5 pitfalls I discovered about the meaning of life from complete strangers

Have you ever wondered about the meaning of life? I think many people did. Therefore, I’ve decided to do a little field research study.

I asked random people on the street about the meaning of life. I got some beautiful answers as a result. Despite the answers can motivate or inspire others, they can also turn into a pitfall. Perhaps it’s not a pitfall for the person I got the answer from, but for somebody else who shares a similar answer. Let’s go through each of the answers and the 5 pitfalls attached to them.

Pitfall 1. Turning the meaning of life into a concept


Asking another stranger about the meaning of life. Do you agree with this lady? Oh, and speaking of ‘appreciating the small things in life’, can you spot the bird casually walking by? 👀 #meaningoflife #meaning #appreciatelife #purposeoflife

♬ original sound – Youri Hermes
This young lady told me that it’s about appreciating the small things in life and enjoying every moment. I definitely like her answer, and I believe many with me. She came across as humble, kind, and open-minded. Anyone could come up with a certain answer they read somewhere, but I believe you notice soon enough if somebody lives their given answer or not. Anyway, such a way of looking at life’s meaning could still be a limitation. The moment you stick to the idea that one should enjoy every moment, you may blind yourself to life’s full spectrum. You may be tempted to chase good experiences which in turn makes you restless.

Do people often form personal ideas about the meaning of life? Could it be that personal ideas limit rather than help your life’s experience?

For example, does it have to be something substantial or spectacular? I doubt it, since my daily check-in on Duolingo (language learning app) is for example just as meaningful to me as writing this article or publishing a book. Maybe you don’t think it has to be big, but you believe it must be some sort of process. You may believe life’s meaning has to be achieved, earned or discovered. By believing it’s a process, it becomes a process. This mental stamp may prevent you from seeing that it truly is, don’t you think?

Can it be the case that the moment you filter things through certain checkboxes of ‘something that is meaningful’, you limit your experience of life? I’m quite familiair with this filtering process myself. A couple of years ago, I was fascinated by the popular Ikigai diagram. In case you don’t know this diagram, it’s a Western approach to a century-old Japanese concept. The original concept is quite beautiful. The lady in the following video has a similar view on living your Ikigai (heart’s desire) as how they see it in Japan. But let’s not dive into the original concept any further in this article.


Asking another complete stranger the same question. Receiving another different answer. I love that almost everybody to whom I ask my question ends with a sincere smile! #meaningoflife #meaning #purpose #purposeoflife

♬ original sound – Youri Hermes
For this lady, life’s meaning is about returning to your heart’s desire. According to her, you’ve got to pay attention to the synchronicity of life by listening carefully to yourself.

The Ikigai diagram states that one must put proper attention to four different areas: your passion, mission, profession, and calling. For this, you have to find out what you like to do, what you’re good at, what you can be paid for, and how you can contribute to a better world. By combining your answers the right way, you, according to the theory, have found your Ikigai: your reason for being.

We could come up ourselves with endless of variations on the Ikigai diagram, which many self-help gurus already did. We could, for example, remove the question of what you can be paid for so that it becomes more relevant for financially independent or retired people. We could also add a bunch of other questions. Is it possible that any model, like the Ikigai diagram, might restrict our understanding of ‘meaningful’?

Can what is meaningful to you be found using such a model? Would a mental approach of decomposition be ever sufficient? Can somebody (like a coach) or something (such as an online course) ever help you to discover true meaning? If you believe it can, is it because of the resource or because it came to you anyway? Would the idea of a necessary resource be limiting or deeply helpful?

Pitfall 2: Jumping to conclusions too quickly (or sticking to them)


Do you think this question had ever been asked before to this man? I’m not sure! However, I like how he still tries to answer it anyway. What would have been your answer? #meaningoflife #meaning #existence #universe

♬ original sound – Youri Hermes
This gentleman has a semi-nihilistic view on life. I may provoked him a bit to come up with an answer. I was just very curious about the answer he would give. After he told me things just came to being and that’s it, I asked him a similar follow-up question to see if he would come up with an answer anyway. He came to the conclusion that the universe was the cause of everything, and on our planet Earth life coincidentally emerged.

You may already have a sense of where this article is heading. Perhaps you believe it will end with something like ‘everything is meaningful’, like sleeping, eating, working, brushing your teeth, anything! But would you be open to first explore the perception of importance without jumping to conclusions too quickly? Despite having a sophisticated answer to this question, it can still be valuable to temporary doubt your answer. If you’ve watched the answers of strangers I asked on the street, you may have used their answers to confirm your answer. An answer that feels more truthful to you. Are you willing to completely let go of this, even if it means being in the dark of uncertainty?

Pitfall 3. Relying on external resources to find life’s purpose


Asking two cops respectfully about the meaning of life 🤯👮‍♂️ #meaningoflife #meaning #purposeoflife #existence

♬ original sound – Youri Hermes
According to these police officers, the question is too broad to answer. One of the cops mentioned that if even philosophers cannot come up with a consistent answer, how could they come up with an answer themselves? Do you think every person has the ability to answer such profound questions independently?Obviously, an answer doesn’t have to be universally correct. Some people may agree, others don’t, and that’s fine. I think it’s limiting to believe that questions about life can only be posed by (great) philosophers.

There are a ridiculous number of tools promising to help you uncover life’s meaning. I hope you don’t view this article as one of them. Let’s be honest, can something external truly help you figure out the meaning of life? Of course, from a non-dual view there is no external and internal: it just is. However, relying on something that the mind marks as external seems quite dangerous to me. By external things I’m talking about spiritual gurus, certain influencers, self-help books or inspirational videos. Even though you understand that it’s dangerous to rely on those matters, you still tend to it anyway. It may be very subtle. You may not even see it.

Can we explore ways to avoid relying on external resources? How can you prevent relying on external resources for those kind of questions? That may already be something to explore independently. There has to be a trust in your capacity to examine questions of life independently. At some point, there may be so much trust that you can even throw away the idea of needing this in the first place.

Pitfall 4. Making life’s purpose too simple or too complicated


Asking complete strangers about the meaning of life. I guess the laugh at the end answered my question 🙂 #betekenis #meaning #purpose #lifepurpose #existence

♬ original sound – Youri Hermes
This man spontaneously decided to answer my question anyway. He told me that it’s about living life as it should be. The funniest part is that the person from who you may least expect it, gave a similar answer as how Alan Watts would put it: “The meaning of life is just to be alive. It is so plain and so obvious and so simple. And yet, everybody rushes around in a great panic as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves.”

Is it common for those on a spiritual path to believe that you shouldn’t make the meaning of life more difficult? I think so. On the other hand, I believe there are also a lot of people who seem to make it too simplistic. Would that result in a similar problem? The problem of staying in the way of actually experiencing life’s meaning.

It probably depends on how you would define simplicity or complexity. If the way you look at the meaning of life can be both completely unpredictable as well as purely simple or complex, I guess it’s fine. But it becomes a problem when the idea of life’s meaning becomes static. This can either take expression in a complicated or simple way.

What do you think? Could a static view of life’s meaning, whether simple or complex, indicate a problem? If the way you look at life’s meaning becomes either simple or complicated, it mayx ring an alarm bell. It could indicate that you tend to stick to either a simple version or a complicated one. However, life is dynamic. The moment your story about life’s meaning becomes the same as yesterday (or even a minute ago), you hold onto past ideas. Sure, it gives some certainty, but with certainty comes convulsiveness.

Pitfall 5. Believing that there is no meaning at all (nihilism)


Asking a complete stranger: What is the meaning of life? According to this gentleman, there may be none. #nihilism #purpose #existence #betekenis

♬ original sound – Youri Hermes
I believe this man thinks that there is actually no meaning in life. Does he give any meaning to this belief?

Nihilism is the belief that life is meaningless and that nothing in the world has a real existence. Yet it’s another pitfall. It’s another static conclusion somebody holds onto. Whether you believe in the philosophy in which the existence of meaning is denied or not, it’s good to also allow the philosophy to apply to itself as well. If there is no meaning, there shouldn’t be given any meaning to this philosophy either.

This arises the question: can you completely let go of the idea of meaning without sticking to (or exchanging it for) a nihilistic worldview? In other words, can you just leave static ideas (conclusions) out of the room of living? Can it be the case that when you “succeed” in doing this, true meaning will be finally uncovered?

Would you like to stay up-to-date for the new little field research study? Follow me on TikTok by clicking here. At the end of each week, I’m publishing a new article (click here go to the article overview) in which I share a little analysis on the mini interviews I did.