“There is only one meaning of life: the act of living it,” wrote German psychologist and social theorist Erich Fromm in 1941.[1]

Some find meaning in their work, in travel, in writing, in loving, in obeying a religion, in creating babies—all of which are different acts of living. The meaning of life (a noun) is in the process of living (a verb).

This points to a fundamental shift from that of a static goal, to a dynamic experience.

In this view one does not put off the rewards of life, for example, gearing one’s life toward retirement, as when one reaches that place it will ultimately be empty.

Nor does one live life only for the moment. If it were, many of us would be drunkards, or obese. If one is so narrow visioned to only care about the fickle “now”, why would we exercise, wear sunscreen, study, make babies, or invest time to any form of creative endevour?

It’s easy to get caught up in some some long term goal, so busy watching the clock and working working working, that we forget to enjoy the process.

It’s also easy to get so caught up in the “now” that years pass and you have nothing to show for it.

The act of living involves a both the successive moments of “now”, and the consequential moments of “later”. Happiness, it seems to me, comes from a healthy medium between pleasure and sacrifice—some experienced now, and some in the years to come.

The meaning of life (noun) is in the living (verb), not in some ultimate end. While we live on a swords edge been our past and future, act of living is more than a series of moments. It is what we do with those moments, and the mark they make on others, that really counts.


[1] Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom; (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1969). p. 261.

[2] By Frank Gosebruch (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.