially present you with a few more.
The Meaning of Life
The meaning behind life is something that people have debated for thousands of years. Ever since we’ve had the capacity for deep, philosophical thought, we’ve been searching for our purpose. However, to this day, no one’s been able to provide a definitive, universal answer.
Because of that, it’s common to settle upon the answer that makes the most sense to the person asking. To someone who doesn’t believe in a higher power, the answer might be nothing. Their response might be that there’s no real reason behind our presence on this Earth. However, that’s a rather bleak outlook on life, don’t you think?
That answer also tends to undermine the preciousness of life. Anyone who sees a mother smiling at her newborn baby can’t deny that there’s something essential and incomprehensible in her eyes. Anyone who’s experienced true, unfettered love for another knows that life isn’t meaningless.
The next answer, therefore, is the answer from the scientist: we were given life in order to reproduce and to continue the biological cycle. From a purely biological standpoint, yes, that is part of the reason why we were born. However, this doesn’t justify the fact that you and I ended up as the combination of genetic material that resulted from the sperm and the egg.
How, then, were we the ones chosen to be born? Many people with faith in a higher power argue that it’s part of a larger plan. This explanation isn’t enough for everyone, but it provides many people with the security and faith that they need.
The ability to pursue happiness as we see it is one of the greatest freedoms allowed to us. We were born into an age of freedom and fulfillment. Is that the meaning of life, then – the pursuit of happiness? We have no way of knowing for sure, but it’s a compelling argument to make.
Since there’s no way of knowing for sure what comes next, it would make sense that we should make the most of the gift we’ve been given. Regardless of whether our spirits disappear into nothingness or proceed to an afterlife when we die, not relishing each day we spend alive and happy is a foolish choice to make.
The meaning of your life, therefore, is what you choose it to be – no more, no less.
Why Are You Here?
The chance of your or I existing today is so negligible that it’s difficult to justify except by chance. Many people believe that it’s a greater hand at work – that you were put on this planet at this time in order to fulfill a role. For all we know, this may be true! However, this isn’t a good enough argument for everyone.
If a higher power is ruled out, then chance prevails. Perhaps that is all it’s up to, in the end. Maybe, on luck alone, you were the genetic combinate that developed, edging out so many other possibilities.
If this is the truth, it makes you even more special. Even more than before, you should treasure the gift of life that you were given! With those chances, you won the lottery of life where trillions of others lost. This gift of life is the most significant gift you will ever receive. Make the most of it!
Perhaps you are only here because of chance. Or, perhaps, a higher power picked you over all other possibilities in order to fulfill a role in the grand plan. Maybe you were put on this Earth to become someone’s soul mate. Perhaps you are destined to become the next Gandhi or Oprah. Maybe your destiny is entirely yours to make.
If you were brought into existence for a reason, you will find that reason someday. Until then, pave your own path.
Different Philosophies of Life
Over the thousands of years of humanity’s development on Earth, we’ve come up with many different philosophies on how one should view life. There are far too many to dive into them all here – however, we’ve selected a few of the most prominent for a brief explanation.
Buddhism involves the belief that existence is suffering, and that the meaning of life involves breaking the cycle of suffering. They also recognize a way called the Noble Eightfold Path that can teach them how to break the cycle and ascend.
Buddhists believe that their moral goodness or evilness during their lifetime will determine which creature they will incarnate as in the next life. For example, someone who was very morally evil might come back to life as a fly. Someone who was morally neutral might be born as a human again. Someone morally righteous, like the Buddha himself, might be able to escape the cycle of rebirth through enlightenment.
Buddhists don’t necessarily believe that life is precious. Instead, they think that life impermanent, and is more of a test sent by the gods. To pass the test, one must separate themselves from suffering and desire. When they do that, they reach enlightenment, and they are freed from the cycle of life and death.
Christians believe that there is one God who rules over everything, and that his son, Jesus, died in order to absolve our sins. The core precepts of Christianity involve forgiveness of sins (morally wrong decisions or actions) in order to gain access to Heaven upon death. Those who were sinful in life and did not seek forgiveness are instead sent to Hell to be tormented for eternity.
Christians are urged to follow the Ten Commandments in order to live a morally righteous life. Life is exceedingly precious to Christians. All Christian couples are forbidden to use oral or physical contraceptives by the Bible, as every human life created under God’s guidance is viewed as a gift from him. Taking the life of another is also forbidden by the Bible, and is considered to be a mortal sin – a sin that will prevent one’s entry into heaven.
Christianity contains many branches of faith under the banner of “Christian.” Some of these include Roman Catholicism, Lutheranism, Christian Orthodoxy, Mormonism, and others.
Hinduism is a religion that has developed over thousands of years, and as a result, it contains many varied branches and teachings, just like Christianity. They follow several different sets of scriptures, and tend to worship one of many gods who they believe represent the same reality, just in different ways.
Hindus also believe that the cycle of rebirth can be escaped by reaching enlightenment, but they don’t think that existence is suffering the way that Buddhists do. Instead, they believe that they exist because the gods willed them to exist, and that they owe a debt to them as a result. The meaning of life for a Hindu involves repaying this debt, achieving wealth and enjoyment from life, and reaching enlightenment.
The Islamic faith involves following the teachings of Muhammad and the Qu’ran, which they believe was Allah’s scripture revealed to Muhammad. The basic precepts of Islamic religion involve following five tenets. Islam asserts that this life is a test, and that the true life lies in the afterlife.
Judaism is one of the oldest religions, dating back to even before Christianity. Those of the Jewish faith believe that a covenant was created between the one true God and Abraham, the father of Judaism. Jews believe that, through living a just and righteous life according to the Torah, their bible, they will join God and the other prophets in the afterlife.
Jews believe that God breathed life into dirt and mud, and this created the first man. Thus, they believe all life is precious, and that all life comes from God.
Shintoism is a native Japanese belief defined by the worship of many gods who reside in nature or things. These gods are worshipped at shrines and are typically given offers of money or food. Shinto followers believe deeply in the worship of nature, and thus, they believe that life is connected to the gods. Buddhism is also often practiced in conjunction with Shintoism.
Sikhism follows the belief that one should worship one eternal God, and that this worship can break them out of the cycle of reincarnation and rebirth. They follow the teachings of the Guru Nanak, as well as their own scripture. Notably, Sikhism discounts human discrimination – males and females, regardless of class or caste, are all equal in the eyes of Sikhism.
Sikhs believe that God wills all nature and life. As a result, they believe that life and nature are inherently sacred and precious.
Taoism is a Chinese religion that follows the Tao, or “the way.” They believe that living harmoniously in the balance of nature is the goal of life, and that, while nature is inherently balanced, humans are inherently chaotic.
Taoists believe that life is sacred, especially since they have no particular belief in an afterlife. They believe that the most important thing is achieving inner peace and living a peaceful life.
Finding Your Own Way
Many people and religions have thought of different ways that one should regard life. If you resonate with one of the faiths we mentioned above, great! If not, though, defining your own beliefs is the way to go. You were born into an age of immense freedom of thought and action, and you should make the most of it!
Not knowing what your beliefs are can hold you back in more ways than you might realize. Without direction, faith, or ambition, it will be difficult to define what you want to get out of your life.
However, know that nearly all humans believe that life is precious in some capacity. Creating a dogma or belief based on disrespect for life will not only counter the life inside you, but it will be frowned upon by others. Respect for life is a nearly universal belief for a reason, even if the way that it manifests can be different.
There are many religions out there in the world today for a reason. We didn’t list anywhere near all of them above – just some of the standouts! Here are a few more we didn’t mention:
- Scientology: the belief that man’s spirit transcends several lifetimes, and that a Supreme Being created man
- Zoroastrianism: a closed religion that believes in stopping the spread of chaos by living a good life
- Various indigenous religions, such as Native American and African Traditional
- Paganism: an ancient hedonistic religion believing in one or multiple gods
- Juche: the Korean belief that man is the master of everything
As you can see, new religions come into acceptance all the time. Scientology, as a standout, is a very recent one – it was created in the 1950s. If you can’t find something that already exists which speaks to you, you are entitled to (and we urge you to) create your own ideas of life and the universe.
You don’t have to create your own religion, but coming to terms with something that makes sense to you will help foster a better understanding of the meaning of life, your life goals, and anything you want to achieve during your time on Earth.
Why Do We View Life as Precious?
When we see a baby, a puppy, or another young animal, we have an instinctive “aww” reaction. We have an innate, instinctual urge to protect young lives and help them grow. We experience this reaction even if we have no desire for children or the like. If anything speaks to the preciousness of life, it’s this.
However, in our day-to-day lives, we take for granted what a beautiful and fleeting gift life is. This can happen whether you follow a religion, whether you develop your own ideas of faith, or whether you follow nothing at all. When we’re standing in a vast old-growth forest full of redwood trees, it’s easy to stare in awe of nature’s beauty and life’s resilience.
However, during a stressful commute to work fraught with traffic, it’s easy to become angry at others and take life for granted. We’re so concerned with what we need to do tomorrow, what bills need to be paid, and which president will be the next to be elected that we lose track of the most important things.
Another reason why we retract into ourselves is because of the flipside of life: death. It’s impossible not to acknowledge death when one sees life at work. On a boat in the middle of the ocean, you might marvel at the beauty of nature and the vastness of the water before you, but you might recoil when you see a gull snatch a fish from the sea.
Death is just another part of life, and it provides the perfect complement to life that forms the life-death cycle. It’s not possible to have life without death, or vice versa. However, we intrinsically fear death as human beings. Even those who want to die fear the process of dying, whether they’re afraid of the pain of it or what comes after.
Chapman University conducted a survey in 2017 asking Americans what things they fear the most. They didn’t just survey death-related fears, but many concerns related to death appeared on the list anyway. The death-related results were as follows:
- 1% feared pollution of oceans, rivers, and lakes
- 4% feared another world war
- 5% feared North Korean weapons
- 9% feared air pollution
- 5% feared extinction of plant or animal species
- 8% feared biological warfare
- 3% feared a terrorist attack
- 7% feared people they loved dying
- 1% feared people they loved becoming seriously ill
- 39% feared nuclear weapon attacks
- 8% feared terrorism
- 2% feared oil spills
- 5% feared being hit by a drunk driver
- 8% feared a pandemic or significant epidemic
- 3% feared a nuclear accident or meltdown
- 1% feared a mass shooting
- 6% feared a devastating drought
- 7% feared becoming seriously ill
- 4% feared sharks
- 3% feared a catastrophic tornado
- 6% feared a disastrous earthquake
- 4% feared a devastating hurricane
- 3% feared dying
- 8% feared a devastating flood
- 5% feared getting mugged
- 8% feared walking alone at night
- 4% feared gang violence
- 4% feared police brutality
- 3% feared murder by a stranger
- 2% feared a devastating blizzard or winter storm
- 6% feared murder by someone they knew
- 5% feared germs
- 6% feared a large volcanic eruption
All of these percentages cause, or have the potential to cause, death. Even death itself is included in the metric!
With how many ways there are to die out there, and how often we see death in our day-to-day lives, it’s not surprising that we view life as precious. Every young life that makes it into this world has already beaten the odds. However, it’s also not surprising that we tend to shy away from life because of death’s prevalence, with at least 50% of Americans fearing some kind of death.
There are several other aspects of death that we tend to fear, though, that aren’t death itself. Many people fear the pain that comes with death, for example. Both healthy people and sick people tend to fear the suffering and pain that can go along with dying.
This article lists several other examples, too. Here are some of them:
- The fear of the unknown: many people fear what comes after death. They’re afraid that they might not make it into their version of heaven or enlightenment, or they just fear it because they don’t know what comes after. This is closely related to the fear of non-existence.
- The fear of non-existence: many people, mainly atheists and agnostics, fear that there may be nothing more after death. They fear that our spirits will just disappear when we die. This fear is mitigated for many people who hold faith in a religion, though.
- The fear of eternal punishment: many people, religious and non-religious, fear that their selfish actions while alive might land them a place down below when they die.
- The fear of losing control: we cannot control death, nor can we know when it is coming. This fact, coupled with being unable to control what comes after death, strikes fear in the hearts of many people.
- The fear for our loved ones: many people, especially parents, fear what will happen to their family and friends when they die. For many, the fear that someone will despair, be unable to cope, or might even harm themselves after they die can be very relevant and haunting.
While an excessive fear of death is unhealthy, having a healthy respect for death can actually be helpful for people. Those who don’t fear death tend to be more reckless and unthinking of their own health and safety. Those who do tend to be more careful in dangerous situations, and they tend not to enter into situations willingly where their safety is at risk.
The intrinsic value of human life is a hotly debated topic in modern times. If life is truly precious to us, things like abortion and euthanasia are unreconcilable. What does that mean for us as a society? Where do we go with these practices? Is there indeed a right answer?
Religious doctrines nearly universally condemn practices that end human life. This means abortion, euthanasia, murder, suicide, and the like. However, today’s modern-day societies are as concerned with freedom as they are with morality. As secular governing bodies, the laws of our countries and nations are not necessarily governed by religious belief.
What, then, is the right answer? Should practices that violate the sanctity of life be illegal? Of course murder is illegal, but is the choice to take one’s own life, through suicide or euthanasia, wrong? Is abortion wrong?
There are differing opinions on each topic. On the one hand, it’s hard not to believe that abortion is a morally flawed practice. However, in many situations, the baby that came to be is unwanted because of rape or poor conditions. Do either of these situations justify abortion? Should they need to?
These are answers that we aren’t able to satisfactorily answer in our current day and age. Different people believe that different developmental stages denote a fetus being “alive.” For example, Christians are taught that a baby is sacred and a gift of God from the moment of conception.
Many non-religious people, however, believe that the baby is only “alive” after its heart starts beating, which is around the 21st day of pregnancy. People use different ideas of fetal development to define when might be okay to abort a child.
Morally, ending any life is a fundamentally flawed idea. However, if it’s your own life, your own body, does that make it right? Does it make it your choice? Does it need to be right if it’s your choice? These are all questions that we cannot answer.
Right now, laws state that abortion is legal in all fifty states of America. Euthanasia, suicide, and murder are illegal in all fifty states. This leads to an interesting problem: where do we draw the line?
We argue that abortion is legal because it’s the woman’s body, and thus, it’s her choice. But isn’t that the same as ending a life? Isn’t it the same as murder? There’s no satisfactory way to answer these questions until we reach a civil consensus or more research is done on the topic.
What defines the intrinsic value of a life? Is one life more precious than another? Why is life precious? Why do we face a moral dilemma when contemplating the end of life? Is it because we’re taught to, or maybe because we fear death ourselves?
There’s no way for us to put a value on something like life. If we can’t even define what life means, then we cannot possibly define how valuable it is, either. Maybe someday we will reach a point where we can weigh the value of one life against something else on a set of scales. However, under the circumstances presented by our current societies and religions, this is impossible.
For now, all we can do is act in a way that feels morally right. Whether this means placing more or less value on human life is entirely up to you. As with anything, it is best to do your research, build your own informed opinion, whether backed by faith or not, and go from there.