A documentary movie, 15 Reasons to Live (2013) by Alan Zweig, is an attempt to answer a question that probably puzzled every person who ever lived on earth at least once across the lifespan: what is the meaning of life? The film comprises fifteen short stories told by different people and related to particular concepts which are deemed to make up the essence of life. Some of them include love, work, humor, friendship, and duty. It is valid to say that by elaborating on these fifteen concepts and stories, Zweig manages to demonstrate the multidimensionality of life and shows that there cannot be a single right reply to the posed question. However, one may distinguish a few common themes within the vignettes included in the movie: connectedness, passion and a sense of purpose, self-realization, and self-expression, and acceptance of uncertainty. It seems these are the four major things that endow a person’s time on the planet with a value no matter where they live. I would like to discuss them in the present paper.
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The given theme refers to a sense of relatedness either to other people or nature and the world in general. It can be expressed in support of loved ones and friends, sharing positive experiences, challenges, and stories; a state of being open, compassionate, and sensitive to the needs of others. It is apparent that when a person feels supported and connected, they handle challenges much easier than if they were alone. The story of Peter, a rock climber and a mountaineer who suddenly fell ill and became paralyzed, verifies this idea. During the hardships, he was attended to by his friends, surrounded by their care and attention, and it probably was one of the primary reasons why he managed to regain the strength needed to carry on and recover. However, what is more, important in the sense of connectedness, in my opinion, is that it helps to comprehend your own value and that your life has an impact on others. It is not just about how many good friends one has. Relations with the world and society can take many forms and may be expressed through multiple activities, including bird watching, taking care of an old lighthouse, saving whales trapped in fishing nets, and commenting on favorite songs in a music blog. Whatever shape it takes, connectedness is extremely important as it promotes the feeling of belonging and security, which makes life more wholesome.
Passion and Sense of Purpose
Edward Albee once said that the meaning of life lies in the awareness of it (Metz 1). This statement implies that to make life meaningful, individuals should either actively engage in search of their purpose or live up to it, in case they already know the thing that makes their existence significant. The importance of passion and purpose is rather questionable, and not everyone would agree that they are indeed necessary: many people are doing just fine without them anyway. However, when you are devoted to a certain activity and see how the skills in a particular sphere become improved when you invest a lot of time and effort in their development, it can provide significant psychological comfort and inspiration. A strong interest in something can be very motivating and serve as a source of substantial support during turbulent times like it was in the case of Howard, a writer who had a stroke and could not read anymore. It is also possible to say that compared to individuals who are not devoted to anything, a person with a passion can get enduring enjoyment and satisfaction from the feeling of accomplishment and contribution. Thus, it is valid to say that the sense of purpose makes life worth living.
Self-Realization and Self-Expression
Self-expression is defined as a conscious act of an external representation of individual ideas and feelings and an assertion of personal traits (“Freedom of Expression Explained”). The expression of individual opinions, attitudes, and some personal traits is, however, not always welcomed in society, especially when they do not meet the mainstream ideas and expectations. Therefore, such external representations of a person’s self may frequently lead to conflicts and troubles. In spite of this, 15 Reasons to Live shows that self-expression takes an essential part in the lives of individuals and, without an opportunity to behave and speak in accordance with personal views, many people would not be happy to a full extent. It is true that when living in society, we must abide by some rules. However, when the formality is overemphasized, and even slight deviations from norms are penalized, we may feel constrained and deprived of freedom. At the same time, it is impossible to progress in self-realization and fulfillment of the life purpose substantially when self-expression is limited. Conversely, when a person is free to show their true self to others, they become able to establish more meaningful and authentic relations and make various choices more thoughtfully instead of just following the crowd and trends.
Acceptance of Uncertainty
Partially due to societal norms and behavioral expectations, which people start to learn and take for granted since early childhood, most of us prefer to control every single element and event in life. Uncertainty is regarded as something negative by many individuals, and, therefore, they try to avoid it by any possible means: working nine-hour shifts five days a week, saving money, forecasting, and thorough planning, et cetera. However, it can be very suffocating to reduce life to the routine. There is a risk that such an approach can make it meaningless. Conversely, an ability to decrease the level of control and embrace uncertainty, no matter how threatening it may seem at first, can be rewarding. For instance, the main message of the vignette entitled “Intoxication” is that by saying yes to things that one does not usually engage in regularly, it is possible to enrich life with some memorable experiences and new acquaintances and make it much brighter and interesting and, hence, more valuable.
There can be as many answers to the question about the meaning and value of life as there are people in the world: they are all defined by individual backgrounds and personal preferences. 15 Reasons to Live makes viewers reflect on the meaning and purpose of their own lives and offers a few solutions that they can choose to apply. The four themes, which were identified in this paper as the most significant in the movie, are present in every person’s life even if they do not realize it. They affect everyday performance, mood, behaviors, and decisions. It means that they define the overall quality and outcome of life to a significant extent as well. As the movie analysis makes it clear, by working towards improving the sense of connectedness with the world, finding a passion and life purpose, learning to express oneself freely, and embracing uncertainty more often, an individual can discover the meaning and new value in their life.
“Freedom of Expression Explained.” Bright Knowledge, Web.
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Metz, Thaddeus. Meaning in Life. Oxford University Press, 2013.