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The Brain and the Meaning of Life 7: Why Life is Worth Living


The Meaning of Life

My descriptive aim is to show that people seem to find meaning through such pursuits, but my normative aim is to show that love, work, and play really do make life worth living. The normative leap to what ought to be requires connecting these realms with people’s vital needs, via an account of how brains work (1833).


Thagard argues that happiness is not the source of the meaning of life, but the result of other goals we have. Part of the reason is that people pursue goals that are not expected to increase happiness. Could this simply be called irrational though?

Goals and Meaning

In sum, your life is meaningful to the extent that 1. you have goals, which are emotionally valued mental representations of situations, consisting of patterns of neural activity; 2. some of your goals have been accomplished to some degree; 3. you have other goals not yet accomplished that you have reasonable prospects of accomplishing; 4. your goals are coherent with each other; and 5. your goals are objectively valuable (1944).


love, work, and play are objectively valuable when they help to satisfy vital human needs (2134).

If you want to reduce my book to a slogan, it could be this: The meaning of life is love, work, and play A more nuanced summary would be better: People’s lives have meaning to the extent that love, work, and play provide coherent and valuable goals that they can strive for and at least partially accomplish, yielding brain-based emotional consciousness of satisfaction and happiness (2135).

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