A course on the Meaning of Life - Part 3

Paul T. P. Wong, Ph.D., C.Psych.
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

You need a high IQ to excel in school. You need a superior EQ to do well in business. You need to constantly improve your LQ to succeed in life.

Have you ever wondered why smart people like Kenneth Lay and Jeff Skilling, former executives of Enron, fell from their pinnacle of success? Do you know why so many superstars in the entertainment industry have serious problems of substance abuse? Can you understand why some distinguished professors have messed up their personal lives? Why are there so many people who possess everything money can buy and yet cannot find happiness? Are you puzzled that some hugely successful people have taken their own lives?

Os Guinness (2001) has provided three helpful quotes that shed some light on the above questions:

Lee Iacocca, the legendary carmaker, wrote in his autobiography: "Here I am in the twilight years of my life, still wondering what it's all about…I can tell you this, fame and fortune is for the birds."

Bertrand Russell, the famous mathematician, wrote to Ottoline Morell, one of his mistresses, and confessed: "I have a very internal & terrible spiritual loneliness."

Dallas Willard, a Christian philosopher, said, "Meaning is not a luxury for us. It is a kind of spiritual oxygen, we might say, that enables our souls to live."

Life Intelligence (LQ) defined

I propose the lack of Life Intelligence maybe one of the main reasons why so many people can succeed in many areas, but still fail in what matters most - living a meaningful and honorable life.

Why is LQ so essential in living well? What is LQ anyway? Simply put, LQ is intelligence for life, intelligence for living. It is the most important kind of intelligence that you can count on in navigating through storms of life without a shipwreck, the kind of intelligence that enables you to be adaptive in all seasons of life. It is a philosophical of life that tells you what life is all about and how you can be happy. It is the philosophical intelligence, the wisdom of knowing how to live a life of meaning and significance in the midst of chaos, crises, and temptations. It is supra-intelligence, meta-intelligence, the highest form of intelligence, because it transcends instincts, the five senses and brain mechanisms. It is based on the accumulated philosophical and spiritual wisdoms of thousands of years of human history.

I hasten to add that LQ is not something attainable only by the reflective, philosophically included, educated elites. It can be acquired by any one who wants to learn with an open mind how to make life count and what really matters in life and in death. More specifically, LQ is consisted of the abilities to:

  1. Understand and live out one's meaning and purpose in life
  2. Have a clear sense of personal mission and responsibility
  3. Place problems in the larger scheme of things and proper perspective
  4. Know how to manage crises wisely and courageously without hurting self or others
  5. Know how to manage temptations from power, fame, money, sex or illicit drugs
  6. Know how to manage adversities and tragedies with equanimity
  7. Know how to recognize and accept what cannot be changed
  8. Know the difference between right and wrong, good and evil
  9. Have the courage to do what is right in spite of all kinds of pressure (i.e., peer pressure, pressure from the boss, etc.)
  10. Have the courage to live authentically according to one's core values
  11. Believe that life is worth living in spite of setbacks, sufferings and death
  12. Know what is worth living and dying for
  13. Have a functioning and satisfying worldview, belief system or philosophy of life
  14. Know how to make use of available resources to achieve life goals
  15. Know how to endure suffering with patience and optimism
  16. Know how to get involved in a community
  17. Know how to treat others with understanding, dignity and respect
  18. Know how to be spiritually connected with God and others
  19. Know how to tap into spiritual resources
  20. Know one's place in the world

Q. On a scale of 1 to 10, to what extent is each one of the above statements characteristic of you? Your LQ score can range from 20 to 200, with the larger score meaning higher LQ.

Q. How would your spouse or best friend rate you on the above brief LQ Test?

LQ is related to emotional or moral intelligence, but what sets LQ apart from other forms of intelligence is that it offers a larger perspective and provides the conceptual framework to handle the big questions of life with wisdom, courage, and broader considerations. Wisdom probably comes close to capturing the essence of LQ, because LQ has to do with the wisdom of living and dying in a way that inspires others.

Remember King Solomon of the Bible? (1 King 3:3-28) When God appeared to Solomon and said, "Ask for whatever you want me to give you". Of all things, he asked for wisdom so that he could be a good king to the people of Israel. God was pleased with his request and promised him: "I will give you a wise and discerning heart."

Q. If God promises to give you whatever you ask, what is the one thing you would request? Why?

Q. How is wisdom related to faith?

Carl Rogers once said that what is personal is universal and what is universal is also personal. If we focus on the big questions of life, the small problems can be easily resolved. Conversely, if we focus on the small problems, but ignore the big questions in life, then we are likely to get stuck or get lost in all the trivial problems.

Here is a good analogy. If you are equipped with the Global Positioning System, you can easily track down any address in any city. Similarly, having a higher and larger perspective makes your daily problems much smaller and manageable.

Q. What are the practical benefits of placing or framing events in a large picture?

High and Low LQ compared

People with high LQ value life and invest it wisely in what really matters in the larger scheme of things. They do not ask how they can get the most from life, but how they can give their uttermost to life. Their starting point is not how they can be happy, rich and famous, but how they can be most useful in a needy world. They know how to make the best of life in the worst of circumstances. They are able to find some measures of happiness, contentment, and inner peace, even when they have more than their share of troubles and tragedies. They know why they need to persist, even when all the external forces are arrayed against them. No matter how down they are in "luck", they can still look at things from the mountain top with great clarity and proper perspective.

In contrast, people with low LQ invest their precious time and energy in "junk bonds" - in cheap thrills, misguided ambitions, and selfish gains. They strive, scheme, and sweat to pursue the American dream of "from rags to riches", but in the end, they wake up from a nightmare of heartbreaks, loneliness and emptiness. Their love of money, pleasure and vanity makes them vulnerable to temptations; their arrogance and pride make them blind to their own limitations. They have neither the integrity to resist temptations, nor the character to endure adversities. They are short-sighted, interested only in short-term gains. Their happiness is determined by other people and by circumstances. They know how to make a good living, but don't know to live the good life. All the distractions and diversions in the world can not fulfill their inner void. They think that they are the smart opportunists, but in the end they are the fools who build castles on sand.

A more precise way to compare people with High and Low LQ is to observe and measure how these two groups react to stressful situations like natural disasters, life threatening illness, bereavement. We can also observed how they would react when they are thrust into various temptations such as windfall profits, positions of power or sexual seductions. My prediction is that people with high LQ are much more likely to come through all the above situations relatively unscathed. Alternatively, we can measure the LQ of those who have become stronger and better persons as a result of very stressful situations, and those whose lives literally fall apart as a result of the same events; my prediction is that the former possess higher LQ than the later.

Of course, the best proof is experiential. You can experience real changes in your own life when you start learning and practicing LQ.

LQ can be learned

It takes LQ to navigate through the storms, shoals, and siren sounds. It takes LQ to arrive at the destination safe and sound. It also takes LQ to live a life rich in happiness and significance. The good news is that LQ can be learned, and cultivated by anyone, regardless of age and educational level. One can learn LQ through taking a course like the one being offered, or from following a mentor. None of the schools teach us knowledge and skill but not how to live well. We can learn LQ either through trial and error or from the accumulated wisdom of all the sages, scholars and saints who have gone before us. The Bible and other sacred scriptures are also important sources of LQ.

This course is about LQ. One can never fully comprehend the mysteries of life, nor can we grasp the ultimate meaning of suffering, but as we grow in LQ, we gain greater understanding of the five big questions about life discussed in Part 1 of this course. As we practice LQ, we will learn how we should live -- the focus of Part 2.

LQ and the meaning of life

LQ and the meaning of life may be used interchangeable. The reason for introducing the concept of LQ is to show that the meaning of life is not some abstract philosophical idea, but something very practical and important for navigating the journey of life.

Whenever I mention the meaning of life, invariably people would ask: "What do you mean by the meaning of life?" But when I mention life intelligence, people immediately pay more attention; they know what intelligence means - it is something very practical and important; they also know what life means - it is their most precious possession. That is why they instinctively know that life intelligence is a matter of immense importance to them; that LQ may be something that they cannot do without.

Having stressed our need for LQ, I want to add one caveat: Don't confuse LQ with the "How to get rich" schemes of success seminars or the secrets of instant happiness and self-actualization from personal development gurus. LQ does not offer instant wealth, nor does it promise any quick fix. Instead, LQ is primarily concerned with learning the difficult task of how to master the inherent risks and vicissitude of life and how to manage one's limited resources wisely to fulfill one's meaning and purpose in life.

Triggers for the quest for LQ

Many things can trigger one's quest for LQ. Bronson's (2002) "What Should I Do With My Life" shows that the trigger varies from individual to individual. It can be a sudden epiphany or a time of life transition.

In Woody Allen's film Hannah and Her Sisters, Mickey (played by Woody Allen) was worried that he might have cancer. When the medical test was negative, he sudden realized that he needed to quit his job and embark on his search for God. This is how he explained to an associate about his decision: "Do you realize what a thread we're all hanging by? Can you understand how meaningless everything is? Everything. I gotta get some answers."

The fragility and brevity of life demands that we pay attention to LQ. We cannot live and die graciously without it.

There are no simple answers to the big questions about life and death. This course can only provide a roadmap, a guide to facilitate your personal quest. This course is about how to live a fulfilling and significant life in a chaotic and dangerous world; but, it is not a substitute for coaching, counseling or therapy. Seek professional help if you need it. Meanwhile, you can benefit from this course, if any numbers of the following statements apply to you:

  • I have messed up my life.
  • My life is spinning out of control.
  • I need a new direction.
  • I need to find a reason for living.
  • I want to have something or someone to believe in.
  • I need to restore my faith and hope.
  • I don't know what to do about my anger and frustration.
  • I am really hurting inside.
  • I don't know how to be free from my inner pain and bondage.
  • I feel helpless and hopeless.
  • I feel that my life is boring and empty.
  • I feel that life is passing me by.
  • I feel trapped and stuck.
  • I feel like an exile, not belonging anywhere.
  • I feel that no one really cares whether I live or die.
  • I can't go on like this anymore.
  • I am tired of the endless struggles.
  • I don't know who I am or why I am here.
  • I don't know what I really want in life.
  • I don't know what I believe.
  • I don't know where I am headed.
  • I am afraid of what will become of me.
  • Life does not seem to make sense.
  • Life sucks.
  • I don't have a future.
  • I can't stand most people.
  • I resent the fact that many wicked people prosper.
  • I am troubled that there is no justice in this world.
  • Since we all have to die, it makes no difference how I live.
  • If this life is all there is, I don't see the point of living.
  • I want to find something worth living for.
  • I am searching for authentic happiness.
  • I am looking for true love.
  • I want to know where there is an ultimate purpose
  • I want to know God.
  • I want to be a better person.
  • I want to make my life count.
  • I want to make a difference in this world.
  • I want to make some changes in my life.
  • I need to rearrange my priorities.
  • I want to fulfill all my potentials and dreams
  • I want to make this world a better place.
  • I want to leave a good legacy.

Please write me (ptpwong@shaw.ca) and let me know how this course has helped you so far. Feel free to ask any questions related to LQ.


Bronson, P. (2002). What should I do with my life? New York: Random House.

Guinness, O. (2001). Long journey home. Colorado Springs, CO: Waterbrook Press.