The Meaning of Life: Inspirational Self-Help

Love, in all its fragile forms, is the one powerful, enduring force that brings real meaning to our everyday lives… It’s the love of life itself. It’s the voice that says “Celebrate life, be creative!” It brings with it the passion and understanding that some things in life are worth dying for, but there is so much more worth living for. It encourages us to greet each moment the same way we greet an old friend at the airport, to embrace opportunities to express ourselves in a way that makes us feel glad we exist. This love of life leads us to help others simply because it feels great to contribute to those around us…
Bradley Trevor Greive, The Meaning of Life, 2002

Mr. Greive apparently makes a good living cranking out inspirational (but not religious) self-help books filled with rather corny visual humor. Not that I have anything against that; more power to him and anyone helped by his books. And even I found a bit of true inspiration in The Meaning of Life. As long as I didn’t think too deeply about what the author was saying, that is. In the above quote, the author suggests we love life and seize the day. Not new, but still valid.

But now we get a dose of cruel reality:

Place your hand over your chest and feel your heartbeat. That is actually your life clock ticking, counting down the moments you have left. One day it will stop. That is 100 percent guaranteed, and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it. So you can’t afford to throw away a single precious second. Go after your dreams with energy and passion, or you may as well stand back and watch them wash down the drain…
Bradley Trevor Greive, The Meaning of Life, 2002

I actually found this the most inspirational part of the book. Life is short, so don’t waste time. Pursue your dreams. Which brings us to the climactic reveal of The Meaning of Life:

It’s so important that you just do your own thing – whatever makes you truly happy – and do it as best you can… When you do what you love, you can pull back the bed sheets every morning feeling excited about beginning another day, and you’ll be filled with a heartfelt joy that is highly contagious.
Bradley Trevor Greive, The Meaning of Life, 2002

It turns out this was summarized succinctly in the book’s front flap blurb: “Figure out what you love to do and do it.” And no spoiler alert! Well now it seems obvious. Who knew that would be The Meaning of Life? Do what you love!

But what if I can’t do what I love, even if I figure out what that is? Is it good enough to try to love what I do? What about money? What about supporting the spouse and kids? Perhaps I should scale back the “do what I love” stuff so I can keep my day job. I know, nothing risked, nothing gained. However, blindly following this advice could easily leave a person in a pickle where surviving the day trumps seizing the day.

But still, it doesn’t hurt to try, as long as you approach it rationally. It’s just that I can’t help thinking that this advice is a bit on the trite side. And speaking of trite but true advice…

Well I don’t think we’re for anything. We’re just products of evolution. You can say “Gee, your life must be pretty bleak if you don’t think there’s a purpose.” But I’m anticipating having a good lunch.
James D. Watson (1928-), interview with Richard Dawkins, quoted in The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins, 2006


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