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Life is a journey

This metaphor might be interpreted to have either a negative meaning or a positive one. The negative meaning may be "There is no turning back" and the positive one may be "Enjoy the life". Which interpretation is correct?

  • I often hear "life is a journey, not a destination" which is more clearly advisory. I would classify the default sentiment as positive encouragement, not as a complaint or "brutal truth". This is something one might say to advocate presence in the moment, greater perspective in trying times, or simply a less harried approach to living. – Tyler James Young Aug 15 '13 at 21:29
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In principle, one might think life is a journey is simply neutral, but in practice it's almost always used in positive contexts.

Sometimes the positive nuance is direct - either with the implication that life is an interesting journey (in and of itself), or that it gets you to somewhere good (you'll go to heaven eventually).

But often the positive slant comes from using it in contexts where the good thing is you've got past some bad point within the metaphorical "journey of life". Which wasn't entirely negative, because you've learnt something (so if you reach a similar point in the future you'll be better equipped to handle it next time).

If you want to use this metaphor in an explicitly negative context, you could say, for example...

Life is a hard road to travel.
or
My life has been a long hard road.

  • Good examples and explanation; +1. I would even say that the first example doesn't have to be negative, though; it could be followed up with "But it's worth every step because of what you learn along the way." As we almost always tend to say—context! :) At any rate, excellent answer. – WendiKidd Aug 15 '13 at 20:59
  • @WendiKidd: I quite agree that context is everything - "I love it when you talk dirty!" vs "Don't you talk dirty to me!", for example. But I spent a couple of minutes scanning Google Books contexts for life is a journey, and I have to say I found hardly any negative usages. Which is what I expected, and why I decided to post an answer. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Aug 15 '13 at 21:08
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That will depend on the context of the quote. On its own, "Life is a journey" does not sound to me to be either positive or negative. Rather, it is a statement of the nature of life.

It's impossible to know what will come as unexpected things happen all the time. Part of the journey metaphor is that there is an ending, which is death. But the "journey" aspect of life does not emphasize the destination. It emphasizes the path to getting there, which involves life-cycle events, education, careers, etc.

In order for the metaphor to have a particular meaning, there has to be some context within which the metaphor is given. The context can come either from the speaker, or from the conversation preceeding the statement.

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