The Meaning of Life

The School of Life undefined

Finished Reading:
Apr 26, 2019

Edition Publisher:
The School of Life

Edition Release:
Feb 27, 2019

Purchase Search via DuckDuckGo:
ISBN 9780995753549

Highlights & Annotations

I. Introduction

Location 53

Meaningful activities aren’t necessarily those we do most often . They are those we value most highly and will , from the perspective of our deaths , miss most deeply .

Location 55

Others cannot be relied upon to determine what will be meaningful to us . What we call ‘ crises of meaning ’ are generally moments when someone else’s – perhaps very well - intentioned – interpretation of what might be meaningful to us runs up against a growing realisation of our divergent tastes and interests .

II. Sources of Meaning

i. Love > Location 86

We will have to subsist as pleasant but radically abbreviated paragraphs in the minds of almost everyone .

ii. Family > Location 184

Relationships in adult life are often complicated by a lack of intimate knowledge of the past .

iii. Work > Location 251

What makes work authentic is the deeply individual fit between the nature of our role and our own aptitudes and sources of pleasure .

iii. Work > Location 253

There will always be someone doing a job that pays better , that has higher public status or more glamorous fringe benefits . But , we stand to realise , there is no point yearning for such a role , because it would not fit what we know of the distinctive timbre of our own character .

iii. Work > Location 277

And although a working life can feel quite long , we only have three or four decades of high - quality effort in us – a blink of an eye in the larger sweep of history .

iii. Work > Location 283

In the ideal team , we grasp exactly what we contribute but also how much the project benefits from what others bring to it .

iii. Work > Location 348

We are far too focused on creativity’s dramatic high points within a narrow , clichéd band of activities , like the writing of a prize-winning novel or the making of a film that receives accolades at Cannes or Berlin . By this standard, almost no one can be creative, and creativity must remain an elite and even freakish anomaly entirely disconnected from ordinary life .

iii. Work > Location 364

creativity means spotting an opportunity to improve things through recombination .

iii. Work > Location 365

we are creative , he wrote , when we ‘ strip the world of its stubborn foreignness and adapt it to our needs . ’

iv. Friendship > Location 431

These friends function as conduits to earlier versions of ourselves that are inaccessible day to day but contain important insights .

iv. Friendship > Location 434

The old friend is a guardian of memories on which we might otherwise have a damagingly tenuous hold .

iv. Friendship > Location 461

If we can’t be friends with someone of opposing views , we will probably never become a powerful advocate of our own convictions, because we will never properly grasp what draws someone to the views we disagree with – and we will never understand what it would take to change their minds.

v. Culture > Location 479

We need to get home to remember who we are .

v. Culture > Location 482

they have believed that they needed special places , temple - homes , where their specific characters could be stabilised through art and architecture .

v. Culture > Location 489

The Greeks took such care over Athena’s temple - home because they understood the human mind . They knew that , without architecture , we struggle to remember what we care about – and more broadly who we are .

v. Culture > Location 512

The quest to build a home is connected to a need to stabilise and organise our complex selves . It is not enough to know who we are in our own minds ; we need something more tangible , material and sensuous to pin down the diverse and intermittent aspects of our identities .

v. Culture > Location 611

This explains the curious phenomenon whereby , if we’re staying with good friends , we can spend a lot less time thinking about our clothes , compared with the anxiety about what to wear that can grip us at other points . We might sit around in a dressing gown or just slip on any old jumper . They know who we are already ; they are not relying on our clothes for clues .

v. Culture > Location 616

It is tempting to see this kind of fetishism as deluded , but it alerts us in an exaggerated way to a very normal idea : that certain clothes make us really happy . They capture values that we’re drawn to .

v. Culture > Location 635

Ideally , where we go should help us with our attempts at these longed - for pieces of psychological evolution . The outer journey should assist us with the inner one .

  • So important that where you go helps with your mindset

v. Culture > Location 658

There are as yet no psychotherapeutic travel agencies ; no experts in both neurotic disorders and tourism ; in the psyche and in the nature trails , museums , hot springs and bird sanctuaries of six continents .

v. Culture > Location 661

Every destination we might alight upon contains within it qualities that could conceivably support some move or other on an inner journey .

viii. Philosophy > Location 777

We stay up late , ruminate in the bath , wake up early , write down our thoughts , go for a walk , and feel perceptibly lightened and refreshed by the process of mastering emotions and the alchemy of converting feelings into ideas .

viii. Philosophy > Location 781

The more we leave the sadness unattended, the more it starts to colour everything we are involved with .

viii. Philosophy > Location 784

Our mind knows there are matters we should be focusing on, but they elude understanding and spread their nervous electricity across the range of our thoughts .

viii. Philosophy > Location 788

Something is calling out to us from within our excitement . We are being sensibly , but inarticulately , summoned in a new direction .

viii. Philosophy > Location 792

Of our anxious feelings, we ask what steps we need to take, what others have to do, what needs to happen and when .

viii. Philosophy > Location 793

Perhaps it was a face we briefly saw in the line at the airport that seemed kindly and understanding and evoked some tender , vital things missing from our current relationship . Perhaps it was a quietly ungenerous message we received from a friend , in which we sensed a bitter and wounding rivalry . Or maybe it was a regret , on seeing a sunny landscape from a window , at how constrained and routine our lives have become .

viii. Philosophy > Location 801

The more we think , the more our fears , resentments and hopes become easier to name . We grow less scared of the contents of our minds . We feel calmer , less resentful and clearer about our direction . We recognise how much we depend – perhaps without knowing it – on the practice of philosophy : that is , on the pursuit of accurate , clear and manageable knowledge .

III. Obstacles to Meaning

i. Vague self-understanding > Location 809

We may be aware of having meaningful experiences but lack the investigative rigour to identify their origins and makeup, and therefore fail to know how to recreate them and integrate them more reliably in our lives.

ii. Provincialism > Location 827

The pity is that we probably take our cue about what is normal from a specific , and not particularly representative , group of people : those who just happen to be in the vicinity .

ii. Provincialism > Location 833

The problem with this susceptibility to provincial patterns of thinking is that it may pursue us beyond the school gates .

ii. Provincialism > Location 841

Our pursuit of a meaningful life can become fatally derailed by ideas of what is normal that are not actually normal . We should not so much abandon the notion of fitting in as imaginatively reconfigure who we want to fit in with , and it might not be those in our immediate vicinity . We should dare to create our own imaginative communities to liberate us from the more inhibiting and asphyxiating assumptions of our neighbours .

iii. Selflessness > Location 845

We are highly attuned to the notion that being selfish is one of the worst character traits we might possess , a way of behaving associated with greed , entitlement and cruelty . And yet some of the reasons we fail to have the lives we should springs from an excess of the opposite trait : an overweening modesty ; an over - hasty deference to the wishes of others ; a dangerous and counter-productive lack of selfishness .

iii. Selflessness > Location 853

Unfortunately , afflicted by confusion about this distinction , we frequently fail to state our needs as clearly as we should , with disastrous results for those we’re meant to serve .

iii. Selflessness > Location 857

A lack of selfishness can slowly turn us into highly disagreeable as well as ineffective people .

iii. Selflessness > Location 862

Good selfishness grows out of an accurate understanding of what we need to do in order to maximise our utility for others . It stems from an unembarrassed sense of how we should develop our abilities , get our minds into the right frame , summon up our most useful powers and organise our thoughts and feelings so that they can eventually be helpful to the world . We recognise that we will , at select moments , have to back out of doing things that people would like us to , and have no compunction about politely explaining this – unlike the selfless , who will dutifully smile , then one day explode in vindictive , exhausted rage . We know , as kind egoists , that we may be confused with the mean - spirited , but our innate conviction in our sincerity lends us the calm to pursue our aims in our own way .

iv. Immortality > Location 876

The horrific but inevitable fact of our own mortality is kept at bay for the most sympathetic of reasons : we can’t bear the brevity of our own existence . But in so doing , we fail to give our lives the meaningful direction they deserve . We give in to localised , small - scale obstructions : the worry that something is a touch dull ; the fear of looking a bit of a fool ; the pain of being rejected ; the awkwardness of not fitting in ; the annoyance of having to make yet another effort in the same old direction . We don’t persist with worthwhile things through the suffering they involve and , in the process , end up slowly ruining the time we have left .

v. The art of storytelling > Location 909

We must forgive ourselves the horrors of our first drafts .

v. The art of storytelling > Location 910

The good storyteller recognises too , contrary to certain impressions , that there will always be a number of players responsible for negative events in a person’s life . We are never the sole authors of our triumphs or of our defeats . It is therefore as unwarranted ( and as egocentric ) to take all the blame as to assume all the credit . Sometimes , it really will be the fault of something or somebody else : the economy , our parents , the government , our enemies , or sheer bad luck . We should not take the entire burden of our difficulties upon our own shoulders .

v. The art of storytelling > Location 920

On our death beds , we will inevitably know that much didn’t work out ; that there were dreams that didn’t come to pass and loves that were rejected ; friendships that could never be repaired , and catastrophes and hurts we never overcame . But we will also know that there were threads of value that sustained us , that there was a higher logic we sometimes followed , that despite the agonies , our lives were not mere sound and fury ; that in our own way , at select moments at least , we did properly draw benefit from , and understand , the meaning of life .