American Kendrick Professor of Philosophy and Economics at the University of Arizona
People who know they are terminally ill often seem to live more meaningfully. Though dying, they somehow are more alive. They cherish each morning and are vividly aware of each day’s passing. They see despair as a self-indulgent waste, and they have no time to waste.
The existentialist insight, in part, is that meaning is something we give to life. We do not find meaning so much as throw ourselves at it. The Zen insight, in part, is that worrying about meaning may itself make life less meaningful than it might have been. Part of the virtue of the Zen attitude lies in learning to not need to be busy: learning there is joy and meaning and peace in simply being mindful, not needing to change or be changed. Let the moment mean what it will.
The special glory of being human is precisely that we have choices. The special sadness lies in knowing there is a limit to how right our choices can be, and a limit to how much the rightness of our choices can matter.
If you honestly wish to find meaning, don’t look where the impact isn’t. Look where the impact is. Life’s meaning, when it has one, is going to be as big as life, but it cannot be much bigger than that.