For those of you who read Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy when they were 19 like I did, and then started to search for the meaning of life more seriously after that, this article’s for you and will save you some time.
If you are on your own search and do not want a spoiler alert at this point, close this article immediately and I wish you all the best in your travels! It will come to you at the right time.
As some background, I, like other students from my high school graduating class, were taught growing up that the meaning of life went as follows: Graduate from high school, go to university for four years to obtain a degree, meet the love of your life, get married, have kids, and settle into life as prescribed.
Unfortunately, after pursuing post-secondary education right out of high school and suffering through a year of courses I didn’t find meaningful, nor were of any interest to me, I thought that maybe the meaning of life was across the world. So I packed my bags and jumped on a plane to Australia, wandering amongst beautiful places for a year, meeting some wonderful people along the way. Strangely enough, even though the meaning of life may have been embedded in some experiences along the way, I realized that it wasn’t present in greater quantities across the world than it was in my own back yard, and returned home, hands empty.
Many more years passed, and I began to believe that the meaning of life really did equal 42 (as stated by the Hitchhiker’s Guide movie). 42 is as good as any other randomly-assigned number; and perhaps it was a trick meaning that the ultimate question “What is the meaning of life?” is unanswerable because it is not the right question in the first place.
The answer was finally revealed to me in an epiphany, and now that I know it, I believe it has been staring me in the face all these years and I didn’t see it. The meaning of life is, quite simply, interactions. My first instinct was to write “human interactions” or “interactions with humans”, but to narrow it down would not be complete. The true answer is: Interactions with living creatures, on all levels, including plants, animals, and everything on earth, including the forests, rivers, air, and even the sun, the moon and the sky.
The true meaning of life as I now understand it, being interactions, is much different than what I was taught growing up, which is based on tangible achievements and life goals. Interactions shift the focus of life to the present and various moments as we go about our day, interacting with people and things, and away from the outcomes of those interactions. My conversations with people before I discovered this new way of living were more likely to be taken personally, trying to gain recognition, or (unconsciously) awarding a “winner”. Looking back, those old ways of conversing seem silly and petty, but at the time they were so ingrained to how I interacted, that I didn’t even see them.
Perhaps we as a society take certain things for granted. It is just assumed that everyone knows how to interact and converse that we never really spend any time teaching and learning on this subject. Leaving something this important to chance and experience seems rather neglectful and luckily there are some people out there who are naturally adept communicators, true friends and loving beings to all.
So it turns out that the meaning of life really is something as simple as the number 42. The real question becomes how do we let other people know this great truth in order to create a more caring world community. This reminds me of when I went down to the river at lunch time a few days ago with a co-worker. There were three people standing in the middle of the pathway, arms outstretched, and big signs saying “free hugs”. Without thinking, I ran to get myself a free hug and after the exchange felt immensely lighter and happier. It’s the little things like this that demonstrate without words the importance of interactions and how much we need to bring them back into our lives.
I challenge you, yes you, to take a look at every interaction of today and pause for a moment to really appreciate them. From the stranger you smile at as you pass by on the sidewalk, to the person behind the counter at the store, to your partner, friends and family. Make each interaction like that of a free hug and you will find that you are energized and feeling better than ever when each day comes to a close.