What’s it all about, Alfie?

What's it all about

Dionne Warwick sings What’s it all about, Alfie? The song asks :

“What’s it all about, Alfie?
Is it just for the moment we live?
What’s it all about when you sort it out, Alfie?”

Why the words of resonate

The music has a great melody but the words also resonate if you happen to feel you have lost your way. You thought you knew what life was about — finding security, having fun, being comfortable. But now you are not so sure. The whole thing — existence and reality — is no longer as you thought. You get that empty feeling even when you have what you thought you wanted.

What’s it all about to the materialist

So what’s it all about? The materialistic world says you need to consume more goods, take more holidays, and seek more entertainment. But psychologists and psychotherapists report that when their clients devote themselves to these things they somehow find them unfulfilling and that a great deal of spiritual need is buried in the inner lives of these individuals.

People who feel an elusive sense of lacking something and a vague feeling of dissatisfaction start asking ‘What’s it all about?’

Not having a meaning to life

Some haven’t yet found any meaning to their lives and this can be disconcerting. Others get stuck in doubts about what to believe. Leo Tolstoy the author of that great novel War and Peace at age 50 had been questioning the point of managing his estate, of educating his son.

“Five years ago a strange state of mind began to grow upon me; I had moments of perplexity, of a stoppage, as it were, of life, as if I did not know how I was to live, what I was to do. … These stoppages of life always presented themselves to me with the same question: `Why?’ and `what for?’… These questions demanded an answer with greater and greater persistence and, like dots, grouped themselves into one black spot… ”

“What for? I now have six hundred desyatins in the province of Samara, and three hundred horses – what then? I could find no reply.”

He also wondered why he should write:

“Well, what if should be more famous than Gogol, Pushkin, Shakespear, Molière, – than all the writers in the world – well and what then? I could find no reply.”

Awareness of a deeper purpose

I would suggest asking ‘What’s it all about?’ reveals an awareness that somewhere there is a deeper purpose to one’s life. Something higher than self-orientated desires for fame, power, status, pleasure.

To start with you may not find anything to believe in. But:

It isn’t necessary to have something to believe in. It’s only necessary to believe that somewhere there’s something worthy of belief” (Alfred Bester)

I would like to suggest that the biblical creation myth addresses the question ‘What’s it all about?’ It pictures a formless, empty total darkness with God hovering over the waters: this is followed by the emergence of light. Is this not like a light that can illuminates the worldly lower nature of our lives and which can show an alternative more inspiring alternative?

Love as meaning

The song’s lyrics continue:

“Are we meant to take more than we give
Or are we meant to be kind?
And if only fools are kind, Alfie,
Then I guess it’s wise to be cruel.
And if life belongs only to the strong, Alfie,
What will you lend on an old golden rule?
As sure as I believe there’s a heaven above, Alfie,
I know there’s something much more,
Something even non-believers can believe in.
I believe in love, Alfie.”

Yet to believe in love is one thing: to act on love is another.

Discovering values

In the creation myth we next get a division of the waters above and below an expanse. This might be said to symbolise a challenge for the individual. What’s it all about? It’s about making a personal choice between on the one hand what might be seen as of eternal worth and significance and on the other what is of passing and temporary value.

So part of the answer seems to do with discovery. What you can value. What higher principles feel right for you. And then making real choices in line with your hopes and ideals. You’ll be so busy putting them into practice you won’t have time to worry or fret any more.

Want to know how the song finishes?

Here is Dionne Warwick giving us the entire thing.

Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

If you like this you may also like:

Effect of music on us – Why so big?

Is life amazing or just a maze?

Spiritual questions & answers about the arts


Meaning of life – What do we live for?


4 thoughts on “What’s it all about, Alfie?”

    1. Hi Gary. Thanks for your question.

      I guess we all vary as to the extent we find some myths to be literally true. e.g. whether a person called Eve actually existed in history who ate forbidden fruit or whether a whale swallowed Jonah alive. Some people will accept stories such as these as having actually happened and that’s okay and some won’t and that’s okay too.

      I would say what really matters is the inner meaning of the narrative – the way we go against conscience and fall for the allurements of the world, together with the dire consequences of this.

      If you happen to read the Bible, here is a great short article about what it says about its own inner meaning.

      Cheers Stephen

    1. Hi Lorett Thanks for your comment. Life soon feels empty and hollow if it is all about pleasing oneself, getting one’s own way, looking after number one. So, I feel that the songwriter is yearning for some sense of meaning to life as an alternative to – as you mention – selfishness.
      Cheers Stephen

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