On October 10, 2004, David Seaman, a freshman at New York University, was trying to avoid writing a paper on "God and the cosmic order in Dante's universe" for his humanities class. On a whim he typed "What is the meaning of life?" into an online forum. He received a whopping 50,000 hits and 2,000 answers. The excerpts below are from his new book, "The Real Meaning of Life," a compilation of some of the best responses he received.


Give more than you take. Do your best to leave every situation better than you found it. Seek beauty in all its forms. Chase dreams. Watch sunsets. Endeavor to use more than 10 percent of your brain. Don't stifle your deep-from-the-gut, cleansing laughter. Take a moment to ponder the enormity of the universe, then admit to yourself that you can't possibly be the center. Breathe deeply. Swim into the dark water. Let yourself cry when your body tells you to. Love more. Delight in silliness. Don't be bitter. Forgive. Forgive. Forgive.
--Katy Rhodes

For me, the meaning of life is to leave the world a better place than you found it. Many of us will come and go, leaving ripples that fade over time into the noise of history. A select few, though, will play the role of chaos theory's butterfly. Through actions that perhaps even appear insignificant, they'll kick off waves of change that leave a lasting impression on the landscape of human culture. I hope that somehow I manage to start some waves that improve the human condition over the long term.
--Hans Gerwitz

Since none of us is an expert on the creation of the universe, because none of us created it, and none of us was alive for the past billions of years to witness it, then we can safely say that we are all just trying to make sense of it. We believe in philosophies, truths, dogmas, faiths, or sometimes the lack thereof that have been passed down to us through myriads of ways of telling.

To scrape it down to a skeletal essence, then the truth I believe in is this: to love others as best we possibly can and, for the sake of Pete and heaven, to love something bigger, greater, and beyond ourselves, something we did not create or have the power to create, something intangible and made holy by our very belief in it.

This is not the souped-up, sexed-out version of love that many of us resign to. Rather, it is the kind of love that causes us to forgive those who hurt us and to risk our lives. It is not magical, or impossible, for it is within us all to love others so fiercely that in the end we could give it all up. This scary notion cuts much deeper than any hurt we experience or inflict, because it buried under layers or silliness, sadness, pain, fear, and American dreams.

This is all easy to say, hard to do, but worth every effort we can muster.
--Barbra Bowman

Finding a meaning to life is itself the meaning of life. This quest for spiritual truth is what makes us human and differentiates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. Humans are the only animals to ask "why," the only animals to wonder where we came from, what we are, and where we're going. Finding a purpose or a passion, whether it be religious faith, love, or simply a hobby, is a uniquely human ability. Life is our only opportunity to embrace this privilege. Unfortunately, so many religions and belief systems encourage the opposite idea-that this mortal existence is merely a test or preparation for what lies beyond death. But life is no dress rehearsal. This is the time to explore, to indulge our curiosity and our hunger for truth.
--Tracy Steel

You are a blank page. When you are ready to die, you are a full-length novel.
--Jihan Zubi

People don't live forever, but everyone leaves their mark, which lasts eternally on those they have touched. Although the passing of our lives seems timeless, the light is slowly dimming, and one day the only thing left will be memories of what once was. That is why I choose to be the best person I can be for others, because I know that one day the only thing left of me will be the outcome of my life and how it has affected others.
--George Montroukas


When people argue against the existence of God, they often say, "I just can't believe in a God that allows so many terrible things to happen in the world." And looking around it's easy to see what they mean. Headlines inform us daily of mass murders, school bus crashes, suicide bombers. It's so easy to ask, "Why couldn't God have just stopped that suicide bomber?" "Why couldn't Hitler have had an aneurysm at seventeen, sparing millions of lives?"

But I don't think we can live in a world without suffering. If no one suffered, then all people would have to be perfect all the time. Without the ability to cause suffering, we lose the ability to choose. Life is ultimately a choice, of how you will live, what you will do, what you will say, what you will believe. We could have been made to be all good, all the time. But we would have no choices, and to choose to be good is worth infinitely more than the most saintly goodness of a choiceless robot.

Many people believe we are born with a soul. I believe that our soul is the product of an entire life; it's something you make. It's shaped by how often you are kind to others, by how you treat your children, by how hard you work for the things you care about. Life is a dazzling and confusing array of choices, and what you do makes you who you are. We may begin life with different personalities and different situations, but what matters is not what we start out with but what we end with, and how we confront everything in between. Every religion, at its core, gives us advice on the best way to live, but in the end it's a choice we make only for ourselves. We may choose to feed the starving or kill the innocent, but no matter what our earthly rewards or punishments may be, every action we take makes us who we are. And what, at last, could be more precious than the quality of our own character, and the integrity of our soul?
--Julia Darcey

I'm a twenty-year old, so my view on life is still somewhat...hazy. I need to live more. I don't know if I'm being original-if I'm not, at least I arrived at this on my own-but I think that the real meaning of life is "to look for the meaning of life." It's not a circular definition-I'm just saying that the generalization of something this profound is wrong.

Six billion people in the world, all different from the inside out, might have something in common, but the meaning of life? It should be more like "what's the meaning of your life?" What are you? Why are you here? What are you looking for?

I'm still looking for my purpose, and I believe that's the meaning of life: to look for it.
--David Yim

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