What is the meaning of life? Is it to create? To discover? To feel pleasure? To live an exciting and fulfilling life? To be pure and righteous to prepare oneself for the afterlife? 42? Or is there no reason? Is the point of life just to live? Or to perpetuate as many of one's own genes as possible? Somehow, we're looking for it.
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 Manipulation 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.
- An entire infomercial for the Phillips CD-i was actually built around a guy looking for the meaning of life and getting Baited-and-Switched into a sales pitch for the product.
- Inverted in the world of the New Gods by the Anti-Life equation, which (Depending on the Writer) basically proves that life has no meaning. The usual effect is making whoever knows it, in whole or part, capable of mind controlling others because it is automatically understood when stated and immediately breaks their wills.
- Played straight in later storylines where it's retconned that the search for the Anti-Life Equation was inspired by knowledge that the Life Equation existed and that logically it must have a reciprocate. The Life Equation has a similar effect of allowing wielders to influence others, only instead of breaking their wills it simply rewrites them to follow your own, making it ultimately a Not So Different counterpart to its more obviously sinister sounding Anti-Life counterpart.
- Garfield: Jon and Garfield wonder about it sometimes. The September 9, 2014 strip has Garfield ask Odie to demonstrate it, which he does by falling asleep on his feet (which Garfield approves of); similarly, the January 11, 2017 strip has Garfield ask him to "fetch the meaning of life", and is very happy when Odie brings him Garfield's teddy bear Pooky.
- Subverted in Hägar the Horrible. We see the old wise man sitting on his mountaintop meditating. Suddenly, he has an epiphany. He stands up and announces "The meaning of life is..." He's interrupted by a loud buzzer and a voice from the sky says "I'm sorry. Your answer must be phrased in the form of a question.''
Lucy: I'm looking for the answer to life, Schroeder... What do you think is the answer?
Schroeder (interrupting his piano playing): BEETHOVEN! Beethoven is IT, clear and simple!!! Do you understand?
- 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.
- Discussed in Book of Ecclesiastes. The author of the book (believed to be King Solomon) laments about the meaning of life, but he finds them vanity. However, he eventually comes to this conclusion:
Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.
- In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a machine is fed information to calculate the meaning of life. The answer? 42. The computer then goes on to point out that the problem is that no one really knows what the Ultimate Question is, and decides to design a computer to calculate that. Unfortunately, that computer was the Earth, which the Vogons destroyed at the beginning of the first book. Later on, Arthur and Ford eventually figure out what the Ultimate Question is: "What do you get when you multiply six by nine?" Note that six times nine doesn't even make 42...unless it is written out in base-13.
- Taken further in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, where it's hypothesised that if anyone did find out what the universe was for, it would be replaced by something "even more inexplicable and weird". And that this has already happened (the radio version has a third theory, that this was just made up to sell copies of the Guide).And then, in Life, the Universe and Everything, a man explains to Arthur you can't know the Ultimate Answer and the Ultimate Question at the same time. Knowledge of one precludes knowledge of the other.
- 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.
- 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!"
- Existentialism, rather than trying to explain the reason for existence, emphasizes the importance of a person's existence, freedom and choice. It's the view that everyone finds their own meaning for life and tries to make decisions despite existing in a universe that is chaotic, random, and irrational. So according to this view, life has no inherent meaning, but we can find one for ourselves regardless.
- 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).
- One of the main themes of NieR: Automata revolves around the philosophical concept of existentialism, and explores the overwhelming despair that accompanies self-consciousness in the face of an absurd and seemingly meaningless world. It's also about accepting that meaninglessness, choosing to emphasize the importance of constructing one's own meaning, rather than succumbing to despair and living in Bad Faith.
- 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?24: The color 12.21: 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.