The world's foremost scientists, philosophers, writers, thinkers, politicians, and artists draw conclusions about the meaning of life that fall into the eight key concepts of The Meaning of Life. Quotations from these figures are listed below and categorized by concept.
On Whether There Is Meaning in Life
"Life, under any circumstances, never ceases to have a meaning." — Viktor E. Frankl
"My life is my message." — Mahatma Gandhi
"What is the meaning of human life, or of organic life altogether? To answer this question at all implies a religion. Is there any sense then, you ask, in putting it? I answer, the man who regards his own life and that of his fellow creatures as meaningless is not merely unfortunate but almost disqualified for life." — Albert Einstein
"Each man must look to himself to teach him the meaning of life. It is not something discovered; it is something moulded." — Antoine de Saint-Exupery
"It seems that it is impossible to live without discovering the purpose of your life. And the first thing which a person should do is to understand the meaning of life. But the majority of people who consider themselves to be educated are proud that they have reached such great height that they cease to care about the meaning of existence.
The real purpose of our existence is to understand this limitless life existing in this world.
A person may not know the purpose of his life, but he should know how to live.
A worker at a big plant may not necessarily know the purpose of his labor, but if he is a good worker, he should know how to do well what he should do.
Every living being has sensory organs which reveal to it its place in the world. For a human, the primary sense is the intellect.
If you do not know your place in the world and the meaning of your life, you should know that there is something to blame; and it is not the social system, or your intellect, but the way in which you directed your intellect."
— Leo Tolstoy
"As intellectualism suppresses belief in magic, the world’s processes become disenchanted, lose their magical significance, and henceforth simply “are” and “happen” but no longer signify anything. As a consequence, there is a growing demand that the world and the total pattern of life be subject to an order that is significant and meaningful." — Max Weber
"A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself. What a man can be, he must be. He must be true to his own nature. This need we may call self-actualization. . . . It refers to man's desire for self-fulfillment, namely, to the tendency for him to become actualized in what he is potentially. This tendency might be phrased as the desire to become more and more what one idiosyncratically is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming." — Abraham Maslow
"Each new generation asks, 'What is the meaning of life?' It would be more fruitful to wonder, 'Why does humanity need a meaning in life?'" — Peter Wessel Zapffe
"Life is a journey, not a destination." — Proverb
"Life is growth. If we stop growing, technically and spiritually, we are as good as dead." — Morihei Ueshiba
"I think you can say that life is a system in which proteins and nucleic acids interact in ways that allow the structure to grow and reproduce. It's that growth and reproduction, the ability to make more of yourself, that's important." — Andy Knoll, paleontologist and professor of biology at Harvard University
"Meaning can only ever exist within the confines of the human mind, and in this way the meaning of life is not somewhere out there but right between our ears." — Stephen Hawking
"When behavior is more growth-motivated, it is less need-reductive and more a movement toward self-actualization and fullerhumanness, more expressive, more selfless, more reality-centered." — Abraham Maslow
"The goal and the meaning of existence is to strive upward beyond the limits of the known, and to help one another." — Agni Yoga
"If a man lives under the delusion that he can do anything that he likes, and that the effect of his actions will never recoil upon himself, he will most certainly find that some of these actions eventually involve him in unhappiness and suffering. If, again, he does not understand that the object of his life is progress, that God’s Will for him is that he shall grow to be something better and nobler than he is now, then also he will bring unhappiness and suffering upon himself, because he will be likely to live for the lower side of life only, and that lower side of life never finally satisfies the inner man." — Charles Webster Leadbeater
"All things spring up, and there is not one which declines to show itself; they grow, and there is no claim made for their ownership; they go through their processes, and there is no expectation (of a reward for the results). The work is accomplished, and there is no resting in it (as an achievement). The work is done, but how no one can see; 'Tis this that makes the power not cease to be." — Laozi
"The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction, not a destination." — Bruce Lee
"I've been pushed really hard many times in my life, and every time it was worth it, even if it felt pretty bad while it happened. The truth is that growth is out of your comfort zone." — Amaury Sechet, Founder of Bitcoin Cash and eCash Cryptocurrencies
"People grow through experiences if they meet life honestly and courageously. This is how character is built." — Eleanor Roosevelt
"That all our knowledge begins with experience there can be no doubt." — Immanuel Kant
"All knowledge of reality starts from experience and ends in it." — Albert Einstein
"The peak-experience is felt was a self-validating, self-justifying moment which carries its own intrinsic value with it. It is felt to be a highly valuable—even uniquely valuable—experience, so great an experience sometimes that even to attempt to justify it takes away from its dignity and worth. As a matter of fact, so many people find this so great and high an experience that it justifies not only itself but even living itself. Peak-experiences can make life worthwhile by their occasional occurrence. They give meaning to life itself." — Abraham Maslow
"The meaning of life is that it is to be lived, and it is not to be traded and conceptualized and squeezed into a pattern of systems." — Bruce Lee
"People say that what we're all seeking is a meaning for life. I don't think that's what we're really seeking. I think what we're seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonance within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive. That's what it's all finally about." — Joseph Campbell
"To live is to experience things, not sit around pondering the meaning of life." — Paulo Coelho
"One cannot ignore half of life for the purposes of science, and then claim that the results of science give a full and adequate picture of the meaning of life. All discussions of 'life' which begin with a description of man's place on a speck of matter in space, in an endless evolutionary scale, are bound to be half-measures, because they leave out most of the experiences which are important to use as human beings." — Colin Wilson
"The significance of man is not in what he attains, but rather in what he longs to attain. . . . We are all climbing toward the summit of our hearts' desire." — Kahlil Gibran
"Just don't give up trying to do what you really want to do. Where there is love and inspiration, I don't think you can go wrong." — Ella Fitzgerald
"The motivational life of self-actualizing people is not only quantitatively different but also qualitatively different from that of ordinary people. It seems probable that we must construct a profoundly different psychology of motivation for self-actualizing people, e.g., metamotivation or growth motivation, rather than deficiency motivation. Perhaps it will be useful to make a distinction between living and preparing to live. Perhaps the ordinary concept of motivation should apply only to nonself-actualizers. Our subjects no longer strive in the ordinary sense, but rather develop. They attempt to grow to perfection and to develop more and more fully in their own style." — Abraham Maslow
"All the evidence we have (mostly clinical evidence, but already some other kinds of research evidence) indicates that it is reasonable to assume in practically every human being, and certainly in almost every newborn baby, that there is an active will toward health, an impulse toward growth, or toward the actualization of human potentialities. . . . We all have the impulse toward full development of humanness." — Abraham Maslow
"Neurosis as a Failure of Personal Growth." Humanitas #3 (1967) p. 153-169.
"Desire by itself is not wrong. It is life itself, the urge to grow in knowledge and experience. It is the choices you make that are wrong. To imagine that some little thing—food, sex, power, fame—will make you happy is to deceive oneself. Only something as vast and deep as your real self can make you truly and lastingly happy." — Nisargadatta Maharaj
"Whether you believe you can do a thing or not, you are right." — Henry Ford
"The mind is the limit. As long as the mind can envision the fact that you can do something, you can do it, as long as you really believe 100 percent." — Arnold Schwarzenegger
Dychtwald, Ken. “Powers of Mind: A New Age Interview with Arnold Schwarzenegger.” New Age, Jan. 1978, pp. 38–52.
"Believe that life is worth living and your belief will help create the fact." — William James
"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." — Laozi (paraphrased)
(Note: literally translated as, “A journey of a thousand li starts beneath one's feet,” while commonly translated as, “The journey of a thousand li commenced with a single step.”)
"Put down that man—and women persons—their existence means exactly and precisely, not more, not one tiny bit less, just what they think it means, and what I think doesn't count at all." — George Burns as "God" in Oh, God!
"Your intellect may be confused, but your emotions will never lie to you." — Roger Ebert
"Happiness is not a goal; it is a by-product." — Eleanor Roosevelt
"I say [happiness] is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing or that but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing." — John Butler Yeats
(Note: This quotation is commonly attributed to W.B. Yeats but originates from his father)
"When we posit the concept of gratification health (or happiness health), we implicitly align ourselves thereby with those writers, Goldstein, Jung, Adler, Angyal, Horney, Fromm, May, Buhler, Rogers, and increasingly, others, who postulate some positive growth tendency in the organism which, from within, drives it to fuller development." — Abraham Maslow
"The only happy people I know are the ones who are working well at something they consider important." — Abraham Maslow
"Every man, however lowly his talents are, however subordinate his position in life, naturally feels the need of forming a life view, a conception of life's significance and of its purpose. The man who lives aesthetically does that too, and the universal expression which has been heard from age to age and in all stages is this: one must enjoy life. Naturally, there is great variety corresponding to the different conceptions of enjoyment, but in this expression, that one is to enjoy oneself, all are agreed. But he who says that he wants to enjoy life always posits a condition which either lies outside the individual or is in the individual in such a way that it is not posited by the individual himself." — Søren Kierkegaard
"Let us resume our inquiry and state, in view of the fact that all knowledge and every pursuit aims at some good, what it is that we say political science aims at and what is the highest of all goods achievable by action. Verbally there is very general agreement; for both the general run of men and people of superior refinement say that it is happiness, and identify living well and doing well with being happy; but with regard to what happiness is they differ, and the many do not give the same account as the wise. For the former think it is some plain and obvious thing, like pleasure, wealth, or honour; they differ, however, from one another—and often even the same man identifies it with different things, with health when he is ill, with wealth when he is poor; but, conscious of their ignorance, they admire those who proclaim some great ideal that is above their comprehension." — Aristotle
"It is only when we become conscious of our part in life, however modest, that we shall be happy. Only then will we be able to live in peace and die in peace, for only this lends meaning to life and to death." — Antoine de Saint-Exupery
"You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life." — Albert Camus
"The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers." — M. Scott Peck
"You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life." — Albert Camus
"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." — The Golden Rule
Gensler, Harry J. Ethics and the Golden Rule. New York, Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2013.
(Note: The Golden Rule comes in many forms; this source lists many versions of it used throughout history and quotes this version as the most common form in use in 2013)
"Let me give you a definition of ethics: It is good to maintain and further life; it is bad to damage and destroy life." — Albert Schweitzer
"Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and pursuit, is thought to aim at some good; and for this reason the good has rightly been declared to be that at which all things aim." — Aristotle
"The human being is a tragic animal. Not because of his smallness, but because he is over-equipped. Man has longings and spiritual demands that reality cannot fulfill. We have expectations of a just and moral world. A human is a being that requires meaning in a meaningless world." — Peter Wessel Zapffe
"Questions as to 'values'—that is to say, as to what is good or bad on its own account, independently of its effects—lie outside the domain of science, as the defenders of religion emphatically assert. I think that, in this, they are right, but, I draw the further conclusion, which they do not draw, that questions as to 'values' lie wholly outside the domain of knowledge. That is to say, when we assert that this, or that, has "value", we are giving expression to our own emotions, not to a fact, which would still be true if our personal feelings were different." — Bertrand Russell
"Alone we can do so little. Together, we can do so much." — Helen Keller
"If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." — Isaac Newton
"No man is an island," wrote John Donne.
Donne, John. Devotions upon Emergent Occasions and Severall Steps in My Sicknes: Digested into, 1. Meditations upon Our Human Conditions, 2. Expostulations, and Debatement with God, 3. Prayers, upon the Severall Occasions, to Him. Printed for Thomas Jones, 1624.
"Man can find meaning in life, short and perilous as it is, only through devoting himself to society." — Albert Einstein
"Not allowing people to go through their pain, and protecting them from it, may turn out to be a kind of over-protection, which in turn implies a certain lack of respect for the integrity and the intrinsic nature and the future development of the individual." — Abraham Maslow
"Every man builds his world in his own image. He has the power to choose, but no power to escape the necessity of choice." — Dr. Hugh Akston in Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” — Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken"
"If then whereas we wish for our end, the means to our end are matters of deliberation and choice, it follows that actions dealing with these means are done by choice." — Aristotle
"[In my book, Psychology of Being, chapter 4], growth was seen as an endless series of daily choices and decisions in each of which one can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again." — Abraham Maslow
“The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life, and the procedure, the process is its own reward.” — Amelia Earhart
On Proceeding with This Understanding
"Three things are necessary to man for salvation, that is to say: 1. a knowledge of what he must believe; 2. a knowledge of what he must desire; 3. a knowledge of what he must do." — St. Thomas Aquinas
Thomas, and H. A. Rawes. St. Thomas Aquinas on the Two Commandments of Charity: and the Ten Commandments of the Law. Translated, with Prayers Added, by Father Rawes, D.D. London, Burns and Oates, 1879.
"Well, life for none of us has been a crystal stair, but we must keep moving. We must keep going. And so, if you can’t fly, run. If you can’t run, walk. If you can’t walk, crawl, but, by all means, keep moving." — Martin Luther King, Jr.
"Let us think of life as a process of choices, one after another. At each point there is a progression choice and a regression choice. There may be a movement toward defense, toward safety, toward being afraid; but over on the other side, there is the growth choice. To make the growth choice instead of the fear choice a dozen times a day is to move a dozen times a day toward self-actualization. Self-actualization is an ongoing process; it means making each of the many single choices about whether to lie or be honest, whether to steal or not to steal at a particular point, and it means to make each of these choices as a growth choice. This is movement toward self-actualization." — Abraham Maslow
"Education is learning to grow, learning what to grow toward, learning what is good and bad, learning what is desirable and undesirable, learning what to choose and what not to choose." — Abraham Maslow