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During the Q&A portions of my author talks, I always invite audience members to ask me challenging questions. No subject is out of bounds. The stranger the better.

I even give away prizes to the most challenging questions. 

At a recent author talk, perhaps in an attempt to receive a prize, someone asked me “What is the meaning of life?”

It’s an age-old question that has been answered a million different ways (and probably be avoided more often than it is answered). 

For example:

“Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.” ―The Dalai Lama

A good answer, but apparently not convincing enough, because the Dalai Lama has also said, “The very purpose of life is to be happy.”

You can flip-flop on your favorite diner, but the meaning of life should probably be more certain.

Other answers that I liked:

“The true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit.” ―Nelson Henderson

“Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.” ― Aristotle

The meaning of life is not to be discovered only after death in some hidden, mysterious realm; on the contrary, it can be found by eating the succulent fruit of the Tree of Life and by living in the here and now as fully and creatively as we can. ― Paul Kurtz

“42” ― Douglass Adams

My least favorite answers to this questions come from actor Alan Alda:

“The meaning of life is life.”

Thanks, Alan. That really says a lot.

My answer on the night I was asked was this:

“The meaning of life is to stay alive for as long as possible.”

As soon as I said it, I knew that I liked it. Simple, straight forward, and in my experience, accurate.

If you’ve ever faced an honest-to-goodness life-or-death situation, you’ll know that taking just one more breathe can quickly become more important than any else in this world.

When standing on the brink of oblivion, another moment of existence feels like a lifetime.