I think that the path to a meaningful life is quite obvious when we take a step back a consider “meaning” in general. Meaning is assigned to something. For instance, a word is meaningful, in so far as we understand the other words which describe it. The way to make a word more meaningful is to use it, listen to it, understand it’s implications, and experience the word as much a possible.
How to make a relationship more meaningful is also quite obvious. We have better relationships that we care about more when we interact with the other person often, in a wide variety of settings, talk about a wide variety of things, help each other out, laugh, play, work together etc. A relationship that is full of mutual inspiration is obviously worth having. That relationship is full of meaning, and that meaning was gained through experience.
The question of meaning is often posed as “what is the meaning of life?” Implicit in the question is the assumption that there is a sort of eternal, objective meaning that applies to all people. The question of meaning in the eternal sense is not obvious at all, but the question of meaning in the sense that we apply to language and relationships is quite straightforward. We gain meaning, primarily through experience with the object. What kind of experience we have with that object determines how we feel towards it. If that object is life than our experience will determine how meaningful our lives are.
Now that we know how to gain meaning, let’s think about why so many people fall into nihilism and apathy. There are many reasons to be sure, but I want to just go over some obvious ones. As a useful metaphor, let’s think about the word cacomistle. Don’t recognize it? Good. The word cacomistle probably has little to no meaning to you, you probably never hear it, never use it, you have no reason to use it. The word actually means “a carnivorous, raccoon-like animal.” Now the word has some meaning, but probably still not much. Now think of the word Love. Think of all the emotions that come along with Love, maybe resentment, maybe joy, laughter and satisfaction. Love is a profoundly meaningful word to many people, telling someone that you love them can sometimes make or break a relationship.
Now let’s replace the two words with people. Mr. Cacomistle is your average joe. He has made it through school, got a decent job, a house, he can afford all the necessities, and he is planning to retire at 62 so he can watch some more TV, maybe do some more fishing. Mrs. Love is your ultimate thrill seeker, she loves to learn new things, travel the world, experience all there is around her, she interacts with every person and everything around her, she will likely never retire because she is always wanting to be a part of something new.
Who will likely deem life more meaningful? Just like words, just like relationships, it is obvious, the meaning is gained through experience. And life carries as much meaning as we are willing to experience. You get out of it, what you put in.
Hustle it up!