The Real Meaning of Life

The Real Meaning of Life

by David Seaman

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The Real Meaning of Life wasn’t written by an expert. It isn’t the culmination of painstaking self-study or a sudden breakthrough. Instead, this fascinating book collects the insights of everyday people who responded to NYU freshman David Seaman’s simple query, “What is the meaning of life?”
To his surprise, he received a flood of


The Real Meaning of Life wasn’t written by an expert. It isn’t the culmination of painstaking self-study or a sudden breakthrough. Instead, this fascinating book collects the insights of everyday people who responded to NYU freshman David Seaman’s simple query, “What is the meaning of life?”
To his surprise, he received a flood of responses. Some suggested things like “bikinis and beer,” but Seaman found that most were much more thoughtful — so much so that he created a website and now this book to collect the best of them. From thousands of respondents — including Buddhists, born-again Christians, atheists, waitresses, students, and recovering heart attack patients — come incredibly diverse nuggets of wisdom that can be aphoristic (“Be grease, not glue”), philosophical (“There is no point to life, and that is exactly what makes it so special”), or whimsical (“Me, I'm going snowboarding”).

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The Real Meaning of Life

By David Seaman

New World Library

Copyright © 2005 David Seaman
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-57731-801-9


What Is the Real Meaning of Life?

When I started attending the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, my parents made me do a work-study program. I got stuck in Sophie's cafeteria. An incredibly irritating guy there developed a crush on me. One day he really needed the evening off and begged me to take his shift, even though I only worked mornings because it was an hour's commute from my parents' house. Against my better judgment, I took his shift. That night, as I was helping to close, the manager sent in a guy to help me put chairs on the table so I could mop the floor.

Eight years later, this coming Thursday, in fact, we' re still married, with two kids. All because I took an extra shift at my shitty job.

— Barbara Kilpatrick

friday morning, waking up in the arms of someone you love, it's raining ... so you call in sick to work (giving yourself a three-day weekend), go back to sleep, and at noon ordering chinese, eating lunch in bed, and watching cheesy reruns all day while the world drags on without you.

— avk

The meaning of life is ...


Here's the longer version:

All life exists to re-create itself. Blast an island to dust with a volcano, and within a few years stuff is growing all over the place. Why? Because it must. Follow the chain up from RNA and you get replicating organisms. Why are we here? To reproduce. We eat so we're strong enough to have sex. All else is justification.

— Doug Finner

Life is short, and the end is always unknown ... and closer than we think. What on earth can you do with this time? What would make our time on earth worth the trouble?

Some people go to religion. We are predictive animals; we see into the future. And when we see our death, we can't accept that we will no longer exist. So religion fills that void — life after death, reward for all our rights, and punishment for all our wrongs.

Me? I just don't see it. The big guy in the sky seems far too implausible.

How do I go on? How do I continue to respect and honor my friends, live a good life, and try to improve myself? Why? What is the point, when it will all be soon forgotten?

I don't know.

What I do is I learn. I learn how to make things. Creation by my hands. Computer software, jewelry, robots, balloon animals, the written word, humor, compassion. I create everything I can, as often as I can, without interruption.

A better answer would be that to live is to love, and to love is to bring more light into the world. If we are to suffer this brief interlude, we might as well do all that we can to make the burden light for ourselves and for those around us.

And who knows? Maybe there is more to it than what we can see with our body's eyes. We can only hope.

— Edwin

I've been to the top of the pile, sank to the deepest depths, and seen every point in between. What keeps me hanging on? Morbid curiosity about what will come next. Life is an experience, and there's always something more, good or bad. The trick is learning to take both with equal reverence....

— E. James Jacobson

Having just survived my fourth heart attack, eleven months of unemployment, and a divorce not of my own making, all within the last year, I think that life means the following:

Love those who mean the most. Every life you touch will touch you back. Treasure every sunrise, every raindrop that hits your nose, every slobber of your dog, the feeling of sand between your toes. Be moved by the tears of a child, and try to fix the cause. Be grease, not glue. Breathe deep, exhale slowly, and never miss a chance to help another while on your journey here.

— Don Stephens

Beer, ribs, professional sports, and Miles Davis.

— Mike Barber

Waking up early one morning in a hotel room. Walking down the hall, through some doors, down more steps. Then realizing that you can run away right now and never be found again. Feeling truly free.

Wandering around London. Always having a general idea of where you are, but at the same time being kind of lost. Lost in a sea of people you don't know.

— Adam E. Heller

Humans generally seem to be goal-oriented creatures. I really hate it when people write cover letters for their résumés saying they are "goal oriented." It's completely pointless to say that, because everyone is goal oriented. It's just that some people have very different goals. I have a friend whose goal is to get married before she leaves her childbearing years. I have another whose goal is to be filthy stinking rich, and yet another friend whose only goal is to make it to the next day. I think the third friend is the most realistic and perhaps the sanest, though perhaps a little lazy. It's true that in life there are be-ers and doers, but the be-ers have it right, in my humble opinion, because spending all your life running to get to the same place everyone's going anyway too often causes you to miss out on all the really nice things the world has to offer. All the hard work you do might bring you great wealth, which will allow you to buy all kinds of stuff, but does that "stuff" really add to your life? One might guess the guy sitting in a $3,000 massage chair watching a 50-inch plasma-screen TV has a better life than a sugarcane farmer who sleeps in a shack where the only entertainment is the sound of crickets chirping at night. But how many of these so-called comfortable people are actually happy? I would guess that those farmers are often experiencing life on a level the man in the massage chair can only dream about.

— E. J. Sepp

Roughly 10 percent of life is spent trying to shirk death. The rest of life is probably spent waiting in line at the supermarket.

— Tishon Woolcock

If you see a big ring of fire ahead of you and it scares you half to death, jump through it! It is only our fears that veil our true identity. Conquer these and you'll find what's left of you is love, a love so brilliant that ten thousand suns would not be your equal. We are all searching for truth, we all want happiness. Learn to love yourself and these gifts will follow. Stop looking outward ... the answers lie within. And for God's sake, stop grazing in the fields of chaos and fear that the media is cultivating for you. Fear sells, and we're buyin'. You are more powerful than you know. Enjoy.

— Jack Dempsey Boyd

At the end of the day, it's not that complicated. We're here on this planet for a short time. Appreciate every moment. We have a sacred responsibility to appreciate the opportunity of this life and make the most of it. There is an integrity to pursuing your dreams that animates all other aspects of life. Aim to leave the world a little bit better than you found it, whether it is through something as small as standing up for kindness or as big as building a movement to bring about broad change — both take courage. Be the change you want to see in the world. This is harder than it sounds. It is still worth pursuing.

A lot in life urges us to give in to the arrogance of the moment — the assumption that opportunities will be here forever, so why bother to take action? Do not listen to this domestic devil. The opportunity is here and now. To paraphrase Goethe, boldness contains the seeds of genius — take the first step today. Words and intentions are important, but ultimately actions matter more. Some people are lulled into false comfort or confusion by diffusing their sense of responsibility. One way to shake off this complacency is to look at a present challenge through the eyes of history. Imagine how an issue will be seen in twenty years, and the right decision will usually be revealed. Generational responsibility is the bottom line. After all, the deeper purpose in politics is that you get to participate in making history in the present tense.

Remember that worry is a waste of time and that fear is not your friend. There is a temptation among some good people to overthink to the point of paralysis. This does no one any good. It is true that the unexamined life is not worth living, but it is equally true that the overexamined life is also not worth living. Instead, as someone once said, "Think like a man of action, act like a man of thought."

Enjoy challenges: identify and embrace the responsibilities of your time. After the attacks of September 11, I worked for a time at the New York City Office of Emergency Management (OEM). Anxieties were running high about the possibility of another terrorist attack. This often translated into indulgence in a nervous parlor game in which all sorts of horrific attacks were imagined. On a metal bookshelf in OEM's makeshift offices under the Brooklyn Bridge (the original offices had been destroyed with the World Trade Center) was a line of binders detailing suggested responses for the City to a full range of doomsday scenarios. And yet, while people in taxis contemplated fleeing the city or upped their dose of Paxil, the cops and firefighters who worked at the OEM went about their jobs and daily life with a sense of purposeful calm. They had a saying: Hope for the best but prepare for the worst. The trick was not to worry — that was a counterproductive luxury they could not afford. Instead, keep focused and hold on to your sense of humor. Be fully prepared, and look forward. If something comes up, then deal with it.

At the end of the day, we're all in this together. As Jackie Robinson once said, "One life is not important except for the impact it has on other lives."

As I write this, I'm in an airplane looking out the window at the endless clear-blue horizon above thick clouds, and I'm reminded of the importance of perspective, how nature reminds us that there is always a blue sky above the clouds. Likewise, leaves fall off trees at the turn of the season, and plants appear to die after the first frost, but come spring they bloom again. Pain always comes before a child is born. The sunrise and sunsets in life are sublime, and every night we see that it is darkest just before the dawn, but on a deeper level we know that the sun never actually goes down — it's just an illusion caused by the world spinning around. Nature is nudging us, offering fresh evidence for hope and faith, love, and persistence against all appearances. It still takes some courage to step confidently into the unknown, to seize the day and shape our future, but we should appreciate the process and enjoy the ride.

— John P. Avlon

Life is a cocktail. It consists of various measures of family, relationships, play, and work. Our quest, should we be prepared to accept it, is to find our unique mix. Every decision we make alters this mix. Learning from our choices and making corrections as necessary will enable each of us to find our perfect cocktail.

— "Sir Percival Blakeney"

Let's start with you. What does your life mean? That you are alive means that your parents loved each other enough to make you. That you are alive means that your parents loved you enough to let you live, in spite of how annoying you were. That you are alive means that God thinks you will do some good, either for yourself or for others, that would go undone if you were to die this instant.

What does God consider good for you? The answer is, everything that happens to you, if you let it be good for you and teach you something. If it weren't good for you and God didn't think you could handle it, God wouldn't let it happen. Even things you struggle with can be good if you overcome them, because they make you stronger. That's how you can do good for yourself. It would be tragic if you were to let yourself be overcome by things God knows you are capable of handling with his help.

What does God consider good for you to do for others? A major part of the meaning of life also has to do with what you make of it and how you perceive it. Further, you demonstrate to God what the meaning of your life is by how you live it. What you spend your time on conveys what you really think means something, religious convictions notwithstanding. If you spend your time on things you feel are meaningless, life will seem meaningless to you, and you will probably be pretty miserable and discontented. If you spend your time on things you feel are meaningful, then your life will be full of meaning, and you will be pretty happy, no matter what happens to you.

Life is meaningful when it is worth living. Life is worth living when you help people. There are many different ways of helping people, and life is most worth living when you help people in some special way that only you can. A very quick and easy example is this book. No one else has come up with the idea of asking people this question in quite this same way. You are helping people by asking a very important question and asking for answers from everyone. Because you expect everyone to respond, people do, and forming a response requires that they think seriously. Whether they send you a serious response or not, the thought they put into the subject may start them on a search for more meaning, so it has the potential to benefit many people. I have no doubt you will help lots of others in your future, so the meaning of your life is not going to end with this project.

Another aspect of life with an enormous amount of meaning is the struggle to acquire as many good character traits as possible and to rid oneself of as many bad ones as possible. It is a lifelong struggle, and it is very rewarding, but I am afraid too many people deny that such a struggle is worth it with the excuse "that's just the way I am."

All I can say is it feels so good to have rid myself of one frailty that I immediately start on getting rid of the next one I discover in myself. To sum up, I think that the meaning of life lies in three things:

1) love

2) service

3) building good character and destroying bad character God bless!

— Michaela Stephens

What we call coincidences have happened in my life. I don't know how or why, but they make me think that there is intelligence or order to life. In the same way that the small lumps travel to the bottom of a packet of cereal if you shake it, like seems to attract like.

That feeling I had about which estate agent had the house I then fell in love with, even though they didn't normally advertise that type of house? Like attracts like.

Life can be beautiful, and life can be cruel. It can be difficult when you see abhorrent images and hear disturbing stories. And the whole point is that there isn't an answer to this. It is a moral and ethical paradox, in the sense that we can never resolve it to our emotional satisfaction.

Conflict exists.

But it is possible to realize that life is a paradox and to live from that perspective. You can't deny your feelings, positive and negative, in the same way that you can't deny the positive and negative things in life.

Living is as much a responsibility as it is a gift.

I spent my twenties looking at religions and philosophies. I think of myself as a Taoist, but I'm a lot of other things too. Because I have a pragmatic outlook on life I find my joy in life through work. I enjoy my work, and it suits my mind. Not everyone is the same.

I read something recently that said that it is healthy to have changing values. It quoted a mathematician's cat that preferred fish to chicken, chicken to beef, and beef to fish. Tomorrow I might believe something else.

— Anonymous

This is what I have learned. I hope it makes sense, even if you don't agree with me. All that I ask is that from this moment on you listen to the love of God and the growing love of the soul within you. You don't have to give up material things and join a monastery. You only need to learn to love as best you can. I don't mean just to love people. Love sunsets, bass fishing, pool, orange juice, cats, Gauguin paintings, everything else. Just love and love and love some more. Love with all the passion you can muster. By all means help yourself to the gifts that this life affords you. Enjoy them to their fullest. You are meant to have them, whatever they are. Whenever practical, help yourself in other lives. Accept who you are in this one. That's all.

— Ralph A. Gessner

I've been thinking about the meaning of life as it relates to our impulses.

The problem with understanding oneself is that being a part of oneself prohibits accurate observation. To use an example, an object must be pushed by an outside force for it to move. Have you ever stood on a skateboard and tried to move yourself with two feet on the board? Through accurate counterweighting you can achieve a minimal amount of movement but hardly enough to get anywhere.

The mind is such a complicated beast that it prevents itself from understanding itself. Dreams are a gateway to understanding, as your subconscious acts as another voice. Drugs are another way to think outside the box. It is fascinating, though, that drugs are only a crude shortcut to something we are all capable of. Through discipline we can control all the automatic functions in our body. We can even make our hearts stop, given enough force of will and training.

I find it amazing how my mind and body work. The levels of neurotransmitters and nutrients in my system determines how I feel each day. Sometimes I try to control the way I'm feeling or try to focus my mind and find that I just cannot. Or sometimes I find that because I just ate a really healthy dinner I'm at a peak of creativity.

I've always thought that it doesn't take a smart man to find the meaning of life. Sometimes all it takes is happiness. If you are truly happy in life, then you are closer than I at finding the true meaning.


Excerpted from The Real Meaning of Life by David Seaman. Copyright © 2005 David Seaman. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

David Seaman grew up in Maryland and now attends New York University. When he’s not searching for the meaning of life, his other interests include photography, exploring the city, and people watching. He is a contributing writer for the Washington Square News. This is his first book.

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