What Is The Meaning Of Life? 3 Works Of Satire That Explain It Best

The best way to tackle it is not to tackle it.

"What is the meaning of life?" is a question people have asked for centuries — to themselves, to their loves ones, to their inanimate surroundings, to everyone and everything. Clearly, if there were a simple answer to it, we'd all stop asking, and live blissful lives free of worry and confusion. In other words, we'd all be exceedingly boring.

To anyone who's thrown their arms up in frustration over day-to-day struggles or half-jokingly, half-seriously texted a friend "what is life?" in a low moment, sometimes it would be nice to get a little answer to what the point of all this really is. Interestingly enough, the best way to grapple with such an impossible question may not be through careful analysis and a serious approach. Life is full of the unexpected, both bad and good, and the reason it's so hard to find meaning in all of it is because every single person experiences it differently. So how can you try to apply a formula when the variables are basically infinite? You can't. So joke about it instead.

Some of the world's funniest people draw their humor from a place of relative darkness and existential wonder. As a result, their take on the world around them can provide great relief — their jokes are funny most often because they're true and cut straight to a real perspective in a way many of us struggle to achieve in the daily rat race that is life. Few have ever been or ever will be better than Kurt Vonnegut, Douglas Adams and the Monty Python group at simultaneously funny and revealing satire. Here's what their respective takes on life's ultimate question can teach us.

Love whoever's around.

In The Sirens of Titan, Vonnegut sends America's richest man through hell in space — Mars, Mercury and Saturn's largest moon Titan included — to prove a point about the lack of free will in a human's life. At the end of the book, Malachi Constant, as he's called, remarks while isolated on Titan that "a purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved." In the context of his journey and the bleakness that permeates the novel, this comes across as rather sad and not altogether satisfying, but it does provide a simple answer to that tough question. Essentially, we're all powerless to control the elements around us and how our lives turn out in the grand scheme of things, so we might as well learn to live with and appreciate what we have.


In Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, 42 is the answer to the "ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything" that a supercomputer named Deep Thought takes 7.5 million years to produce. The answer is incredibly simple, almost offensively so, and that's really the point. What's more is that in the novel, although the answer is known, the question itself is not, which makes the whole situation rather meaningless.

Forty-two has taken on a fair amount of significance ever since its use as a solution to the meaning of life in Adams' Hitchhiker's series, and the author always stuck to his story that the number was chosen completely randomly. "I sat at my desk, stared into the garden and thought, '42 will do,' " he once said. "I typed it out. End of story."

There's plenty to pull out of something so exceedingly simple as "42" though — instead of trying to tackle something so impossibly huge as the meaning of life with endless thinking, maybe we should realize it's an answer that's very simple and right in front of our faces, so it doesn't require such an exhausting existential journey to be discovered.

Get some walking in.

Monty Python's The Meaning of Life isn't as widely regarded as Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but its sketch structure chronologically following the different phases in life is just as funny and provides yet another sharply simple answer to the ultimate question.

At the end of the film, a hostess from an earlier segment called "The Middle of the Film" returns and after being handed an envelope containing the meaning of life, reads it out casually: "Try and be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations." She then makes a remark that "gratuitous pictures of penises" and other meaningless things would do a better job of bringing audiences into the theater, and angrily announces the end of the film.

At face value, it's a nice message, but its genius comes from blending humor with serious advice. It's hilarious that "get some walking in" would be on par with living "in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations," but also not at all ridiculous — of course we should try to live in peace, but damn it if a walk outside every now and then won't do the trick just as well.

Cover image: Flickr