The one thing that all psychologists would probably agree on is that in spite of the huge amount we know about the human condition, there is more we do not know. Indeed, psychological science itself is little more than 150 years old, meaning that compared with a science like chemistry we are roughly at the same level of understanding as the alchemists were a thousand years ago. What that really means is, our knowledge is limited and, therefore, getting a real understanding of “life” is somewhat based on guesswork and assumption.
So, until we have a greater understanding of the world around us, the universe, our minds, and our existence, we will not really be able to grasp what life is. As a result, until that time – which may be hundreds or thousands of years into the future – the meaning of life has to be something which is intensely personal.
To understand life, we have to understand death. Yet we cannot do that since none of us has experienced it. What we do know is that we were born, yet none of us experienced life before our birth. However, we know the world had existed before we did. We know that our family existed before we did. We know that significant events happened before our birth. We know all that because of history books, recordings, even stories that are passed down the generations. So, even though we have not experienced life before birth, we do appreciate and understand it.
So, we find it hard to appreciate that life after our death will carry on for other people. Because we have not experienced death, we have no idea what lies on the other side. Moreover, that is why, from a psychological perspective, it is so difficult to determine the meaning of life.
Some people cope with this issue by having the firm belief that there is something on the other side of death. After all, these people argue, there was something before our birth. Some people are sure there is something after death and religions of all kinds encourage this kind of thinking. However, even non-religious individuals are confident in their belief of something beyond the grave. Such beliefs give meaning to life for many.
Others are firm in their belief that there is nothing after death. Just as our own lives had nothing before our birth, so there will be nothing after death, say these people. This firm belief can also give meaning to life for many, because it means they endeavour to live life to the full, knowing that one day there will be nothing so they should make the most of it while they can.
Psychologically, the problem is for people in the middle. These are the individuals who have no firm belief in an afterlife or no certainty that there is nothing after death. They struggle to believe in either argument, and that causes them the most concern over the meaning of life. Psychological studies show that people with firm beliefs about death – one way or the other – are those who can cope best with getting a meaning out of life. It is the people who have no firm beliefs who find it difficult to cope.
One day, those kind of people will have their doubts answered. When the scientists of the future have worked out what life and death actually consist of and exactly what happens. In the meantime, we can only get a personal meaning for life by having a true belief.
That means there is no right or wrong answer to the meaning of life. There is only your answer; the answer that gives you satisfaction and peace of mind according to your beliefs.
~Graham Jones, The Internet Psychologist
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