Life Is Meaningless: A Liberating Real Wellness Perspective
We trace our ancestors back about 200,000 years. Unlike the vast majority of species that have ever existed, we (humans) are still here. That’s not as impressive as it might sound at first. Compared to some life forms, notably dinosaurs, which reigned for about 175 million years before becoming extinct 65 million years ago, an existence of 200,000 years is not that impressive. Furthermore, until recently, conditions were pretty grim for most people. Life expectancy in the Middle Ages was still 25 years at birth – 50% of children died before they were five years old! Furthermore, a relatively good life, at least in terms of comfort, security, clean air and water, opportunities for happiness and love, sanitation, plentiful food, and other quality of life measures, was appalling by contemporary standards in industrialized nations. Personal extinction was ubiquitous.
It’s unlikely that people who lived a fraction of human time didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about the meaning of life.
Speaking of extinction, consider this somewhat unsettling reality – we are all doomed too, not just as individuals but as a species – along with all other life forms – and the Earth itself.
how long do we have
Depends on. Countless natural or man-made catastrophes could drop the cosmic curtain at any time perhaps as you read this, such as asteroid impacts, thermonuclear wars, a supernova, or volcanic eruptions combined with earthquakes. Less sudden but no less epic deadly calamities like the loss of the biosphere to global warming, widespread pandemics, or other sci-fi-like events might do, like a blitzkrieg by aliens with serious attitude problems.
Even if our descendant Homo sapiens lasts for a few hundred or a few thousand or even millions of years (seems unlikely), in time the preacher’s lament will be fulfilled, that is, everything will happen in vain, totally in vain. The people are doomed. How does that reconcile with the meaning of life?
What lies ahead?
Unfortunately, the absolute certainty is that our Sun is mortal, just like us. While its lifespan is more impressive than ours, in time it will go the way of all flesh, even if decidedly not flesh. Yes, our sun will die. Currently about four and a half billion years old, it has already burned about half the hydrogen in its core. There is barely enough left to keep the light on for another five billion years at most.
Once the fuel runs out, the sun begins to expand, getting hotter and hotter. The earth will become a vast desert, only insects and bacteria will remain. Later the oceans will boil away and everything will catch fire. Eventually, although no living thing will be around to notice, the sun will explode, and the earth and our solar system will be gone without a trace.
But look on the bright side. You’ll be dead a long time before things like this happen.
The really amazing, really really good news
Although the ultimate meaninglessness is not yet recognized by billions around the world, the good news is that eventual recognition of such things could bring about dramatic advances for humanity, for example in the way we treat each other. If almost everyone recognizes and adjusts to the reality that there is no purpose to our existence, no grand plan, no divine plan, no overarching design, then compassion, kindness, empathy, and other decency could be more appealing than it is now.
Think about it. Your presence as a humanoid is completely meaningless – you have no predetermined role. You are irrelevant, like everyone and everything else. You and I and all are alone, with no loving or angry deity or savior to watch over or come after us, no sky god to reward or punish. No invisible, unknowable superpower to do favors for prayer or do harm if we don’t comply with what priests and preachers, ayatollahs and rabbis, witch doctors and shamans insist we do or not do.
Consider the overwhelming probability that there is no hell below or heaven above – no afterlife of any kind – period. Your present presence on this planet as a somewhat advanced life form is a cosmic coincidence. It is highly unlikely – and a true miracle.
This life is it and it never lasts long so try to experience and share as much joy, art, music, drama, happiness, exuberance, love and so on before you die. The end is near – keep it up.
That is good news!
Make no mistake – this is really good news. It’s an incredibly wonderful and liberating perspective. A good reason to set the course for a good life and a happy death. Celebrate – and shape your own meaningless existence in ways that mean something, many things that are valuable to you and those you love and care about.
Ultimate irrelevance in no way means that you should, or rather should, ignore the well-being of others. On the contrary, a view of life as meaningless apart from the purposes we invent makes us likely to care for others as much as we care for ourselves. This sentiment reflects Robert Ingersoll’s thoughts on death as reflected in these two excerpts reflect:
What would this world be without death? It can be from
fact that we are all victims, from the fact that we all are
bound by a common destiny, it can be that friendship and love
are born of this fact. (Lotus Club addressMarch 22, 1890, NYC.)
Maybe death gives life everything it’s worth. If the us
Pressure and tension in our arms might never die
that love would wither from the earth. Maybe that mean
Destiny kicks the weeds out of the paths between our hearts
of selfishness and hate. And I rather had life and love where
Death is king who has another life where love is not.
(Speech at a child’s graveJanuary 8, 1882, Washington, D.C.)
A caring philosophy
We know from Viktor Frankl, Irving Yalom, and many existential philosophers whose work has focused on finding meaning in this life, that service to others is the surest path to happiness.
Many who could afford to engage in lavish excess choose instead to devote themselves to cause and service to those around them, and derive meaning and enduring satisfaction from it.
The list of such figures is long – well-known examples include former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Sonny Bono, Angelina Jolie and countless others.
Here’s what Apple CEO Tim Cook said to a senior class at George Washington University:
There are problems that need to be solved, injustices that need to be ended, people that are still being persecuted, diseases that are still to be healed. No matter what you do next, the world needs your energy, your passion, your impatience to progress. History rarely gives in to a person, but think about it and never forget what happens when they do. (Tim Cook, beginning, The George Washington University, May 17, 2015)
You can be That should be you – all of us making a mark, and a
positive difference, albeit modest, in the brief moments of our time. No, none of this will matter to us when we’re gone, but there is meaning for a while while we and those we affect still exist.
Of course, you want to take it a step further with a TRUE wellness philosophy – to learn about, embrace and maintain a lifestyle that promotes well-being, sanity, exuberance and personal freedom; Do this and you will surely make the most of your opportunities.
Despite the lack of wishful thinking about an ultimate, cosmic and preordained purpose that you may have long suspected would lead you to believe, you will have filled your time with consequences, with purpose and purpose of your own design.
May your life be epic and triumphant.
Thanks to Donald Ardell