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As I said last December, I decided to do a happiness project, which entails that I do something unusual, strange or, outright silly every month that I would normally not do.  For the month of October, I decided to ask people to answer the question: What is the meaning of life?

Before I talk about people’s answers to the question, I would like to say a few words about their reactions to my question.  In general, people looked at me strangely.  I am not certain whether they thought that I was simply weird or I have just escaped from a mental facility, but they certainly looked stunned.  Some people giggled and thought that the question was a joke.  Still, others politely smiled and tried to change topic.  Basically, asking the question what the meaning of life is taught me that people do not think about this great philosophical question very often and they are very surprised to hear it.

What did people think the meaning of life was?  In general, I found that the answers fell into several categories.  The most common answer was an honest, “I don’t know”.  I appreciate people’s honesty.  In reality, we have opinions, but we really do not know the answer for a fact.  The second type of answer was: “I have not figured it out, yet.”  I heard this from at least ten people, including my coworkers, Mark and Kate.  I believe that these individuals at least have a hope of figuring it out one day.

The third type of answer seems to be hedonistic.  “Eat, Sleep and Have Sex,” came from a 28 years old worker at Tim Horton’s.  My coworker, Steve, had a variation on this idea.  He thought the meaning was to “Eat, Sleep and Pay Taxes”.  The point is that some human beings are looking for somewhat of a good time in this life; although, some are more optimistic about it than others.

The more family oriented people found meaning in having a family and friends.  A 32 years old grocery clerk revealed to me that the greatest spiritual experience she had ever had was giving birth to her child.  She thought that having children and loving them was the meaning of life.  This seemed like a heartfelt story with a wonderful message.

On the other hand, some clever, mentally oriented philosophers jokingly said that the meaning of life was to figure out the meaning of life.  When I asked them how far they have gotten with the project, all of them gave me the same answer: “I am still working on it”.

The spiritually oriented individuals thought that learning lessons or finding God was the answer.  I stumbled upon a devout Christian who wanted me to find Jesus.  I was not convinced about the Jesus element in the story, but it made me think about the importance religion played in people’s life.  A few emotionally centered New Age people tried to convey the message of love.  They thought that loving oneself and others was the ultimate answer.  As noble as it sounded, I felt that they seemed to neglect the desire for human knowledge.

All in all, I have to say that it was very interesting to ask the question about the meaning of life, even if I triggered some strange initial reactions in people.  It turns out that people, in general, have often times strong opinions on the matter.  However, the opinions vary depending on their personality, upbringing, orientation and even career.  So, what is the meaning of life?  It depends on who you ask, as it should be.

M. J. Mandoki