It can be imagined that throughout human history, countless brilliant and ordinary minds have pondered the question of the meaning of life. I too am troubled by it at times, but I also find moments of joy in the process. Because I believe it is an inherent trait of human intelligence. Every mature mind feels compelled or inclined to grapple with this question. From this perspective, any attempts to dissuade someone from contemplating it or to provide direct answers to spare them from the anguish of introspection are unnecessary. The drawbacks of resisting the contemplation of life’s meaning far outweigh the potential emptiness of the result. Reflecting on the meaning of life is a test of the intellect but also an opportunity for intellectual maturity and personal independence. It allows the intellect to expand and showcase its uniqueness.

For me personally, I like to use the famous quote attributed to Steve Jobs as an annotation:

“Keep looking, don’t settle.”

When pondering the question of life’s meaning, I am perplexed and sometimes ignorant, but never in despair. Searching for the meaning of life is like searching for the fullest ear of wheat in an endless wheat field. While we can’t guarantee finding the fullest ear among all the wheat, by occasionally picking, we might find something better. At the end of life, holding the fullest ear of wheat we found throughout our journey, whether it goes with us to the grave or is given to others, leaves us content. Because that fullest ear of wheat from a lifetime is the best reward.

Let me share the most significant ear of wheat I’ve picked up on my limited journey so far:

Firstly, meaning can be defined. The universe is infinitely vast, but if we limit ourselves to the present moment and our immediate surroundings, meaning can manifest itself. In love, in family, in oneself, in academia, art, industry, in humanity, in nature… Even with the broadest of definitions, life isn’t empty, and meaning naturally emerges, inspiring us to seek it. So why fixate on the so-called “ultimate meaning”?

More importantly, for many people, including myself, instead of asking, “What is the meaning of life?” it’s better to ask, “What is the experience of meaning?” and take it a step further, “How do you experience ‘having meaning in life’?” These questions, while similar, lead to vastly different answers. While I still can’t definitively say what the meaning of life is, I can somewhat confidently say that many people have never experienced ‘having meaning in life.’ What many people seek is simply the experience of ‘having meaning in life,’ and there’s no need to prescribe a singular meaning to them. Meaning isn’t a rigid definition or concept; it flows through our experiences. Relative to the elusive and hard-to-pin-down concept, our experiences can often be so powerful that they feel real. Therefore, to gain the experience of ‘having meaning in life,’ I believe we can at least ‘create’ and ‘discover.’

Zhou Guoping, when discussing Saint-Exupéry’s views on meaning, once wrote, “Truth is not an immediate starting point but a goal that requires arduous efforts to approach.” I strongly agree. Meaning, like the truth in this statement, isn’t achieved instantly but through recognizing a goal, overcoming challenges, and enduring setbacks. In such a process, meaning is ‘created.’ To use an analogy, an eager traveler crawls through a desert, eventually finding a well that saves their life. A wealthy person, full and content, faced with a feast, has no appetite and merely takes a few bites. Even though the feast is valuable, the meaning the wealthy person gains from their meal is far less than what the traveler experiences through the effort of finding water.

Arriving in the polar regions, gazing at the timeless starry sky, witnessing the ethereal beauty of the aurora dancing in the polar night, the vast and icy expanse of space, reindeer migrating, and swordfish swimming. Where is the meaning? We enter this environment, feel the awe of the starry sky, witness the graceful beauty of the aurora, and marvel at life’s persistent rhythm in the extreme cold. Meaning is discovered through our observations and insights. Many people, in such moments, find it breathtaking and immensely satisfying. These individuals ‘discover’ the meaning of life through these experiences.

Therefore, in our limited time and space, defining what matters to us, setting boundaries for meaning, setting clear goals, and then striving for them while keeping an open mind and using our intellect to contemplate and discover the meaning inherent in things. I believe this is the only way to ensure the experience of ‘having meaning in life.’ Fortunately, this is something that every physically and mentally healthy, intellectually mature person can do.

This is the most significant ear of wheat I’ve picked up so far. So, even though there are already so many answers, I couldn’t resist sharing my thoughts. But, as I’ve said before: Keep looking, don’t settle. There is still incredibly anticipated meaning in the unknown. From the beginning of human existence, when we were primitive and struggling for survival, who would have imagined the thriving civilization we have today? In the vast expanse of time, who could have foreseen the diversity and prosperity of life on this planet billions of years later? Those of us capable of contemplating and feeling ’the meaning of life’ have an opportunity, perhaps one that has never been possessed before. We have the chance to understand the vastness of the universe, even to realize our own broader and ultimate meaning. We have the chance to create infinite possibilities. Even if no one else knows, we can prove it to ourselves. Even if in the end, everything returns to nothingness, we once pursued it passionately. The symphony of this world for a brief moment is so stirring, and the infinite brilliance of possibilities is itself a meaningful and grand tableau. Born into this, able to partially understand and possess it, how can we say there is no meaning?

In conclusion, I wish those who contemplate and pursue the meaning of life, at the end of their journey, or even just at a moment in their lives, can hold that fullest ear of wheat without regrets.