Meanings in Life: An Inquiry

Research indicates that a sense of meaning contributes significantly to the quality of our lives, more so as we age. Yet if we’re unsure how to discover this sense, or which paradigms of meaning are relevant to us, we might miss what’s truly meaningful to us. Drawing on diverse sources—including the philosophy of Albert Camus, the psychology of Viktor Frankl, and Aristotelian virtue theory—we will reflect on the big questions: Does my life have meaning? How do we know what is meaningful? How has meaning evolved throughout my life?

A $50 discount will be applied automatically for adults 55+.

This course is available at the following time(s) and location(s):

Campus Session(s) Instructor(s) Cost Seats available  
Online - Monica Franz $170.00 0 Join Waitlist

Schedule clarification: This is a four-week online course. It runs from Monday, March 8 to Friday, April 2. Each week, all week, you can study that week’s material, post and respond to messages, and engage in course activities. You will participate in a live videoconferencing session each Tuesday from 1–2:30 p.m. PT.

Learning objectives

By the end of the course, you should be able to do the following:

  • Give examples of some of the many myths about meaning
  • Describe some essential features of a range of paradigms of and perspectives on meaning
  • Evaluate, from a personal perspective, the relative merits and values of these paradigms
  • Discuss the relationship between purpose, value and meaning and their relevance for our lives
  • Explain the difference between the meaning of life and meaning in life

Learning methods

Your online learning will include the following methods:

  • Articles and slide presentations
  • Suggested and optional further readings and references
  • Personal (and private) reflection
  • Participation in written discussions with other students
  • Participation in videoconference seminars

For Liberal Arts for 55+ Certificate students: you will write a reflective essay.


Week 1: Introduction to the dimensions of meaning

What is the significance of meaning specific to older adults? We will explore the concept of meaning as a multidimensional experience with the intention of broadening our understanding of meaning itself, particularly how it relates to happiness, contentment and life satisfaction. We will review Paul Wong’s "Contextual Model of Meaning” as a map by which to evaluate subsequent models of meaning. 

Week 2: Camus’s Myth of Sisyphus

Following a brief exploration of Paul Wong’s “contextual mode,” we will delve into the absurdist philosophy of Albert Camus and, paradoxically, the illumination of hope, commitment to a meaningful life and compassion that ensues.

Week 3: Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning

“. . . the deepest form of meaning accessible to an older person is the freedom to choose their response to the ultimate challenge, suffering and death.” So writes Frankl in his renowned reflection on the relationship between suffering and meaning. We will discuss Frankl’s discovery of meaning through creative, experiential and attitudinal practices.

Week 4: Aristotelian virtue ethics

According to Robert Butler, Pulitzer prize-winning pioneer in the field of gerontology, personal integrity, values and character are primary psychological needs of the older adult and have a direct correlation to living a meaningful life. We will explore and analyze virtue ethics as a lens through which to consider what Aristotle defined as the precursor to wisdom.

Books, materials and resources

You will access reading material using SFU's online course management system, Canvas.

Technical requirements

This course is delivered using SFU's online learning system, Canvas. You can check if your browser is compatible with Canvas here.  

To get the most out of this online course, you should be comfortable doing the following:

  • Using everyday software such as browsers, email and social media
  • Navigating a website by clicking on links and finding pages in a menu
  • Downloading and opening PDF documents
  • Posting, replying and uploading images to a discussion board
  • Participating in videoconferencing sessions

You will be participating in videoconferencing using Zoom Meetings. For this, your computer needs to have a camera, microphone and speakers or headphones. Your computer software should be up to date with the latest available operating system and browser versions.

Accessing your course

  • A few days before the course starts, we will email you more information about the course and how you'll access it. You will also receive an email inviting you to access the Canvas learning platform (click on the link in the invitation to join the course). Once you’ve accessed Canvas, you can begin exploring the platform on your own. The full course will be accessible on its start date.
  • We’ll also host a virtual drop-in time on Zoom Meetings a few days before the course starts. This will give you a chance to check that you can access Zoom Meetings, and that your computer’s camera and microphone and speakers are working properly.

If you're 55+, you may take this course as part of

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