Do you want to know the meaning of life? Are you struggling to find answers to life’s challenges? Here’s how to find life’s meaning by asking deeper questions.
Socrates, an ancient Greek philosopher, believed that we are personally responsible for examining and understanding our own lives, a basic tenet behind his philosophical argument to “know thyself.”
He believed that the unexamined life, the life of those who knew nothing of their real selves, aspirations, and actions, was not worthy to be lived because it was devoid of real meaning. The concept of the unexamined life also includes the unexamined relationship, the unexamined marriage, the unexamined job or career, the unexamined retirement, the unexamined business, and so forth.
“I Know Nothing”
Socrates believed that the wisest person is the person who is most aware of his or her own ignorance. In this regard, he believed that it was best to start by stating “he knew nothing” in recognition that he was open to learning new insights. Humbly, he recognized that there were limits to his own knowledge. This is the key to finding the deeper meaning of life.
Be Willing to Ask Questions
If we are unwilling to ask questions, we are unwilling to learn and grow. Many people are unwilling to do so as they think asking questions, or saying “I don’t know,” might lessen their power or make them look weak. The opposite is actually more accurate. Asking questions leads to strength, deeper understanding, and wisdom. The more questions we ask, the more we are able to learn, and the more creative we can become.
It is difficult for us to know ourselves when we are afraid of or avoid asking questions. Perhaps we don’t want to acknowledge our illusions or perhaps we don’t want to see that we need to change; so we just leave it alone, remaining a prisoner of our thoughts in our metaphorical cave.
Perhaps we are so busy just running on the treadmill, trying to survive, that we don’t want to allocate time to step back and ask the bigger questions—or perhaps we are so busy challenging others that we don’t make the time to look within and challenge ourselves!
Don’t Rush to the First Answer
Socrates was famous for teaching people how to think, not what to think. He believed that new insights come when we focus on asking more and deeper questions to find deeper meaning, and importantly, not settle for the first answer.
He encouraged people to go through a systematic process of questioning their assumptions. Socrates challenged people to give reasons for their beliefs, and if these beliefs did not hold up to rigorous cross-examination, if they were proven false or inconsistent, then he believed these people should be open to letting go of these beliefs and consider alternative points of view to find the deeper meaning of life.
Many of us aren’t aware of the assumptions we make behind what we believe. Our beliefs may have simply been passed on to us through others. We must think for ourselves and not simply accept the opinions of others without examining them. And, in some cases, we may need to “unlearn” some of our (limiting) beliefs to find the deeper meaning of life.
Don’t be Trapped in Only One Side of the Situation
For example, when confronting conflict at work or in our personal lives, it is best to stop and ask questions such as the following: “How is the other person looking at this situation?”, “In what ways, could the other person’s perspective be more accurate than mine?”, “How big an issue is this in the overall scheme of things?”, and “How important is it for me to be right in this situation?”
Be Willing to Embrace New Information
In my experience when mentoring individuals for both personal and leadership development, I’ve encountered, all too often, situations when people, albeit with the best intentions, choose simply to ignore valuable new insights and instead carry on with false beliefs concerning their personal and/or work life. Asking questions helps us to determine if we need to let go of certain beliefs or situations that no longer work for us.
Life is an odyssey or journey of experiences that teach us who we really are. Every person we encounter and every event or situation we experience, good or bad, gives us the opportunity to know ourselves better and to know what gives our life meaning.
When we ask more questions and examine our lives like Socrates encouraged us to do, we begin to gain more clarity about our place in the world and what unique talents and insights we can share with the world. As we explore who we are, we can go beyond the limits of who we are allowing ourselves to be and expand into our fuller selves, helping us, ultimately, to live with more meaning.
Are you ready to find the deeper meaning of life?
*For more information on this subject, see: Alex Pattakos and Elaine Dundon (2017). Prisoners of Our Thoughts: Viktor Frankl’s Principles for Discovering Meaning in Life and Work, 3rd edition. Berrett-Koehler Publishers; Alex Pattakos and Elaine Dundon (2015). The OPA! Way: Finding Joy & Meaning in Everyday Life & Work. BenBella Books.
Written by: Elaine Dundon Originally appeared on - Psychology Today Republished with permission