What makes life worth living?

Tonight, or rather this morning, I find myself contemplating the question, “What makes life worth living?” It’s not the cancer that has caused this thought, just the general spiralling of my mind. As always when looking for an answer to a deep philosophical question the place to go is Google!

Psychology Today offers the following four possibilities:

  1. Nothing. It seems that several noted philosophers have “cast doubt on whether life has any intrinsic meaning”.
  2. Religion. Psychology Today goes on to say that “religion and vague spiritual ideas like “everything happens for a reason” cannot provide a sound basis for living”.
  3. Happiness. Psychology Today goes on to conclude that “happiness is not the meaning of life”.
  4. Love, work and play. These are, according to the author of the Psychology Today blog, the three things which make life worth living.

I’m not sure that my question of “what makes life worth living” has any relation at all to whether or not life has intrinsic meaning, or what may or may not provide a sound basis for living, nor whether or not happiness is the meaning of life. In explaining 4. Psychology Today states: “Surveys and other psychological studies indicate that love, work, and play do indeed enable people to have lives they value”. So, is “a life they value” the same thing as “makes life worth living”? I think not, but then I’m in a particularly querulous state of mind right now.

In the blog, Pick the Brain Scott Young offers seven rules for a life worth living:

  1. Never let another person dictate the terms for living your life.
  2. Don’t allow yourself to be chained by consumerism.
  3. Rule money, don’t let money rule you.
  4. You come first in relationships.
  5. Never outsource your thinking.
  6. Anything you lack can be trained.
  7. Purpose comes from your creative facilities.

Once again these seem to be a set of, “If life stinks then you need to address these issues”, rather than actually looking at what makes life worth living. I mean, never letting someone else dictate the terms of your life, when you get it wrong would make life miserable and perhaps feel as though life were not worth living, but I’m far from sure that the opposite is true.

A project by the University of Michigan produced the following:

  1.  nightly dinner with my wife
  2. a family vacation with all five grandkids
  3. Zingerman’s
  4. Bach’s cello suites
  5. Beethoven’s chamber music
  6. Thelonius Monk’s ‘Round Midnight
  7. Ellington’s Blanton-Webster Band
  8. Jerry Garcia guitar solos
  9. Philip Roth
  10. Ernie Harwell’s broadcasts of Tiger games
  11. Leonard Baskin’s prints
  12. Fly fishing on the Au Sable

Once again I don’t think these responses address the question being asked. Everything on this list sounds perfectly pleasant and no doubt puts a smile on someone’s face when it occurs for them, but would, for example, never hearing Beethoven’s chamber music mean that life wasn’t worth living? I think not. This is a list of things which bring pleasure into someone’s life and not things which make it worth living.

I had great hopes for “What makes life worth living?” by Dr Judith Rich in the HuffPost, but, unfortunately this turns out to be another “identify your dreams and live them” kind of post, which is very far from what I am looking for.

Maybe I should turn my question on its head? Maybe I should ask “What would need to be missing from life for it to be no longer worth living?” In some ways that is a much easier question, I think, because we can all imagine circumstances in which life would be intolerable, but that is a very negative way of trying to get at what I want to know, and I don’t want to go down that path.

I don’t have an answer. I’m stuck in the “this makes life pleasant but this makes it unpleasant” spot. Maybe when I wake up in the morning I will have an answer, or possibly I will have forgotten the question, or possibly the question will appear meaningless as I progress through a day of life.

Maybe I should just end by quoting Marvin the Paranoid Android from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

Life? Don’t talk to me about life!


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