By Dr. Lawana R. Lofton, PsyD –

What is life meant to be? Finding the secret to life is a question as old as time itself. To answer the question “What is the meaning of life?” many have approached the question by examining what is valuable to humans in life. What is it we as humans hold dear and would defend against its lost.

Famous Philosophers, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Spinoza, and many others expressed what was valuable in life was the pursuit of meaningfulness. Aristotle stated the pursuit of happiness was the [highest good] and that such is achievable through our uniquely human capacity to pursue it.

By contrast, a Nihilistic perspective would argue nothing has value in life. According to Friedrich Nietzsche, Nihilism is characterized as emptying the world and especially human existence of meaning, purpose, comprehensible truth, or essential value.

From a Existential point of view a case is made by 19th century Philosophers Søren Kierkegaard and Arthur Schopenhauer that life can be a leap of faith, full of despair, even quite painful as we experience it, yet despite these naturally occurring realities of life, individuals do find meaningfulness.


What gives life meaning?

What gives life meaning is finding purpose via a life passion, and then pursuing it. This perspective is related to taking risks regardless of its outcome and overcoming fear in the pursuit of obtaining something meaningful. Joseph Campbell, Mythologist, Professor, and Author of “The Power of Myth” during an interview with Public Television’s anchor, Bill Moyers, answered this question with the following response:

” People say what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive so the life experiences we have on the purely physical plane will have resonances within, …..our own innermost being and reality, so we actually feel the rapture of being alive..” Joseph Campbell

Is life enjoyed most by the ambitious? Or, is life a mere sequence of happenstance? For those in life who show initiative and question what they want out of life, are they happier? These are not easy questions nor easily answered without individual contemplation. Overtime, of course with maturity, questions such as these seem to have importance because of one’s life experiences and observations we make about self and society. Life and death; so random and uncertain it can all seem at times.

Some have concluded [individuals] are capable of the best and worst of what humanity has to offer. Meaning, the polarity of extremes we [are all] capable of yet is often difficult to fathom. As humans, we can amaze others with our potential to create spectacular things that significantly impact society as a whole, and then display behavior which destroys with a swiftness of speed incomprehensible.

If Man is capable of so much good, how can we make sense of acts of evil which occur, even from good Men? Scientific efforts made to uncover a single truth that connects us all have involved examining obscure beliefs and historical Philosophical truths to explain human existence. To define truth, scientist claim the secret to life is within ones DNA. Concepts of searching for ones core motivations and meaning hold similarities across time, but not in all domains of investigation, or in what we in society value or perceive about their unique existence. Across all subsets of religion, race, culture, geography, phases of life, and even within eras in history, we find differences among those in society.

The single most common dominator we have for measuring the secret to life is in knowing you are alive and what choices one will make to live their life in the time they have left.


One rational in this thinking is to reference Plato’s contention that love is a universal common occurrence we all share, but it is not consistently expressed in the same way across all those in human existence. A person’s capacity to value the benefits of love for self and others is universal and can be expressed in vastly different pursuits. Plato questioned if love was pure, the one common dominator, and unadulterated, then why is love pursed in less than virtuous ways?

For example, there are those who have a deep, often excessive inappropriate love for things, drugs, pornography, or the elusive obsessive pursuit for wealth above all others. When you find love, how does anyone ever know it will survive the test of time? There is no certainty not even in “love” therefore many have argued then if love is enough to sustain us. 


Perhaps the point is finding happiness in the pursuit of something significant to the individual, and having an opportunity to share it with a significant other. Relationships are the quintessential common dominator we all have in common. They define our lives and they persistently shape, for better or worse, the quality of our lives.

According to Harry F. Harlow (1958), Psychologist’s “assigned mission” is to analyze all facets of human and animal behavior into their component variables. So far as love or affection is concerned, Psychologists have failed in this mission. Psychologists tend to give progressively less attention to a motive which pervades our entire lives and contributes to emotional well being, and the best and worst of behavior in humans.

Present day there remains uncertainty as to the true “common dominator” which connects us all, nevertheless, we can be certain both the presence and absence of quality relationships in our individual lives shapes our existence.


Harry F. Harlow, “The Nature of Love“. (1958). Address of the President at the sixty-sixth Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, Washington, D. C., August 31, 1958. First published in “American Psychologist,” 13, 573-685.

 Until Next Time: a’ Donf

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