At some stage along life’s journey, we are all bound to ask ourselves, “Why am I here?”; “Why do I have to go through all these difficult experiences?”… and anyway, “What is the meaning of life?” Maybe the best answer I ever heard to that question was when the Dalai Lama came to Melbourne a few years back and he said that the meaning of life was to be: “Constructively Happy”. Two little words with a power of meaning!

Everyone wants to be ‘Happy’, but very few people are prepared to be ‘Constructive’ in finding their way towards their definition of happiness! Usually we define happiness in terms of personal well-being, material possessions, and our own health. We are very reluctant to accept the inevitability of set-backs in life. We certainly don’t see suffering as part of our idea of happiness! Yet in Buddhist understanding, suffering is inevitable as it is nature’s way of teaching us important lessons in life. The Dalai Lama stresses that it is the way we react to such suffering that is the measure of our spiritual learning and progress.

So how do other cultures answer this ultimate question? I recently had the great good fortune to read a new book exactly on this subject: Every time I find the meaning of life, they change it: Wisdom of the great philosophers on how to live – by Daniel Klein (Published by One World, October 2015, ISBN: 9781780747859) – this book is now available from our Melbourne library.

Daniel Klein looks back from the vantage-point of his 80 years to revisit the wisdom he relished in his youth with a collection of philosophical gems from the Western World. He briefly sums up the writings of Epicurus (200BC) to Jean Paul Sartre, Samuel Beckett, and Viktor Frankl of the 20th century.

Over 20 of these writings are recognized by introducing such concepts as Hedonism, Logic, Humanism, Nihilism, etc… Short and humorous, each concept is summed up in a just few lines – an invaluable reference!

Here are a few answers to this timeless question from great thinkers of the Western World showing a huge variety of approaches to life, from the outright hedonistic, to the deeply,
and spiritually responsible:

· “The art of life lies in taking pleasures as they pass and the keenest pleasures are not intellectual nor are they always moral!” – Aristippus, 400BC.

· “I don’t think that there is much point in bemoaning the state of the world unless there’s some way you can think of to improve it. Otherwise, don’t bother writing a book – go and find a tropical island and live in the sun!” Peter Singer, 1980.
· “Do every act in your life as though it were the very last act of your life.” – Marcus Aurelius, 150BC.
· “I saw a Divine Being today! I’m afraid I’m going to have to revise all my various opinions and books.” – A.J. Ayer, 1970.
· “Live as you were living a second time and as though you had acted wrongly the first time.” – Viktor Frankl, 1955.                      

Ideas on the meaning of life are, of course, not restricted to philosophers. There are as many such ideas as there are people walking this earth. This book gives a general view of ideas that will hopefully lead the reader by using courage, patience, humour, and above all, common sense, to find out and act on discovering positive benefits for All.