Reflect for a moment on the following question, posed by German philosopher, Josef Pieper: “After we have accomplished, with an admirable amount of intelligence and hard work, all that is necessary, after we have provided for the basic needs of life, produced the essential foodstuff, protected the realm of life itself- after all this, what is the meaning of the life itself that we have thus made possible? How do we define a truly human life?”
Everyone, of course, is going to have a different reflection on this quotation. I will share the thoughts that come to my mind as I read this.
The first thought that I have is that Abraham Maslow would say that once one has accomplished those lower tasks in the hierarchy of needs, one must reach out and extend oneself to family and community. Once those are needs are satisfied, which is a process, not an end, really, the highest goal is self-actualization, which I have always defined as being one's own best self. This means drawing on one's education, skills, experience, and desires in a way that uses one's best, not to provide for basic needs, but for the sheer delight in doing so.
Another thought that went through my mind as I read this quotation is that I am clearly not an existentialist. I believe that our lives do have purpose, even if that purpose might not be so clear as we are living our lives, just as a novelist's theme might very well be unknown as he or she writes a novel. Some people think that a higher being has a purpose for us, but even absent a belief in a higher being, we have purpose, to help one another, to act as an example for others, to give love to others, to leave behind a legacy of a life well lived.
What also strikes me is that Pieper is talking about fulfilling one's duties, while saying nothing about how we might define the meaning and purpose of life being simply joy, joy shared or joy solitary. There is so much joy to be had in life, sensory joy, spiritual joy, emotional joy, intellectual joy.
So, for me, meaning in life is about self-actualization, providing non-material sustenance for others, and finding joy in every way I can.