Excellence Reporter: Dr. Vost, what is the meaning of life?
Kevin Vost: I think we are likely to find life most meaningful when we develop and perfect the kinds of powers and abilities we all share as human beings, like the fundamental intellectual powers to grasp concepts and to reason, and the moral powers of the will to make the kinds of choices that best regulate our emotions and behaviors leading to tranquility and peace both within ourselves and between others. That is the stuff of ancient virtue ethics, the cultivation of excellences or perfections of our powers that help us both do good and become good, important keys to true happiness.
Those virtuous keys we all potentially share operate most fully, and give life most meaning, when we apply them toward developing talents, skills, and interests that are unique to us as well. Some people find meaning in building houses, fixing cars, or balancing books. I prefer reading books, writing them, and lifting weights myself, but I thank God the world is full of people with complimentary interests that truly make this world go around (or I’d have no study to read in, no way to get to the gym, and perhaps little money to enjoy either one.)
I think life is most meaningful when we experience a deep sense of wonder at all of creation and of gratitude for the gift of human life, a gift that makes us not only a part of creation, but a part that can appreciate its beauty and goodness. Hopefully, over the course of a life well-spent, that wonder will develop into some manner of wisdom, wherein we come to spend the most time and energy on the things that matter the most, and that gratitude will develop into a love that desires to reach out to others and show them their lives are important and meaningful, perhaps the thing that matters most of all.
Of course, this is nothing new. Long before my time, philosophers spoke of wonder and wisdom, and we were told that above all else we should love God with all that we are and love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
At the end of the day (or of the life, to be precise), I don’t think a person has to accomplish great things on a vast scale to live a most meaningful life. I think what matters most is that we make the most of the abilities and opportunities that have been given to us, and help others to do the same. This is the stuff not of riches or fame, but of growing, caring, and nurturing, of study, friendship, and family. These can supply plenty of meaning, purpose, and happiness. And if, when our life on this earth has ended, even one person can think of us, smile, and be thankful we were here, that is all for the better.
~Kevin Vost, Psy.D., has taught psychology and gerontology at the University of Illinois at Springfield and Aquinas College in Nashville, Tennessee. He is the author of eighteen books, from The Porch and The Cross: Ancient Stoic Wisdom for Modern Christian Living (2016) to How to Think Like Aquinas: A Practical Guide to Happiness and Holiness Through Perfection of Your Intellectual Powers (2018).
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