Last week, I was delighted to receive this Letter from a Middle School Student asking for my thoughts about the meaning of life. My response is below. I think this brings together several elements of my thinking.
It was a pleasure to receive your letter. I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in the great tradition of letter writing with you.
I share your interest in the meaning of life. In fact, probably most of us ask ourselves about the meaning or purpose of our lives at some point.
I think there probably are three ways to think about this. The first is about the Meaning of Life overall. Questions that fall into this category include: Why is there life at all? What are the origins of life? What happens after we die? What does it mean that we live in a universe where there is life? The second way to think about this is more personal. Questions include: What does my individual life mean? What is my unique purpose? What am I going to do with my “one wild and precious life?,” as the recently deceased poet Mary Oliver put it. The third way is to approach the question as a psychological scientist. Following this, we could ask ourselves how we might measure the perception of meaning in life, in general, and then consider how to perform scientific studies seeking to uncover what predicts the experience of more or less life meaning in a broad group of people.