Excellence Reporter: Dr. Raghunathan, what is the meaning of life?
Raj Raghunathan: “What is the meaning of life?” is one of those questions that does not have a universally applicable answer. Why? Because searching for the “meaning” is a uniquely human endeavor (e.g., lions and zebras don’t seek meaning) and, as such, even if life were to have meaning, this meaning would be limited in its applicability to only humans.
This does not mean, however, that seeking an answer to the question is a useless endeavor. Lots of findings show that those who believe that there is a meaning to life are happier, and happiness is very important.
So, we find ourselves in an interesting quandary: objectively speaking, there appears to be no universally acceptable answer to “what’s the meaning of life?” And yet, having an answer is of paramount importance for our well-being.
I believe that each person can arrive at their ownpersonal answer to the question through earnest self-inquiry. I have attempted to do this, of course, and my answer is this: the meaning of life is to come to the realization that we are all deeply, inextricably connected.
Once this realization occurs, a weird (and wonderful) thing happens: the feverishness that sometimes underlies the quest for the meaning of life disappears.
~Raj Raghunathan is Professor of Marketing at the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin. He is interested in exploring the impact that people’s judgments and decisions have on their own happiness and fulfillment. Raj’s work has appeared in top journals, including The Journal of Marketing, The Journal of Consumer Research, The Journal of Marketing Research, Journal of Consumer Psychology, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Information Systems Research, and The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. His work has also been cited in several mass media outlets, including The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Austin American Statesman, The Houston Chronicle, and Self magazine. Raj is an award-winning teacher and currently has an online course on happiness with over 120,000 students from literally every country in the world.
Raj writes about his views on Happiness, Creativity, and Leadership on his popular Psychology Today blog (with over 1 million page views), Sapient Nature. Raj’s book (titled, If you’re so smart, why aren’t you happy?) was released in April 2016 in the US and the UK, and in May in India. It is also coming out in 10 languages other than English.
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