Thoughts from Dr. Joe: What makes life significant?

Do you ever think about what makes life significant? I do. There's no other philosophical inquiry examined more than the meaning of life.

This semester I've been blessed with a bright group of students. Because of their intuitiveness I've ratcheted up the intellectual content of my lectures. Throughout the semester I've exposed them to the great thinkers, studying their perspectives on the meaning of life. We've examined the thoughts of the Buddha, William James, Kipling, Native Americans, Joseph Campbell and many others.

However, I was more interested in understanding my students' ideas. "Give me a detailed paper explaining your thoughts on what makes life significant," I said.

Their work was excellent. Instead of pulling from the great thinkers we can heed the thoughts of my students. Emerson said, "Do not seek outside yourself." Maybe we should listen to him.

Nathalie Halajian wrote, "Significance is found in paying attention to what surrounds us. We don't have to look too far to find meaning. Life must be embraced and requires a connection and to do that we naturally stop and smell the roses." Similarly, Grace Shirvani advised us to look outside ourselves, for meaning lies within the little things of life.

My students were fixated on a common debilitating theme, Fear of failure. Hasmik Manukyan expressed, "Significance is found in not being afraid to take risks and that the good, bad and ugly are a part of life and should not be avoided."

Likewise Tayra Quinones commented, "Meaning is found in our ability to overcome our demons to face life head-on and not shriek from adversity."

George Skriabin sealed this argument by commenting, "Nobody should be afraid to take that leap of faith just because they do not know how the outcome will turn out.

I analyzed each essay and sensed that my students saw the significance of life similarly to the Buddha. Accordingly, life has no inherent meaning. It is us who initiates the significance of life.

Sousanna Pogosyan tells us, "Not to wait for life to come to us, but with courage and initiative life leads us down a path of unexpected opportunities." Annelisse Montes advises, "Do not to wait for another to make your life significant but instead find your own personal meaning every day and every moment."

One of the most persuasive means toward significance evolves from love. Loving someone is the tonic that binds civilization. "The universe functions on the concept of love," Hayarpi Nersisyan wrote.

I thought that Mira Abdel-Sattar expressed our search for meaning pragmatically. "Life is a journey," she wrote. "Its significance evolves from our core." Eastern Philosophy expresses that when one is centered one is at peace, the root of all significance.

Although George Baltakian's paper was a bit too brief, he nailed the topic by asserting, "We must challenge ourselves daily and rise to the occasion of each challenge."

Juliana Kim's essay expressed a simplistic but ingenuous perspective on meaning. "It doesn't matter where you are as long as you do your best wherever you go," she wrote.

Juliana struck a cord when she asserted that; "Patience is what makes life significant. Patience is what keeps me striving to understand others, it motivates me to keep trying even if things are different from what I expected. Patience keeps me balanced embracing every aspect of life: my relationship with others, what happens around me, and with myself. Patience brings me hope, replacing anxiety with faith. Without it life is rushed and incomplete. "

She continued, "Love without patience is merely infatuation; it's not pure, not giving, and untrue. Patience taught me to pray and have faith in God even if my prayers are not answered. Patience helps me to expect a lot from people but not get too disappointed when my expectations are not met. That's what makes life significant, Dr. Joe"

I gave a lot of A's on this writing assignment and I bet that if we heed the advice of my students on the topic, "What makes life significant," we'll have much to be thankful for on Thanksgiving Day.

JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a professor of education at Glendale Community College and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at

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