Lesson 2, Section 4: Meaning and purpose in life

Meaning and purpose in life

A central question addressed by many lifestances is the purpose or meaning of life. Humanists ponder this question too, but they are not persuaded that human life was intentionally created to serve a specific purpose. In fact, humanists do not see reason to believe life was created at all; they agree with the scientific community’s view that it evolved naturally without any guarantee of transcendent purpose or supernatural significance. Humanists don’t feel that their lives are diminished by a scientific explanation of human origins, however; on the contrary, humanists see this knowledge as an exciting opportunity to create their own meaning and purpose in life. For a humanist, this ongoing creative quest is far more rewarding than following someone else’s idea of existential fulfillment.

Creating our own purposes in life and then striving to achieve them can, in itself, provide a sense of meaning. But meaning can also derive from the good we do, the relationships we build, the quest for intellectual growth, the satisfaction of productive work, the enjoyment of creative or artistic pursuits, and the influence we have on our friends and society. The meaning of these achievements is not independent of ourselves; on the contrary, their meaning is ours to define. This attitude has often been summarized as, “The purpose of life is to live a life of purpose.”

There is considerable evidence from psychology that happiness and self-esteem result from the choice to live a full life in pursuit of goals we find meaningful and valuable. Humanists would add that gaining a rational and realistic comprehension of why things happen — and what, if anything, we can do to change ourselves and our world — can give individuals an even greater sense of understanding and control over their lives.

Humanists feel that the humanist lifestance can lead to greater happiness and fulfillment by releasing humans from the chains of original sin, bad kharma from previous lives, and other self-denigrating beliefs. They believe that individuals should take responsibility for their own actions and strive for moral excellence, but not feel guilty about circumstances outside their control. Humanism focuses on living happy, ethical, and fulfilling lives in the here and now, not feelings of sin or shame.

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