Meaningful Living in Selflessness

By Yemisi Shyllon


Meaningful living is about deriving happiness from providing selfless services to one’s society. It is a lifestyle. It involves living the life of giving, planting seeds for trees that would someday give shade to people that we may never meet again, during our lifetimes. It is a lifestyle of deriving happiness in joining others to promote the welfare of many others.

For a start, let me share some interesting statistical facts of life with you, about man’s biblically stated life span, of 70 years. Indeed 70 years amounts to only 25,568 days on earth. If one lives up to 80years, it would total only 29,220 days on earth. For the very few that live up to 90years, they will only enjoy living for 32,873 days on earth. Even with those who may live over 100 years on earth, they  will not make 50,000 days on earth. This clearly serves to remind us all, about the futility of man’s relentless and endless search for the accumulation of wealth, without giving and connecting with basic humanity and society. Many people solely focus on things that have to do with material wealth, such as having cars, building mansions,  buying properties, buying private planes, yachts and other selfish illusions of life, that are generally not meaningful to the real essence of human meaningful living. An inspiration for meaningful living can be drawn from a quote of Winston Churchill (1874-1965): “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” Hence, society should celebrate and encourage those whose vision of life, is wisely  influenced by the  understanding of the philosophy of existential futility in man’s  accumulative  tendencies, and with their lives being driven by the awareness, that happiness in life do not result from what we get, but by what we give to others”. Indeed, giving instead of receiving as man’s life’s pursuits, has been identified by philosophers, to be a major ingredient for living a meaningful life. The Chinese philosopher Confucius, who is  founder of the Chinese faith and philosophy of Confucianism     (551BC – 479BC), is the first philosopher to state that; “He who wishes to secure the good of others, has already secured his own.”  

Thus, the life of devotion to charity, is a veritable means of living a meaningful life, which has also been widely accepted by positive psychologists.


Positive psychology is that field of social studies, which engages in expanding the virtues of man’s meaningful living. Some researchers in this field have differentiated the distinction between living a meaningful life and living a happy one. The result of such various researches suggest that, there is more to life than happiness.

Roy Baumeister, a Francis Eppes Professor of Psychology, at the Florida State University, USA, published a research  paper in the Journal of Positive Psychology, which was co-authored with some other researchers at the Universities of Minnesota and Stanford, USA. That paper,  extensively espoused that, “A happy life, is significantly different from a meaningful life”.

In their research studies, they surveyed some 397 adults, towards looking out for the correlation between people’s levels of happiness, meaningfulness, and other various aspects of life, including behavior, moods, relationships, health, stress levels, working lives, creative pursuits, and more. Their findings reveal that meaningful life is distinct from a life of happiness. Meaningful life, is Not connected with whether one is healthy, or has abundant wealth, or feels comfortable in life. It goes far beyond all these.

From their research, they identified some major differences between living a happy life, as against living a meaningful life, including the following:

1.      Happy people tend to satisfy their wants and needs, but these seem largely irrelevant to living a meaningful life.

2.      Happiness involves focusing on the present, whereas meaningfulness of life, involves thinking more about the past, present, and the future—and the relationship between them.

3.       Happiness was seen as fleeting, while meaningful living seems to last longer.

4.      Meaningfulness of life is derived from giving to other people, whereas happiness comes from what is received.


Meaningful living is enjoined in the holy books, as contained in the Koran (2: 261), that, “Those who bestow their wealth in the way of God, are like the grain of corn that sprouts seven ears, a hundred grains in every ear. So God multiplies for those whom he will.”

The Bible also emphasizes same in the words of Apostle Paul, as contained in 1st Corinthians 13:13, that, “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these, is charity”. In addition, the bible also recognizes doing good, as God’s specification and  identification of his own religion, as contained in James 1:27. 

In general, philosophers and historians are in agreement as to their emphasis that,  money cannot buy happiness. Various researches conducted by positive psychologists, also bear this out.

Researchers in positive Psychology have found that working on something philanthropic has  deeper and more lasting effect on human wellbeing, than the pursuit of pleasure, profit, wealth and the good things of life.

Professor Martin Seligman, the father of positive-psychology and professor at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, USA, has established a strong correlation between doing well and feeling good. In some class assignments, he got students to engage in fun, such as watching movies with friends, or volunteering to help others.  The students invariably found putting the needs of others before their own, as more profoundly satisfying than seeking fun for themselves. He found that, “Eventually, you need to find a way to use your strength for something beyond yourself, or you would only wind up doing what is called ‘fidgeting until death,”.


At this stage, please let me share with you, the last words of Steve Jobs on his death bed, which goes to buttress to us, the importance of meaningful living. 

“I reached the pinnacle of success in the business world. In others’ eyes, my life is an epitome of success. However, aside from work, I have little joy. In the end, wealth is only a fact of life that I am accustomed to.

At this moment, lying on the sick bed and recalling my whole life, I now realize that all the recognition and wealth, at which I took so much pride, have paled and become meaningless in the face of impending death. In  darkness, I look at the green lights from life supporting machines and hear humming mechanical sounds, and  I can feel the breath of the god of death drawing closer…….Now I know, when we have accumulated sufficient wealth to last our lifetime, we should pursue other matters that are unrelated to wealth……. The wealth that  I have won in my life,  I cannot now take with me. What I can take are only the memories precipitated by love……. Material things lost can be found. But there is one thing that can never be found when it is lost – Life. When a person goes into the operating room, he will realize that there is one book that he has yet to finish reading –the Book of Healthy Life……”

Please let us here,  substitute his book of healthy life for, the “book of meaningful living”. He continued, 

“Treat yourself well. Cherish others” — Steve Jobs.


The parting message from Steve Jobs, is confirmed by many other thinkers including,  but not limited to the US poet, Maya Angelou (1928-2014), who stated that; ” I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver.”

In practice, the lifestyle of meaningful living, involves creating room from limited means, for giving to those who do not have, empathizing with the poor, under privileged and the physically handicapped of this world. In doing these, we will end up leaving a rich legacy behind, of selflessness, philanthropism (in whichever way that is best suited to us) and making meaningful contributions to our immediate community, society, nation and the world. We will thus in doing this, be selflessly making meaningful differences to the lives of those in want, in our society. This enjoinment, agrees with man’s spiritual essence, as captured by Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887), to the effect that; “Every charitable act is a stepping stone towards heaven”.

*Prince Shyllon, art collector and Chairman/ CEO of Omooba Yemisi Adedoyin Shyllon Art Foundation, delivered this paper to congregants of Pan Atlantic University, on the University’s award of an Honorary Doctor of Letters Degree to Prince Yemisi Shyllon during  the convocation ceremony of the University.

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