Humanity embodies a creature driven by perfection and purpose, vigorously evading meaninglessness, aimlessness, and futility. Vanity and emptiness fail to satisfy such a being, and thus, if life lacks meaning and purpose, existence loses its value, even amidst all life’s amenities. The root of dissatisfaction and the chilling of life is not ‘failure in prosperity.’
One can love and be content with a simple, even tough life, provided that we comprehend the meaning of existence. What causes a deadlock and despair in life is the ‘failure in seeking meaning.’
An American youth narrates his odyssey, stating:
“I was twenty-two, following society’s dictated path to happiness. After graduating from university, I was working as a chemical engineer in a company, enjoying a high income.
What more could I desire? All elements of happiness were at my fingertips; a car, a stereo, a luxurious apartment, and a couple of good friends. What else could you ask for as a young man?!
Yet, never before in life had I felt such prevailing gloom. In my first year post-graduation, while serving as a chemical engineer in a company, I encountered a crisis of identity and life values. Although I had done everything society dictates for happiness, I found no reason to continue living…
Although I had executed every action that society dictated to attain happiness, I found no reason to continue living. I didn’t know why I was alive and why my existence could be important. Life had no meaning for me. This crisis of doubt and turmoil gradually pervaded all aspects of my life.
I would think to myself, is life truly entirely relative? Is this all there is? Fifty to eighty years spent in fleeting joys and sorrows, working, sleeping, eating, indulging in earthly pleasures, and then as if you never existed at all?!
If so, then why should one live at all? Why not commit suicide and put an end to everything? Why make futile efforts for a purposeless life? Why be virtuous? Why consider one’s health? If eventually, everything in life is destined to be washed away, why should one strive at all?
As time passed, everything became increasingly unbearable, leading me to conclude that life truly is not worth living.”
This illustrates the influential role of meaning in life’s vibrancy and joy. Allport says:
“Nowadays, in Europe, psychologists and psychiatrists have evidently turned away from Freud (who attributed psychological distress to sexual dissatisfaction), shifting towards ‘existential therapy,’ of which the school of ‘logotherapy’ is a part.”
The issue of meaning appears in several forms. One is the ‘absence of meaning,’ characteristic of those who, from the outset, find no meaning in life, considering it entirely void and hollow.
The second condition is the ‘incompleteness of meaning.’ This pertains to those who have a meaning in mind for life but find it worthless once they attain it, deeming it not worthy enough to live for. What justifies the philosophy of life must be beyond life itself and more valuable. Otherwise, the phenomenon of ‘loss,’ referred to as ‘ruin’ in religious texts, manifests itself.
The world is a phase of life that constitutes but a minuscule segment of human existence in terms of time. In terms of value too, the world and everything in it is trivial.
The Almighty regards the world as too insignificant to be the objective of human endeavors.
“Say, the enjoyment of this world is little, and the Hereafter is better for he who fears Allah.” (Qur’an 36)
Those whose life’s meaning is centered on the world become content by acquiring worldly things; like a child who is overjoyed with a piece of chocolate. The Holy Qur’an says about this group:
“They rejoice in worldly life, while worldly life compared to the Hereafter is nothing but a fleeting pleasure.” (Qur’an 13:26)
And then, there is the third state, achieving the ‘true meaning of life.’ Anything can be made the purpose of life, but not every purpose is satisfying or fulfilling. In the marketplace of meanings, the successful person is one who chooses wisely.
A mistake in choosing life’s meaning results in failure, and failure leads to dissatisfaction. For success, one must be a discerning chooser, and good choices depend on correct understanding. Know that the world is created for humans and serves as a tool for their true lives.
The Prophet of Allah (Peace Be Upon Him) said:
“Indeed, the world was created for you, and you are created for the Hereafter.” [Mizan al-Hikmah, Vol. 4, p. 1692, Hadith 5753.]
Imam Ali (Peace Be Upon Him) also said:
“Indeed, Allah the Exalted created the world as a means for the Hereafter and tests the people in it to see who behaves better. We are not created for the world, and we are not commanded to strive in it (for material gains).” [Nahj al-Balagha, Letter 55.]
The world is also considered the farmland of the Hereafter, meaning it is the foundation of life, not the objective. For this reason, the Prophet of Allah (Peace Be Upon Him) said:
“There are those who belong to this world and those who belong to the Hereafter. Be among the children of the Hereafter, and not among the children of this world.” [Bihar al-Anwar, Vol. 77, p. 188, Hadith 10]
When Allah becomes the meaning of life, a person lives for Allah, strives for Him, and endures all hardships to reach Him. When Allah embodies the essence of existence, one understands the reason for living, why life must be lived, and what its ultimate outcome will be. In this way, one emerges from confusion and wandering. Living for the highest, and indeed the only true meaning of life, elevates the soul, bringing a sense of fulfillment and contentment.