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Self-Awareness and Meaningful Living Essay

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Updated: Feb 12th, 2022

Introduction

Since ancient times philosophers have tried to understand the purpose of a human being, why we are born, and why we live. Some believe that we must seek what we enjoy to acquire meaning for our lives. Others claim that committing our efforts for the benefit of society should be our ultimate goal to live a meaningful life. These beliefs are called subjective and objective, respectively, and are contrasted to a dual aspect approach, which proposes achieving both subjective and objective meaning simultaneously.

However, I believe that obtaining self-awareness is what fills our life with purpose. In this paper, I will discuss Susan Wolf’s and Richard Taylor’s ideas about meaningful living and consider how self-awareness fits into the context. While there are many objections to my viewpoint, I believe that self-awareness can help acquire a meaningful life not only for ourselves but for others as well.

The Meaning of Life

Susan Wolf’s Perception

Before proposing what life needs to become meaningful, Wolf asks what it means for life to have meaning. We know what life stands for, what it is, but we do not fully understand its purpose (Wolf 1). However, the question about purpose is also quickly answered if we consider the existence of God – if he exists, then he had the reason to create us; if he does not exist, then there is no reason why we exist (Wolf 2). Therefore, when we ponder the meanings of lives, we consider whether or not individual lives have sense.

Wolf slightly touches on the topic of subjective meaningful living – she claims that the subjective criterion is not sufficient to label life as meaningful. Instead, she proposes a different approach – life has meaning if a person is committed to a project that has positive intentions and at least partially succeeds at it. Wolf emphasizes that positive values do not need to involve moral values or anything similar (Wolf 7). Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that Wolf advocates for objectivity. She claims that achieving personal happiness does not equate to obtaining life’s meaning.

Richard Taylor’s Ideas

Richard Taylor suggests that people have struggled to understand the purpose behind life because it is challenging even to understand what it means to question life about its meaning. Therefore, he attempts to explain meaningful living by describing meaninglessness. He uses the popular myth of Sisyphus to aid his explanations. The tale is about a man who continuously rolled a boulder up a hill from where it went back to the bottom; Sisyphus had to repeat the action without stopping.

Taylor considers his life as meaningless because his actions do not result in a more significant outcome other than being repeated. Taylor emphasizes that the difficulty of the task and the amount of time needed to accomplish it are not relevant to the concept of meaninglessness (Taylor 3). Any activity, whether it is easy or difficult, whether it takes infinity or several minutes, is rendered meaningless if nothing comes out of it.

Taylor proposes two ways to make Sisyphus’s life more meaningful. First, his life can be considered meaningful if the stones he rolled up were later used to build something (Taylor 7). Alternatively, if Sisyphus enjoys the process of rolling boulders up the hill, his life can also be considered meaningful (Taylor 7). Therefore, it can be concluded that Taylor is the proponent of the dual-aspect approach to meaningful living. He thinks both personal happiness from the activities people do and useful results that are elicited from those actions can render life meaningful.

Meaningful Living

From the observations of Wolf and Taylor, it can be inferred that there are two aspects regarding meaningful living. The first aspect is concerned with how we perceive life, and the second aspect is about whether we consider life as significant and useful. Wolf claims that we should be more concerned with the meanings of individual lives, that is what values they generate, but Taylor believes that how a person perceives his life is also a crucial factor of meaningfulness. Comparing these two viewpoints, I can argue that Taylor’s idea is sounder because it is we who live our lives and not others.

We should strive for a tangible result when engaging in activities, but as long as these activities make us happy, we can claim that our lives have meaning. From this judgment, I can derive that the notion of self-awareness is extremely significant within the context of meaningful living.

Self-awareness and Meaningful Living

Importance and Benefits of Self-awareness

Self-awareness, because of how it is called, is often confused with consciousness. While the latter is the awareness of one’s body, life, and environment, self-awareness can be described as when the person acknowledges that awareness. When we are self-aware, we have a better understanding of our desires, feelings, thoughts, and character. People who practice self-awareness have the ability to control their emotions and understand their motives. Because meaningful living is partially comprised of our subjective view of happiness, self-awareness can be considered a critical part of understanding life’s meaning.

Examining oneself has many benefits, and the usefulness of this practice has been recognized by many philosophers and psychologists. It is common that we are better at advising others than benefitting from this advice ourselves. That is because understanding ourselves is the most challenging task to accomplish. However, by becoming self-aware, people will improve their emotional intelligence and listening skills, enhance their relationships and communicative abilities, and strengthen their critical thinking capabilities. The latter skill is significant when perceiving our life and understanding meaningfulness. By critically assessing our goals and desires, and understanding what activities bring us pleasure, we can decide what items convey meaning to our lives.

Self-awareness Preference vs. Dual-aspect Approach

Self-awareness should not be viewed as a subset of subjectivity or the dual-aspect approach, however. It is the person who sets his or her goals and sets standards by which generated values are labeled as either positive or negative. For instance, if, according to Taylor, rolling up boulders does not result in a more significant outcome, it does not necessarily mean that Sisyphus has the same opinion about it. Perhaps, Sisyphus has goals that Taylor could not fully understand. Therefore, the criteria proposed by Taylor is not sufficient to judge whether or not an individual life has meaning.

The same is true regarding the arguments of Wolf – her definition of positive value is based on her beliefs on what can be considered as positive and what cannot. Without understanding one’s consciousness, it is not possible to decide whether or not someone’s life has meaning because when we talk about positive values and goals, we rely mostly on our own subjective perceptions. In this context, self-awareness is significant because it allows a person to have an influence on how he or she is perceived.

Common Objections

There are common objections to the notion of self-awareness in the context of meaningful living. Some believe that other people view us differently regardless of how we see ourselves. However, by practicing self-awareness, we take more control over how we demonstrate ourselves to other people. For instance, if Sisyphus had practiced self-awareness, it would have helped him build a more accurate image of himself, and Taylor might not have perceived his life as meaningless.

Also, there are those who claim that self-awareness is selfish and does not benefit others. However, as it has already been mentioned, self-awareness helps improve emotional intelligence and listening skills. Emotional intelligence helps people be more empathetic and try to understand others’ feelings. Emotionally intelligent people are more capable of assisting others than people who do not know how to listen. Therefore, by becoming self-aware, you also acquire the ability to benefit others. Notably, by learning how to gain meaningful life, people can start helping others have meaningful living.

Conclusion

Life and its meaning are the subjects of many debates among philosophers and ordinary people. Some claim that meaningful living is constituted when our actions benefit people around us and society in general. Others believe that our subjective perception of happiness is sufficient to see our lives as meaningful. However, I believe that self-awareness is the most critical part of meaningful living because it helps us understand ourselves and our desires thoroughly while benefiting others.

Works Cited

Taylor, Richard. The Meaning of Life. University of Colorado, 1970. University of Colorado. Web.

Wolf, Susan. The Meanings of Lives. University of Colorado, 2007. University of Colorado. Web.

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