What’s your view on the meaning of life?

A student asked me:

What’s your view on the meaning of life?

I believe that existence is suffering. It might be emotional or physical pain, or even existential agony. Whatever it is, we cannot escape the pains of existence. Every new encounter, new experience, new knowledge changes us, transforms us. And so we are constantly experiencing and living out the death of our present-selves-now-made-past. To paraphrase the philosopher, Martin Heidegger: One lives one’s death; one dies one’s life.

Given the constancy of suffering in our existence, I prefer to think of pain and suffering as the white noise of our existence. That inescapable noise that haunts our being, that bothers us most when our minds go idle.

I don’t think pain and suffering is a bad thing. If anything suffering is a double edge sword. It has the potential to bring out the worst in us, amplifying our self-centredness as if we are at the centre of the universe, as if we are the only one experiencing the agony of life; OR, it has to potential to make us more human and humane as we recognise that everyone around us also suffer pain in their own way.

I like to think about my own sufferings in the latter way. My suffering reminds me I am human and not divine; that I am weak and not indestructible; that I al vulnerable and not invincible. My suffering teaches me empathy for others who suffer in their own way. My suffering reminds me that I am connected to everyone around me with this invisible bond of pain.

Yes, existence is suffering, and while pain reminds me that I exist, it reminds me that there is so much more to life than merely existing. I want to be fully alive. And to be fully alive, I must fully actualise my potential as a human being, which is realised through the lessons of how to be human and humane through my own sufferings.

This is my meaning.

Author: Jonathan Y. H. Sim

Jonathan Sim is an Instructor with the Department of Philosophy at the National University of Singapore. He is passionate about teaching and he continues to research fun and innovative ways of engaging students to learn effectively. He has been teaching general education modules to a diverse range of undergraduate students and adult learners at the University.

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