It turns out some psychologists (Baumeister and Vohs, 2002) have found the meaning of life. Psychologists are much more pragmatic than philosophers. Rather than working out the meaning of life from first principles or anything daft like that they just went out at asked a lot of people. Jeremy Dean at PsyBlog summarises what they found
Baumeister and Vohs (2002) have synthesised four factors. When people are asked, the more they report each of these four factors being fulfilled, the more meaningful their lives feel:
- Purpose – this could be living happily ever after, going to heaven or even (whisper it) found at work. Whatever it is, meaning in life comes from reaching goals and feeling fulfilled. Even though fulfilment is hard to achieve because the state fades, people need purpose.
- Values – people need a moral structure to work out what is right and what is wrong. There are plenty to choose from: some come from religion, others from philosophy and still others from your friends and family.
- Efficacy – people want to make a difference and have some control over their environment. Without that, the meaning of life is reduced.
- Self-worth – we all want to feel we’re good and worthwhile people. We can do this individually or by hitching ourselves to a worthy cause. Either way we need to be able to view ourselves in a positive light.
So now you know.