Created By: ThePope on February 21, 2012 Last Edited By: Morgenthaler on May 16, 2016
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The Meaning Of Life

When a work or character specifically defines what the meaning of life is.

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What is the meaning of life? Is it to create? To discover? Or is it to feel pleasure? Or to live an exciting and fulfilling life? Or is it to be pure and righteous to prepare oneself for the afterlife? Or is there no reason? Is the point of life just to live?

Or is it 42?

For the most part, there is no set in stone answer, and you could argue this with professors, colleagues, and internet-dwellers for hours. But in some works, a Meaning of Life is set in stone, whether it's by God or simply by the people living. Of course, this can also be parodied with a Godly Sidestep.

Shows up commonly in stories with some form of Enlightenment Superpower, Ki or Right Makes Might; all of which provide a reward system for finding the correct meaning to life. Frequently, this is made into An Aesop. Just as often, it's also an Author Tract (the author giving opinion on what the meaning of live is through his work).

Related to the Straw Nihilist, who believes life has no meaning, and the Anti-Nihilist, who believes that you can give life whatever meaning you want. See also Japanese Spirit and Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence. Compare and contrast Goal in Life.

Not to be confused with that movie where the fat guy explodes.


Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Comic Books 

    Comic Strips 

    Film 
  • Near the end of The Matrix Revolutions, Agent Smith lectures Neo.
    Agent Smith: Can you feel it Mr. Anderson? Closing in on you. Oh, I can. I really should thank you for it, after all, it was your life that taught me the purpose of all life. The purpose of life... is to end.
  • Monty Python's The Meaning of Life says this about the meaning of life.
    It's nothing special. Try to be nice to people. Avoid eating fat. Read a good book now and then. Get some walking in. Try to live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations.
  • Bethany asks the question when she meets God at the end of Dogma. God responds by tweaking her nose. This can be interpreted as either a polite snub or an answer to the effect that the point of life is to be silly and enjoy yourself. Bear in mind that God's voice would cause any mortal's head to explode, so there's a limited range of responses in this case.

    Literature 
  • In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a machine is fed information to calculate the meaning of life. The answer? 42.
  • In The Left Hand of Darkness, it is mentioned that some person once asked a group of seers "what's the meaning of life". Some seers went mad, some died, one killed the guy who asked the question, and the leader went on to found his own religion, claiming that during his attempts, he saw everything that was, is and shall be. No answer to the original question was ever provided.

    Live Action Television 
  • In the Dinosaurs episode "The Greatest Story Ever Sold", Baby starts asking how and why all dinosaurs exist. Since this is the first time this question was ever asked, it sends all of Pangaea into a state of panic since no one knows the answer. The Council of Elders ends up creating a new cult to give cheap easy answers so that everyone will get back to work. The cult: Potatoism. Robbie is the only one who doesn't buy into it.
  • The Replicators of Stargate SG-1 found the question very easy.
    First: I managed to stop the machine before it activated and eventually used it to suit our purpose.
    Jonas: Which is?
    First: To increase our number. That has never changed.
  • Subverted on Step by Step. J.T, Dana, Karen, and Cody try to see who can go without sleep the longest. Somehow, Cody becomes smarter as a result and has several epiphanies. At the end of the episode, J.T, Dana, and Karen all finally pass out and Cody suddenly realizes the meaning of life. He's about to state it when he passes out too.
  • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Offspring," the android Data constructs a "daughter" named Lal who asks him what her purpose or function is. He replies that it is to "contribute in a positive way to the world in which they live." This just raises further questions.
  • A "Pigs in Space" skit on The Muppet Show features the Swinetrek approaching the edge of the Universe, beyond which lies The Meaning of Life. Unfortunately, it's interrupted by a Muppet News Flash to announce that they're close to discovering The Meaning of Life. When we return to the sketch it's over, and the crew missed it as well (It was lunchtime, and apparently swill stroganoff is more important than the Meaning of Life). The narrator then reveals that he saw it, but when pressed further he chants "I know something you don't know!"

    Video Games 
  • In Oracle of Tao, the meaning of life is defined twice. First, it's defined as bonds to nature, family, and love (but this is part of some religion). And then later, someone asks as a test what the meaning of life truly is. The answerer basically says that it's a self-defining question (as in the meaning of life is "the meaning of life", that is to say what life means to you is the meaning of life, making it a personal question).

    Western Animation 
  • In Futurama, while Fry, Bender and The Professor are watching the universe end.
    Fry: Hey, uh... What was the purpose of life, anyway?
    Professor: Who knows? Probably some hogwash about the human spirit.
    Bender: Mm-hm.
    Fry: Sounds about right.
  • In The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, Grim tests a talking computer's knowledge by asking it the meaning of life. It responds that, "Life has no meaning. Only machine intelligence is truly important on a cosmic scale." Grim's surprised that it got it right.
  • In The Venture Bros. while 21 is talking to the ghost of 24.
    24: Seriously, ask me any question.
    21: Okay. What's the meaning of life?
    21: Really?
    24: No idiot. Ask me something less Hitchhiker's Guide, dork.
  • The Simpsons: In "Homer the Heretic" Homer dreams he's up in Heaven with God.
    Homer: "Lord, I have to ask you something: What's the meaning of life?"
    God: "Oh Homer, I can't tell you that! You'll find out when you die."
    Homer: "But I can't wait that long!"
    God: "You can't wait six months?"
    After which God proceeds to tell him
    "The secret of life is..." and the end credits start to play.
  • The Cold Open of one episode on Doug has an Imagine Spot by the eponymous character in which he plays a game show and is mocked for being an idiot when he can't answer the question, 'What is the meaning of life?'
  • In one episode of Duckman, Duckman dies and meets God, who before sending him back to Earth gives him an Etch-A-Sketch. Duckman is angry about getting such a lame gift, until God tells him that it has the Meaning of Life written on it. By then, however, Duckman's angry gesticulating had erased it completely.
Community Feedback Replies: 37
  • February 21, 2012
    randomsurfer
    Monty Pythons The Meaning Of Life actually does say what the meaning of life is. (You might not agree with it, but it is stated.)
  • February 22, 2012
    Arivne
    Film
    Agent Smith: Can you feel it Mr. Anderson? Closing in on you. Oh, I can. I really should thank you for it, after all, it was your life that taught me the purpose of all life. The purpose of life...is to end.
  • February 27, 2012
    abk0100
    Comics:

  • February 27, 2012
    Ekuran
    Compare and contrast Goal In Life.
  • February 27, 2012
    Maveric
    You have the reference in the description, but don't forget to add the Hitchiker's trilogy to the examples for this.
  • February 28, 2012
    Millstone
    • The Replicators of Stargate SG 1 found the question very easy.

      First: I managed to stop the machine before it activated and eventually used it to suit our purpose.

      Jonas: Which is?

      First: To increase our number. That has never changed.
  • March 8, 2012
    Lyendith
    • Maybe subverted in Naruto: several characters throughout the series state that the worth of a shinobi's life is in what he does before dying. Theses characters usually think that just before they die themselves.

    Not sure it is covered by the trope though...
  • March 12, 2012
    Duncan
    To be nit-picky, 42 is "The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything", not the meaning of life, though it's become something of a Beam Me Up Scotty.
  • April 13, 2013
    clockclockclock
    • In the Dinosaurs episode "The Greatest Story Ever Sold", Baby starts asking how and why all dinosaurs exist. Since this is the first time this question was ever asked, it sends all of Pangaea into a state of panic since no one knows the answer. The Council of Elders ends up creating a new cult to give cheap easy answers so that everyone will get back to work. The cult: Potatoism. Robbie is the only one who doesn't buy into it.
  • April 13, 2013
    Arivne
    To expand upon the Monty Pythons The Meaning Of Life example above:

    Film
    It's nothing special. Try to be nice to people. Avoid eating fat. Read a good book now and then. Get some walking in. Try to live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations.
  • April 13, 2013
    clockclockclock
    • In Futurama, while Fry, Bender and The Professor are watching the universe end.
      Fry: Hey, uh... What was the purpose of life, anyway?
      Professor: Who knows? Probably some hogwash about the human spirit.
      Bender: Mm-hm.
      Fry: Sounds about right.
  • April 13, 2013
    StarSword
    ^^I vote that for the page quote.
  • April 13, 2013
    helterskelter
    Agreed. That's a great quote.

    Maybe the description should clarify that characters can individually believe they know the meaning of life. For instance, in the Smith example. He thinks he's here to kill all life, I think the movie eventually states choice is.
  • April 15, 2013
    clockclockclock
    • In The Grim Adventures Of Billy And Mandy, Grim tests a talking computer's knowledge by asking it the meaning of life. It responds that, "Life has no meaning. Only machine intelligence is truly important on a cosmic scale." Grim's surprised that it got it right.
  • April 16, 2013
    KingZeal
    Shows up commonly in stories with some form of Enlightenment Superpower, Ki or Right Makes Might; all of which provide a reward system for finding the correct meaning to life.

    See also Japanese Spirit and Ascend To A Higher Plane Of Existence.
  • April 16, 2013
    bulmabriefs144
    • In Oracle Of Tao, the meaning of life is defined twice. First, it's defined as bonds to nature, family, and love (but this is part of some religion). And then later, someone asks as a test what the meaning of life truly is. The answerer basically says that it's a self-defining question (as in The Meaning Of Life is "the meaning of life", that is to say what life means to you is the meaning of life, making it a personal question).
  • July 21, 2013
    clockclockclock
    • In Venture Bros while 21 is talking to the ghost of 24.
      24: Seriously, ask me any question.
      21: Okay. What's the meaning of life?
      21: Really?
      24: No idiot. Ask me something less Hitchhiker's Guide, dork.
  • July 21, 2013
    RoseBride
    This is related to the Anti Nihilist, who believes that because life has no meaning on its own, you can give it whatever meaning you want.
  • July 21, 2013
    NESBoy
    I shall specify where the Futurama quote above originates: "The Late Phillip J Fry".
  • November 16, 2014
    DAN004
    Frequently, this is made into An Aesop. Just as often, it's also an Author Tract (the author giving opinion on what the meaning of live is through his work).
  • November 16, 2014
    arbiter099
    • Broadly summarizing, Objectivism defines the purpose of life as working to acquire happiness through productive achievement according to your individual values. In Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand has John Galt as her mouthpiece espouse upon this and the rest of her philosophy in a massive Author Filibuster.

    I tried to find a good specific quote but nothing seemed to the point enough, the only options were whole paragraphs or Quote Mines
  • November 16, 2014
    ThePope
    No idea what header to put that under. Real Life? Literature?
  • November 16, 2014
    arbiter099
    Literature? She mostly wrote books
  • November 16, 2014
    Daefaroth
    Strictly speaking the Hitchhikers Guide never says it is the meaning of life. 42 is the "Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything". That everyone thinks it does is a case of Beam Me Up Scotty.
  • November 16, 2014
    jormis29

    Just so you know, there is a page for Forty Two
  • November 17, 2014
    BKelly95
    Live Action Television
    • Subverted on Step By Step. J.T, Dana, Karen, and Cody try to see who can go without sleep the longest. Somehow, Cody becomes smarter as a result and has several epiphanies. At the end of the episode, J.T, Dana, and Karen all finally pass out and Cody suddenly realizes the meaning of life. He's about to state it when he passes out too.
  • November 18, 2014
    hbi2k
    Live-Action TV
    • In the Star Trek The Next Generation episode "The Offspring," the android Data constructs a "daughter" named Lal who asks him what her purpose or function is. He replies that it is to "contribute in a positive way to the world in which they live." This just raises further questions.
  • November 18, 2014
    Patachou
    The Simpsons: In Homer the Heretic Homer dreams he's up in Heaven with God.
    Homer: "Lord, I have to ask you something: What's the meaning of life?"
    God: "Oh Homer, I can't tell you that! You'll find out when you die."
    Homer: "But I can't wait that long!"
    God: "You can't wait six months?"

    After which God proceeds to tell him: "The secret of life is..." and the end credits start to play.
  • November 18, 2014
    SvartiKotturinn
    The Cold Open of one episode on Doug has an Imagine Spot by the eponymous character in which he plays a game show and is mocked for being an idiot when he can't answer the question, 'What is the meaning of life?'
  • December 12, 2014
    Patachou
    A "Pigs in Space" skit on The Muppet Show features the Swinetrek approaching the edge of the Universe, beyond which lies The Meaning of Life. Unfortunately, it's interrupted by a Muppet News Flash to announce that they're close to discovering The Meaning of Life. When we return to the sketch it's over, and the crew missed it as well (It was lunchtime, and apparently swill stroganoff is more important than the Meaning of Life). The narrator then reveals that he saw it, but when pressed further he chants "I know something you don't know!"
  • December 12, 2014
    hbi2k
    The laconic and description say this is about when a work or character actually says what the meaning of life is, but many examples are some kind of subversion or unreveal along the lines of a Godly Sidestep.

    I'm thinking an in-page split between examples that actually give the meaning of life and sidesteps / unreveals is in order, with an accompanying adjustment to the laconic and description.
  • December 12, 2014
    DAN004
    ^ the Godly Sidestep one may happen because the creator thinks it's a subject too touchy to play and so they choose not to answer. Of course it's also parodied a lot.
  • May 15, 2016
    Morgenthaler
    Since it seems the OP has forgotten about this one, I'll take up sponsorship.
  • May 15, 2016
    TonyG
    In one episode of ''Duckman, Duckman dies and meets God, who before sending him back to Earth gives him an Etch-A-Sketch. Duckman is angry about getting such a lame gift, until God tells him that it has the Meaning of Life written on it. By then, however, Duckman's angry gesticulating had erased it completely.
  • May 15, 2016
    Omeganian
    In The Left Hand Of Darkness, it is mentioned that some person once asked a group of seers "what's the meaning of life". Some seers went mad, some died, one killed the guy who asked the question, and the leader went on to found his own religion, claiming that during his attempts, he saw everything that was, is and shall be. No answer to the original question was ever provided.
  • May 15, 2016
    BKelly95
    Comic Stripes
  • May 15, 2016
    Generality
    • Bethany asks the question when she meets God at the end of Dogma. God responds by tweaking her nose. This can be interpreted as either a polite snub or an answer to the effect that the point of life is to be silly and enjoy yourself. Bear in mind that God's voice would cause any mortal's head to explode, so there's a limited range of responses in this case.
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