For most of my sixty years I've seriously pondered the Big Question, "What is the meaning of life?" So much so, I've assumed that anyone who doesn't engage in similar pondering is shallow, clueless, frivolous, unaware.
After all, Socrates said: "The unexamined life is not worth living."
But there's intriguing evidence in Phil Zuckerman's "Society Without God" that most people in Denmark and Sweden simply live life, without questioning its meaning. And the citizens of these nations are among the happiest in the world, according to comparative surveys.
So what gives? Zuckerman lived in Scandinavia for fourteen months, interviewing about 150 Danes and Swedes and conducting other sociological research. Here's what he says at the end of a chapter about fear of death and the meaning of life.
Having conversation after conversation like those excerpted above led me to some deep thinking. Some serious pondering. But not about the meaning of life. Rather, I deeply pondered the deep pondering of the meaning of life.
Put simply: I began to seriously question just how important and significant "knowing the meaning of life" really is for people, after all. Is it truly such a burning matter? Is it really such a deep, universal concern?
...Based on my research among Danes and Swedes, I have started to theorize that most people, most of the time -- at least in certain cultures -- don't actually worry too much or actually even care about the "ultimate meaning of life."
...Sure, every human who has ever lived may, from time to time, wonder why we are here and what the point of it all is at certain special moments, now and then. Call them fleeting moments of existential pondering.
But I would argue that these fleeting moments of existential pondering come and go, and are not necessarily the moments that people construct their lives around, or devote inordinate amounts of energy to. At least not contemporary Scandinavians, who are living proof that the quest to know the ultimate meaning of life need not be a deep or vexing human obsession.
Here's some examples of what Danes and Swedes told Zuckerman:
Do I wonder about the meaning of life? No, I don't go that deep.
I don't know if I think about the meaning of life. The meaning of my life, I think, is just to have a good life for myself and the people I care about.
It has no special meaning. People try to find some special meaning. We are born, we live, and we die.
But sometimes you can ask yourself, now you are here what are you going to do? Do something, you know, so that when we get to the end you can say I did something good for other people.
I basically think that life is about what we do now, and whatever makes us happy and feel like we're achieving something. That's the meaning of it. Because if you think of it, look at animals. They just live and they're happy. I hope, at least.
The meaning of life is living your life and having a good life, and you should not be living life waiting for something afterwards.
Amen to that. More and more, I've been coming to the same conclusion: