ONE of the most intriguing - and mind-bending - questions is why is there anything. Existence is mysterious, and for many it is miraculous. The beginning of time, space and matter is arguably the only thing to have ever occurred without a cause. Some people seek answers to the mysteries of our planet and the universe through science. Scientific method has generated much knowledge, although wise people realise that what we know is dwarfed by our ignorance. It is, perhaps, humanity's destiny to ask questions to which we will never find a satisfactory answer.
In the face of this, and anyway, many people seek solace, guidance, meaning and understanding through religion. Others see science and religion as increasingly related. Indeed, it has long been postulated that a particle called the Higgs Boson explains much of the universe, including how things gain mass - and it is often colloquially referred to as ''the God particle''.
Other people prefer to dwell primarily in the practical, finding philosophical, scientific, religious and existential musings pointless or uninteresting. Then there is the tragically large number of people whose circumstances are so difficult that simply existing is an all-consuming struggle.
Whatever your view of existence, whatever your circumstances, life is achingly precious. This time of year in Australia is traditionally the festive season, a time for celebration, for rest and respite, for sharing simple pleasures with family and friends and for, perhaps, reconnecting with the very reasons why so many strive in the workplace throughout the year.
It can also be a time for reflection. None of us sought to exist, and we all received this gift against cosmic odds. It is a gift that comes with rights - and with responsibilities. Whether or not one is religious, and whichever religion one might adhere to, perhaps the pre-eminent ethic is to treat others as you would have them treat you. This idea, which is based on love and is found in most, if not all, religions, magnificently encapsulates much of what we need to know and understand about another of the most intriguing questions: how ought one live? It provides an inspiring beacon to us all.
Australia has a sophisticated multicultural population admired throughout the world. We are a nation of immigrants, and that cultural melange has created a society in which, for the most part, people are free to explore their existence with dignity. Our economy, too, is the envy of the world. We have worked together to create and share wealth - to the point that we live in one of the world's wealthiest societies. We have protected individual and collective rights. We have strived to find a balance between individual freedom and community security. We have relatively low taxes and national debt and unemployment. We have stable prices, affordable credit and consistent economic growth.
We have, in short, bountiful reasons to give thanks. But we have, too, reasons to keep striving. Too many people in this rich land are underprivileged, lacking the opportunity to explore their potential to enjoy life and contribute socially and economically. As many as 105,000 Australians are homeless on any given night. There is room to improve our performance in a number of areas, including mental and general healthcare, education and building long-term community assets to facilitate economic growth for coming generations. The plight of indigenous Australians remains a national disgrace.
So, while this is a time for celebration, it is also appropriate to keep in mind the less fortunate among us. The Age does not, though, wish to be bleak or unduly earnest. We would like to underline all that is good about our nation, and we note the community is generous and is creative in finding solutions to social and economic ills; almost 6.5 million people in Australia are volunteers, working with 600,000 not-for-profit organisations.
We would like to wish you all a happy, fun-filled and safe Christmas. We would like to encourage you to take care of yourselves and each other, and to cherish your families and friends. We would like to celebrate the values of kindness, gentleness and decency. Albert Einstein said: ''There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is to live as though everything is a miracle.'' We would like, too, to urge you to embrace the latter.