Nicolae Tanase: Dr. Pattakos, what is the meaning of life?
Alex Pattakos: The Meaning of Life is Meaning. As the world-renowned psychiatrist and existential philosopher, Viktor Frankl, famously espoused, “Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.”
It is against this backdrop that the search for meaning—the primary, intrinsic motivation of human beings—and, hence, the meaning of life, unfold. When we search out and discover the authentic meaning of our existence and our experiences, we discover that life doesn’t just happen to us. Rather, we happen to life, and we make it meaningful.
Importantly, I believe that we don’t create meaning—we find it. And we can’t find it if we don’t look for it. Meaning comes in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes it looms big in our lives; sometimes it slips in almost unobserved. We might miss a meaningful moment entirely, until days, months, or even years later what once seemed insignificant is revealed as a pivotal, life-changing moment. Or it might be the collective meaning of many moments that finally catch our mind’s eye, as if we weave together a living quilt from moments that by themselves passed unnoticed.
Although we are not always aware of meaning, it is present in every moment, wherever we go. All we have to do, in our daily life and at work, is to wake up to meaning and take notice. However, we cannot answer the big question unless we discover answers to the smaller ones: What are we doing? Why are we doing it? Every day our lives are rich with meaningful answers, but only when we look for (and appreciate) meaning will it bloom in our lives. Indeed, it is the search for meaning—our personal answer to life’s ultimate call—that makes us truly human.
Again, to quote Viktor Frankl, “No ant, no bee, no animal will ever raise the question of whether or not its existence has a meaning, but man does. It’s his privilege that he cares for a meaning to his existence. He is not only searching for such a meaning, but he is even entitled to it….After all, it’s a sign of intellectual honesty and sincerity.” And, as someone who is proud of his Greek heritage, it is this kind of intellectual honesty and sincerity that can be traced to the ancient Greeks who wisely advised that the “unexamined life is not worth living.” But to question life in this rigorous and intimate way, that is, to truly “know thyself,” demands an authentic commitment to meaningful values and goals—the will to meaning—that only you can actualize and fulfill.
~Alex Pattakos, Ph.D. is coauthor of the award-winning book, The OPA! Way: Finding Joy & Meaning in Everyday Life & Work, and author of the international best-selling book, Prisoners of Our Thoughts: Viktor Frankl’s Principles for Discovering Meaning in Life and Work (available in 22 languages). Affectionately nicknamed “Dr. Meaning”, Alex is a pioneer in Personal Transformation and Leadership Development. He has an extensive background in Political Science, Public Administration, Psychology, Systems Science, and Business. Now as cofounder of the Global Meaning Institute, Alex is encouraging all to live and work with meaning.
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