The Purpose of Life: What is Life Or Why Do We Live

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Everyone will question themselves or others at a stage in their lives. For some people, there is no point in living when death could be right around the corner. Over the years, many major historical figures such as Nietzsche, Merton, Frankl, and Newman have provided an answer to the question of what, if anything, makes life meaningful.

Having trouble finding the meaning of life? Don’t worry, Friedrich Nietzsche had the same problem! Nietzsche was a German philosopher who became famous for his outlandish theories. Nietzsche starts his definition of life with the idea that God is dead, and we have killed him. The scientific aspect of society can no longer turn to religion, specifically Christianity, to find meaning. Without the ability to turn to God, where could man find meaning in his everyday life? Religion was useful for providing meaning, community, love, and helping to deal with the problems of life. Nietzsche believes that in order to live a life of meaning and purpose, we should replace religion with philosophy, art, music, literature, and theatre. Things like this, give humans the ability to realize that our lives might not be so different from others. It also gives the opportunity for us to come together and conquer the difficulties that all humans face in the world. As we go on our life journey, we try to fill a void created by the “death” of God. Something Nietzsche constantly talked about was Ubermensch. This was the idea of someone that created their own thoughts and values without letting others influence them. This “superman” can overcome the influences of life and take responsibility and accountability for their thoughts and beliefs. “For those who are strong and independent, prepared and predestined to command, who embody the intellect and the art of a governing race, religion is one further means to overcome obstacles…” (Nietzsche, p 54.) This idea plays a huge role in our society today. We have come a long way from Nietzsche’s time, but we still try to create our own images of things and convey them to society. 

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Nietzsche also believed that the meaning of life is something substantial in itself. Being able to love your life, no matter what or who is in it is something that makes life a little easier. The good, bad, and ugly are contributions to who you are and what you are doing right at this moment. Trying to create yourself opens the door for failures but embracing the failures with your successes can spark a love of life and help you see the meaning in even the worse moments. 

Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl remains best known for this theories on the meaning of life. The horrific experience of Auschwitz taught him about the primary purpose of life which was the journey to find meaning. One thing that Frankl believed was key to a meaningful life was being able to find a purpose and taking responsibility for ourselves and others around us. This ties into the responsibility that Nietzsche talked about. Living our life with a clear mind, gives us the ability to face all the “how” questions of life. Since no two humans are alike, we all are on different paths with different purposes. Being able to have a clear, personal mind also gives us the option to help others find their purpose. Throughout life, we go through obstacles that put us two steps backwards. If we have motivation on our side, according to Frankl, we can develop a determination to achieve something, overcome all obstacles and fight for what we want. In the end, this will help us clarify our purpose in each stage of our life. 

Through Frankl’s experiences in life, something he also stressed was that life is not perfect. It isn’t fair and it is also something out of our control. The only thing we can control is our attitude. If we adapt a stronger attitude, along with the motivation mentality, our needs, passions, and existential goals can change overtime. Going off of this, in Frankl’s time, it was very easy to label those based off of their actions. For example, one might label the Nazi soldier as an evil person. On the other hand, we assume that the Jews were strong, brave, and good people. “No group consists entirely of decent or indecent people. In this sense, no group is of “pure race” – and therefore one occasionally found a decent fellow among the camp guards” (Frankl, p 94.) Frankl wanted people to know that behind every action there is a person that we don’t tend to see all the time. Frankl through his experiences, has taught us that living a meaningful life consists of personal growth to outwardly give to others. 

Thomas Merton was an American writer and theologian who focused his meaning starting at the individual. Again, the constant theme throughout these writers, is responsibility. He also stated that responsibility is something we must take into account when discussing our own lives. “It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race though it is a race dedicated to many absurdities and one which makes many terrible mistakes: yet, with all that, God Himself glorified in becoming a member of the human race” (Merton, p 157.) As a person, you can’t give your personal responsibilities to others. With this responsibility, Merton believed that part of it meant seeking out the meaning of your life. From the time we are children, we constantly look for who we are and what we can offer to society. Merton believed that being able to discover yourself at certain points in our life might not be what we expect. Being able to make the first step in accepting our self as whole, with flaws and all, lets us completely “lose” ourselves. He encompassed that when we accept ourselves in the world we live in, it constructs the foundation to live a meaningful life. 

Jean Vanier is a Catholic philosopher and theologian who believed that the main source of a meaningful life stems from looking back at reality and questioning the things around us. Vanier, as well as Merton, says that we should delve more deeply into our own faith and spirituality to help us find our own answers to life’s great questions. “Reality is what we have heard, seen, watched, and touched. To live in reality, we must always be asking questions” (Vanier, p 35.) Reality is something that we live and share amongst our peers. When we are given the ability to actively listen to one another, then we can move further on to breaking down the walls that separate us. Living in reality to Vanier is about being able to overcome the challenges and differences within ourselves to accept other people. When we can accomplish that, then we can live together in harmony. “Reality is all that is…it is complex, it is tangible and intangible, it is physical and spiritual, and it is just beyond my own capacity to comprehend” (Vanier, p 34.) Living a meaningful life to Vanier is being confident and comfortable enough to question the things we don’t understand. Asking questions is something that can only benefit us. When we voice our opinions and hear what others have to say, it fits into the puzzle of what could make our life more meaningful. 


Questioning your purpose in life is inevitable whether you are a small child or an adult. Nietzsche, Merton, Newman, and Vanier all show different perspectives on what contributes to a meaningful life, but at the same time, intertwines everything into society today. Regardless of how we choose to live, we will always question the purpose of our individual lives currently. Having the responsibility and mature attitude to “take life into our own hands” is something that opens up new meanings and purposes within our lives. 


Works Cited

1.Frankl, Viktor. A Man’s Search for Meaning. Beacon Press, 1992.


3.Merton, Thomas. Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander. Doubleday, 1966.

4.Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm. Beyond Good and Evil. Blurb, 2019. 

5.Vanier, Jean. Life’s Great Questions. Franciscan Media, 2015.

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