My friend Lawrence Rifkin MD, who has thought deeply about the meaning of life, recently posted this beautiful, inspiring, and philosophically sophisticated video.
I have outlined its basics ideas below, but this is meant merely as a guide, and in no way substitutes for the emotional power of the video itself, which I highly recommend.
1. From the Universal or Objective perspective, the meaning or purpose of life is just to stay alive, reproduce, and keep life going. Without this, there is no life.
2. From the Social or Interpersonal perspective, meaning emerges from engagement with positive or worthwhile relationships, goals, and actions. Love of family, people, ideals, knowledge, creativity, helping others or life itself drives or inspires such engagement. Without this, there is no progress.
3. From the Subjective or Personal perspective, the lack of pain and suffering and the experience of bliss, pleasure, inner peace, awareness, beauty, and happiness give life meaning. Without this, there is no peace and joy.
Putting this all together, Rifkin claims that life is a prerequisite for anything, but from the point of view of the universe, there isn’t much more purpose than survival. Since this doesn’t satisfy conscious beings, unless mere survival totally consumes them, deeper meaning must emerge from personal and interpersonal perspectives which, when moved by love, produce good things like creativity, productivity, knowledge, peace, and ultimately joy. This also entails that suffering, loneliness, hunger, and stress be minimized.
In the end, Rifkin finds meaning in what I would call a hybrid subjective-objective meaning position. Meaning is found subjective engagement with objectively worthwhile things such as relationships, creative labor, inner peace, and joy. This echoes the position espoused by the philosopher Susan Wolf, which I have summarized here and here.