Successful Retirement and The Meaning of Life

May 30, 2012

Calvin and Hobbes are sitting under a tree.

Calvin: Why do you suppose we’re here?
Hobbes: Because we walked here.
Calvin: No, No… I mean here on earth.
Hobbes: Because earth can support life.
Calvin: No, I mean why are we anywhere? Why do we exist?
Hobbes: Because we were born.
Calvin (frowning): Forget it.
Hobbes (frowning): I will, thank you.

– Bill Waterson

I have visited the topic of The Meaning of Life several times in this blog. In Retirement Lesson From Victor Frankl I reviewed Frankl’s belief that finding meaning in our lives is our primary motivational force. He further believed that the nature of that meaning is different for each individual and changes with time and circumstances. In Retirement Philosophy I noted Aristotle believed that meaning could be found “virtuous living” or living life as an excellent human being.  His word for this is arete which many translate as “human excellence” with the connotation of always striving to achieve your highest potential.  He saw virtue as a habit or capacity that we acquire by making good decisions – doing the right thing and viewing the wrong thing as unattractive.In Generativity in Retirement I looked at Erik Erickson’s view that meaning can be found in “generativity” which is the term he uses to describe an unselfish concern and action for the well being of future generations.If we are successful in doing this we can, as John Kotre notes, outlive the self.

Those are all useful perspectives so why visit the subject again and why in the context of Successful Retirement?

I want to visit it again because while I  believe that there is no  answer to the question “What is the Meaning of Life?” that will be definitive for everyone, there are multiple perspectives that can help everyone come to a better understanding of both the question and an answer that works for them.

I think of this as a Successful Retirement topic because retirement usually affords more time for reflection and most people in retirement are of an age when life’s successes and failures can be put in a context, understood and appreciated.

Importantly, I don’t think we want to wind up like Tolstoy’s Ivan Ilych (The Death of Ivan Ilych) who at the hour of his death wonders if his whole life has been pointless.

An examination of the meaning of life has to start with the acceptance that life on this earth has a beginning and an end. We are all going to die. Death isn’t something that just happens to someone else. Once we are born, every second brings us closer to our death.

Some believe there is a spiritual afterlife or a rebirth of our spirit in another body or even a resurrection of  our bodies. There are many possibilities here for adding meaning to our existence beyond the meaning of our time spent on this earth.

We know that the universe existed for billions of years before we were born and it will, in all likelihood exist for billions more after we pass on.  What is the meaning, if any, of our brief stay? I’ll look at a variety of perspectives over several posts.

R. Kevin Price

© 2008-2012 R.K. Price