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The 42 components of a meaningful life

In Douglas Adams’ book The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, a supercomputer was asked for the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything.  The supercomputer takes over seven million years to compute and check the answer, which turns out to be 42.  With the people who asked the question long dead, nobody knew what the question was.

I can now reveal that the question actually was “how many components of a meaningful life are there?”  And that the answer actually is 42!  I have deduced this by pondering both “life” and “meaningful” in the question.

There are 28 elements, of the 92 which occur naturally, which are needed by life.  Two of these, for example are hydrogen and oxygen which combine to make water.   These have all been provided for us by the universe (this word was in Adams’ version of the question) through the birth and death of stars.  The full list is in the Appendix.

It is Nature which combines these elements into the compounds needed for life and it is the Sun which provides the energy for these reactions.  Total so far, 30.

To survive long enough to have a meaningful life, we need protection (from violence and disease); freedom to make choices; and opportunity to achieve our potential.  These are provided by a civil society.  Running total, 33.

We need to take responsibility for aspects of our own life if it is to have a chance of being meaningful.  This includes getting physical exercise and personal hygiene.  These take the total to 35.

We also need relaxation, to allow the body to rest and to provide time for mental activity (36).

Mental activity is essential for both a long and meaningful life and to support this we need both information and knowledge (39).

Other people are essential to our life in so many ways (40).

Finally, both creativity and a sense of purpose are important to a long and meaningful life.  These take the total to 42 components of a meaningful life.

We can choose what is a meaningful life for ourselves – so long as we have these 42 components.

The central component that we can influence collectively is nature, which transforms the 28 essential chemical elements into food, water, and so many other human needs.  May we become more wise in how we contain our ability to degrade nature.  That would indeed constitute a meaningful life.

Appendix: the 28 chemical elements needed for life

Hydrogen, atomic number 1 (1 proton in the atom)
Boron (5)
Carbon (6)
Nitrogen (7)
Oxygen (6)
Fluorine (9)
Sodium (11)
Magnesium (12)
Silicon (14)
Phosphorus (15)
Sulphur (16)
Chlorine (17)
Potassium (19)
Calcium (20)
Vanadium (23)
Chromium (24)
Manganese (25)
Iron (26)
Cobalt (27)
Nickel (28)
Copper (29)
Zinc (30)
Arsenic (33)
Selenium (34)
Bromine (35)
Molybdenum (42)
Tin (50)
Iodine (53)

Charlie Nelson
August 2014