Lawrence Rifkin: The Meaning of Life, in 3 Minutes

Larry photoMeaning of life – let’s talk about 3 perspectives.

From one grand perspective – the meaning of life is to stay alive, to reproduce, to foster survival through generations.

But that’s not it for many of us. We live in relationship – with specific people and cultures.

From this second perspective, meaning emerges from engaging deeply – with positive relationships, positive actions, and worthwhile goals.

It’s love that provides the inspiration for positive engagement.

Love of a person, love of family, love of ideals. Love of creativity, of helping, of learning, of making something, of achievement. Love of life. From these, connections emerge and shared histories. Belonging and feeling valuable are emotional bedrocks of meaning.

Human meanings can change us, and change the physical world. Human meanings create new realities.

Of course, at times the meaning of life is to find relief from stress, from sadness, from hunger, from pain – just trying to get to some wonderful, relaxing, peaceful neutral.

And finally, there’s this third perspective: The consciousness of what it is to be uniquely you. Meaning here emerges from maximizing and appreciating experience itself: the experience of pleasure, of awareness, of beauty, of accomplishment, of thought, of imagination, of happiness.

The experience of now. But also a stirring awareness of our personal story through the arc of time.

These 3 scales of meaning co-mingle.

With the first perspective, meaning allows for the existence and perpetuation of life itself. For some, being alive is meaning enough, and needs no further justification.

With the second perspective – engaging with positive relationships, positive actions, worthwhile goals – human meaning can transform relationships and transform the world.

And with the third perspective, human meaning allows for heightened awareness, the rhapsody of personal experience, and for joy.

Our meanings have deep value in and of themselves, and need no cosmic scaffolding. The world is made of matter, but it is we who do the mattering.

We can orchestrate our own meaning. As far as we know, this extraordinary level of meaning and creation is being realized in only one tiny fragment of the universe— and you, in your uniqueness get to partake.

“Transcript from video Meaning of Life, in 3 Minutes available on YouTube.”


~Lawrence Rifkin is a physician and a writer. His writings on the intersection of meaning, science, wonder, medicine, and humanism can be found at

Excellence Reporter 2017

Categories: Medicine, Science

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