By Madison Collins
“A kid never says, ‘Oh thanks. I get it.’ They just keep coming with more questions—why why why? —Until you don’t even know who the f**k you are anymore at the end of the conversation.” This is how comedian Louis C.K. explains a child’s fascination of the cringe-worthy three-letter word.
Whether it is a result of boredom, or a child’s attempt at determining the level of your intelligence, a child at some point or other will ask you, why? If you tell them anything, regardless of their interest in the topic or the clarity of your description, they are bound to question you further, almost as if it were a game to them.
The simple question, “What’s your favorite color?” will be followed by a chain of whys. You may figure out you like the color blue because you like the ocean, and you like the ocean because you swam in it on a past vacation, and you went there because it was Spring Break, and it was Spring Break because… I don’t know kid go take your nap.
In the summer I work as a camp counselor for children ages 5 to 7. Kids this age are curious about anything and everything, and will consistently ask me the millions of questions they formulate on a daily basis.
Generally, when they ask me questions I can answer them pretty accurately, quickly search them on Google, or make up an answer that suggests I am a professional on the subject.
One morning a little girl asked me a question (after a string of multiple other questions) that could not be answered by a quick Google search.
“Ms. Madison, what do you want to be when you grow up?”
This was a simple question, but at the time I had no idea what I wanted to do yet, so I told her I was going to be a camp counselor forever. Of course this answer was not enough for the young camper.
I told her that the things that mattered most to me, besides my family and friends, were being around other people and being a positive influence on them.
Surprisingly, the girl’s succeeding question was not just “why” (although she was sure to still include it in there).
It was this: “So is that why you were born Ms. Madison, to make other people happy?”
From then on I would catch myself pondering my existence, along with the existence of mankind in general, quite often.
Why are we born?
What is our purpose?
How do other people perceive life?
These questions whirled inside my head and became the center of all my thoughts. Looking for a clear answer was next-to impossible.
But there had to be a way to answer these questions.
There were three things I knew I had to do: collect my own thoughts, research the topic online, and ask others for their opinions.
So I did just that.
As I began thinking about the different aspects of life, my mind wandered in many different directions. I thought about the concept of living in a physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual sense. I wondered if these traits were any indication of our purpose in life, and why they were created to differ from person to person.
And then I thought about my own existence. There must be a reason as to why I am alive. I wondered if my purpose was the general one of all humans: reproduction, or if my actions in my current life decided my fate in the afterlife.
Was I brought here simply to proliferate and pass down my parent’s genes to the succeeding generations?
If I am a good person and do good things will I have a good afterlife?
I also considered my existence as an opportunity of sorts; perhaps I was intended to do something of importance with the life I was given.
What is the meaning of life?
I could have thought about this for hours longer, and still would have ended up right where I began, unsure.
Even so, I had not given up on the idea of learning more about the topic.
I knew there were numerous ways I could go about finding my answer- or at least attempting to, I just had to look in the right places.
So I began my research online.
Within the first few minutes of Googling (verb. The act of looking things up on Google), I came across a magazine called “Philosophy Now”, which proved to be very helpful in assisting my research.
The fifty-ninth issue entitled “What is the Meaning of Life?” asked readers for their opinion on the matter as their question of the month.
Fortunately, a man named Greg Studen shared his thoughts on the topic. The reader from Novelty, Ohio’s provided a response that gave me the most helpful information I had found thus far.
According to his theory, people generally have an outlook life that falls into one of two categories: internal or external.
Those who have internal views on the issue essentially believe that reaching a state of pure happiness and satisfaction is gained from their actions, thus justifying their lives.
Those who have external views believe that life on Earth is evaluated by a supernatural being, who will assign reward or punishment after death.
My life perspectives seemed to be torn between both his theories. I became curious how many other people view life similar to me, so I decided to take my research a step further and interview others to compare their viewpoints.
I chose nine people (seven friends and two strangers), asked them how they perceived life, and compiled their answers into a video.
I wanted all of the interviews to be as honest as possible, and come from each of their hearts, so I did not give them any guidelines to answer the question. Because some of their responses were answered more serious and in depth than others, I was able to see the differences in the perspectives they had.
The fist person I interviewed was a friend of mine named Gage. He is originally from a small town in Pennsylvania, and moved to Arizona to study business. He suggests the meaning of life is indefinable, and then elaborates on that idea.
“There is no true meaning to life. It is just what you make of it. You give it your best… you just do you.”
His perspective on the matter exemplifies Studen’s first theory.
I interviewed Diran next. He is originally from Boston, but came to Arizona State to study marketing. His perception of life is less complex than most.
“It’s living your life, you know? Yeah.”
He did not elaborate on this idea, so it was near impossible to infer the underlying message he was trying to convey. Although this frustrated me at first, I later realized his input was actually very interesting.
What if there was no true purpose to human life?
What if we were just created to coexist with other species?
My third interview was with my friend Nathan from Chicago, who came to Arizona State as a business exploratory major. His thoughts proved to be similar to that of Diran’s.
“Living. Every moment you just got to take it one step at a time… That’s how I live my life”.
The two boys agreed that they do not perceive life based off of events that happened in the past or the potential events that may occur in the future. They both agreed that life should be focused in the present.
I talked to my roommate Nina afterward. She is from Tucson, and is studying business at W.P. Carey. She believes that people are in control of their future, and if they want to have a successful life in the future they need to work towards it in the present.
“What you want your meaning to life dictates upon what you want to do because you are in charge of your future so the meaning to life is all about perspective and how you want to see yourself.”
Her statement, although somewhat difficult to understand, was helpful in my researching process.
The next person I spoke with was Christian. He is from Mesa and is studying economics. He took the more humorous approach when discussing his interpretation of life
“The meaning of life to me is lifting… Life is like a game of Mario, I’m just trying to collect all the coins here.”
I did not exactly know how to interpret his statement, but I assumed that his easygoing response was a reflection of his easygoing outlook on life.
Hope was my next interviewee. She is from San Diego and is currently studying supply chain management. She feels that the purpose of life is to live each moment to the fullest.
“Reach your maximum happiness in whatever you do so at the end of your life you have lived a good one and you can look back and it can be a happy one and you’re happy”
Her perspective exemplified Studen’s first theory as well.
I decided to interview a couple people I did not know to get their perspective on the issue as well. The first girl I spoke with responded to my question with a well-known motto.
“Work hard, play harder”
She views life in a similar perspective as Nina, such that the actions in someone’s present life will affect the outcome of their future.
I talked to a foreign exchange student named Boris next. He is from Macedonia and is fulfilling his general studies requirements at Arizona State for the semester. He believes the meaning of life is to survive in the most effective way possible.
“Living your life to the fullest, and basically a strive to survive.”
His views were centered on the idea that people live their lives both for the experience and as a means of survival.
The last person I spoke to was another stranger. His response was the most detailed, which I found interesting, because he was the only person I spoke with that did not need preparation time to think about his perspective.
“Classically I am going to go with the Monty Python Definition, forty two, but if you really ask me about it… The meaning of life is to make other people happy, just you know do the best you can and every single day in and out. Dedicate yourself to whatever you do, push hard push back. If someone pushes you, you know just live life don’t regret anything. Keep going, keep fighting.
His viewpoint suggests that in order to find true happiness, people should focus on doing the best they can in everything they do.
Although everyone had different perspectives in these interviews, many of the viewpoints had similarities. I found it interesting and helpful to ask others for their opinions on the subject, as it allowed me to understand how different people perceive life.
After I thought about my perspective, researched the topic online, and interviewed others on their perspectives, I came to the conclusion that there is not one single answer that can determine the meaning of life.
It is no surprise to me that everyone perceives life differently, as everyone lives different lifestyles and expresses their opinions in different ways.
And to think, I learned all of this because of a simple three-letter word.