The following sources are examples of the wealth of materials that were researched in the writing of this book and have either provided motivation for its creation or influenced the concepts described, conventional wisdom challenged, examples used, or the nature and structure of key points and arguments:
The meaning of life is often conflated with the origin of life because people are looking for the intent of the creator. Therefore, an understanding of biology, the origins of life, and basic evolution is necessary to discuss the connection between life and the physical universe.
Studies of the origins of life show that life grows, interacts with the environment, and uses energy. Scientists have possible explanations for how life began, and so it helps eliminate the need for a deity as an explanation. Humans’ emotions, social nature, development of ethics, and greater capacity for growth can all be explained through biological study. Evolution explains how life has become more sophisticated over time, which explains the many additional options for humans to live and grow compared to other forms of life.
Religions were studied to analyze historical recommendations for how to live life. This analysis led to the finding that these teachings combine how life began, how it works, and how a person should live. Religions make the argument for a God-created universe, suggest universal ethics bestowed upon humanity by its creator, and provide story-based explanations of the best way to live life. Famous scientists and religious skeptics, such as Stephen Hawking and Richard Dawkins, have argued how religion made sense before science as a way to explain things but is no longer necessary now that the universe can be explained scientifically.
While religion as a means for explaining the origins of life and the nature of physical reality has been largely replaced by science, people still look to religion for ethical guidance and for a spiritual purpose. These texts provide insight into early ways of explaining life, giving humanity a higher purpose, and establishing rule sets across different cultures.
The study of the human mind and how it works is one of the most critical components to understanding how human beings derive meaning from their existence. Hundreds of psychological studies and psychology books were reviewed to investigate how the mind processes and interprets information about its environment and experiences. The findings from these studies provided the scientific basis for how a person can live purposefully.
Specific examples of insights from this material include how a growth mindset influences the probability of success in life, how beliefs influence behavior, what motivates people, why humans have emotions, and how human variation allows for different meanings for different people.
Countless books have been written on the nature and meaning of human existence. These books have provided insight into which forms of meaning humans derive from their existence, how ethics work, what rights every person should have, and how people should live.
Studying philosophical works led to the conclusion that they are often focused on a specific concept, are too abstract, or make too many assumptions to provide practical guidance for people looking to figure their lives out for themselves. Recommendations around meaning and fulfillment include hard work, service to others, learning, and finding love and happiness, but explanations focus more on how they improve life outcomes than how someone can identify meaningful activities.
Specific ideas from this material include the nature of reality and existence, the degree to which humans have free will, ways in which society balances the rights of the individual with the safety and well-being of the group, and concepts such as virtue, choice, and good versus evil.
Success in business requires people to work together to achieve an outcome. Behavioral economics studies how people make economic decisions based on various factors and incentives. These fields provide a wealth of research on why people engage in certain behaviors, how they successfully cooperate, and how they plan and execute a strategy.
A few ideas were triggered through studying these materials: most business and self-help books tell you to start with a goal but do not tell you how to identify a goal; any creation of a plan for success works back from the outcome to what you need to do to achieve it; and and you will be more successful if you help other people to achieve their goals. Finally, most business books follow underlying business ethics such as providing value to others and treating your associates well. These ethics show the importance of fairness and reciprocity in business dealings.
Within philosophy are specific texts focused directly on meaning. Some are trying to answer the “What does it all mean?” question, while others are explaining how to find meaning without religion. Insights from these materials include how to define meaning, how philosophers have tried to figure out why they exist, why people live the way that they do, why they pursue certain goals, how they identify meaningful activities, and how and why they find meaning in them.
Happiness is a popular answer for what the meaning of life is. Therefore, there has been a wealth of research on what makes people happy. The research has found that happiness through material goods is short-lived and that things that people think should make them happy, such as choice and positive thinking, can actually become sources of stress.
The findings seem to contradict what people think will make them happy. However, happiness is a term that can refer to the emotional state, to pleasure, or to life fulfillment. While they use the same term, the pleasure received from food and material goods is very different from the fulfillment received from donating to a cause. The conflation of meanings leads to confusion around what actually makes someone happy. The insights from these materials point out and clarify these issues, and the research on mindfulness notes that your perception and state of mind can influence your happiness, appreciation, contentment, and fulfillment as much as your external conditions can.
The insight that most of these materials miss is that happiness is really an indicator of growth and prosperity and not the ultimate goal of life. While many of them explain how addictions are artificial manipulations of the brain’s reward system, they do not always make or explain the connection between growth-enabling activities and fulfillment.
Because there have been many ethics and ethical systems that humans have established over the course of history, there are countless documents on the way that people should live. Sources include religious texts, philosophy texts, academic texts, business books, self-help books, biographies, governing documents, and codes of conduct.
Insights from these materials include why humans have ethics, how ethics evolved, how ethics are set and enforced in society, and how people make ethical decisions. This information is critical to understanding how to establish the best ethics for your life.
A deliberate attempt was made to study less common ethics. Examples include media that pushed for ethical principles to expand to non-humans, media that questioned the ethics of free-market corporations that legally sell products that harm the consumer, people who were willing to listen to multiple perspectives with compassion on controversial topics, and philosophies that recommended entirely new or different governmental, social, or economic systems. While this book does not recommend a specific set of ethics, the best way to determine the right set of ethics for you is to evaluate them and see if they lead to better outcomes.
The New Thought Movement was studied for its claims of how a human being can influence the world around it starting with his or her thoughts. The ideas go beyond provable science by suggesting that the universe responds to a person’s thoughts in non-physical ways, lining up experiences that match those thoughts so that they occur in his or her reality. Other than that faith-based claim, however, its explanations of why people exist and how they can achieve their goals align well with the advice that most successful people would provide:
You exist in this universe to grow through life experience
You know where to focus your attention based on your desires
Your belief in your ability to attain an outcome helps you to attain it
Your emotions tells you if your desires and beliefs are in alignment
While this book keeps all explanations within the realm of what could be reasoned or scientifically tested, it must be acknowledged that several of these resources articulate the importance of desire, appreciation, belief, and emotions in living a meaningful life more effectively than most philosophy and psychology books.