I believe that deep down inside most people want meaning in their lives. The search for meaning may be conscious or unconscious.
For example if you live a blessed life, you’ll probably unconsciously derive meaning from whatever activities and blessings fill your life.
However if you’ve had a hard life, you’ve probably become more introspective and your search for meaning would be more of a conscious effort and you’ve probably sieved through various things, trying to find what give you the greatest fulfillment.
According to a book by Keith Thomas, The Ends of Life: Roads to Fulfillment in Early Modern England (which was reviewed by Michael Dirda in the AFR) there are six areas which traditionally supplied aims for purpose-driven lives:
- military prowess
- work and vocation
- wealth and possessions
- honour and reputation
- friendship and sociability
- fame and the afterlife
The book mentions how each of these areas waxed and vaned in popularity through the ages.
In our age people are starting to realize that the pursuit of self-happiness is not the panacea that it was made out to be. Nowadays only economist believe in the invisible hand as described by Adam Smith (interestingly most economist neglect to mention that Adam Smith presupposes an ethical society..).
I believe that movies like Wall Street, or even worse, realities such as the sub-prime crisis and dictators in Africa shows abundantly that when people act in their self-interest without moral restraints that the result is not in the increase of wealth of nations but of special interest groups.
As for me, I believe the ultimate meaning in life is through fulfilling the ultimate purpose which, as the writer of Ecclesiastes said, is to “fear God and keep his commandments.”