Part of a three-part series of essays on human nature:
Introduction: Fear, Need, and the ‘Meaning of Life’ (you are here)
Free Will: Fact or Wishful Thinking?
Belief: Are We Just Fooling Ourselves?
Ethics: Do They Work Anymore?
Introduction: Fear, Need, and the ‘Meaning of Life’
According to a USA Today survey, the number one question people wanted to ask God was, “What is the meaning of life?” One thing is obvious, when our lives lose meaning we suffer. Conversely, to quote the Tao Te Ching #33, “Striving to prevail is will.” With an abiding sense of striving for something meaningful, we feel vibrant and alive—life feels meaningful, whether or not we know ‘life’s meaning’. Satisfying an urgent need or resolving a gnawing fear gives out life meaning — at least for the moment!
Nonetheless, we are curious about life even though our needs and fears usually suffice to make it feel meaningful. These need and fear emotions go by various names: want, necessity, desire, hunger, lust, and insecurity, apprehension, loss, failure, respectively. These push and pull sensations motivate us to do what we do. Of course, these motivating forces are common to all animals. If a cow in the hot sun feels the need to cool off, it will seek a shady tree, just as we will. If it sees a lion and feels fear, it will run away, just as we will.
Additionally for humans, need and fear greatly influence thought. These emotions work in concert with our notion of free will, ethics, and belief. Together, these core emotions and notions stir up questions about the meaning of life, which makes them promising areas to probe for insight.