Today’s ramblings take’s us down a question of MAMMOTH proportions…
What is the purpose of life? Why are you here? What is the meaning of this thing we call life?
Feels like a big one for a Tuesday morning. I have just finished an extra-large bowl of porridge… Let’s see where the journey takes us!
Urgh… But what is the point of asking such a difficult question?
This is how I am feeling 2 hours later after googling “what is the purpose of life”. Turns out there might not be one simple answer… I really thought Google might have the answer for me…I am going to grab a banana and munch on that for a while instead.
Post banana: But seriously Google, why do we study for ~15 years, work over 90,000 hours, and make loads of babies so the next generation can do it all over again if we don’t even know why we’re doing it?
There has to be some greater purpose…? TELL ME THERE IS A GREATER PURPOSE DAMN IT!
Warning… you are now entering deep waters… There are lots of reasons not to read any further and never explore this question… For example:
Even if you knew, would it change the way you live? Would it bring you more joy?
No matter how much you understand or don’t about your life, you still have to do the living part. Isn’t all this looking upwards at what “might be” a waste of energy, especially when life is down “here”?
Does greater understanding really bring greater joy? I know that I often wish to be able to see the world as a child does: Curious, unconditioned and playful! And I am yet to come across a child that asks (with the same angst) about the meaning of life… Bertie (my flat-coated retriever) seems super ecstatic with life, and I am relatively confident that he is not asking the question.
Furthermore, do you even have any control over your life?
After recently listening to a Sam Harris podcast, I have been presented with another conundrum. For more than 20 years science has been suggesting that we may have very little control over what we do, calling into question the concept of “free will” i.e. our ability to choose, think, and act voluntarily.
Studies have repeated shown that the brain knows what you will do before the compulsion to act comes into your awareness. In short, our thoughts and actions are triggered by neurological processes we don’t control. My little brain is exploding right now!
Are you just getting sucked into one big cliche’?
Whilst the likes of Socrates, Marcus Aurelius, Gautama Buddha and other great philosophers of the past might be able to bring meaning and do justice to such a question, has the question become trite and irritating in our times? Often loaded with the desire to sound philosophical at a dinner table, or left for rambling navel gazers…
It’s a question reserved for the privileged few… and couldn’t you be spending your time and energy in better and more practical ways?
You don’t hear this question coming from those who are scavenging for food, or constantly running for their lives. Most living beings (in our past and our present) never ask this question in part because they are too busy trying to live and stay alive!
Aren’t there more practical and important questions to be answering: How do we eradicate poverty? How do we solve the climate crisis? How do we avoid nuclear war with N. Korea? How do we build controls around artificial intelligence to ensure future robots don’t scorch out the sun and take control of our minds (not that we have control anyway today)?
So are we just better off not even asking about life?
Well I can’t answer that question for you… But I can tell you that a wise man once said (Socrates): “The life that is unexamined is not worth living”. I am not sure if I feel quite as strongly, and fundamentally this is your individual choice… But for me (right now)-bring it on!
Let’s look at the truth-facts (my favourite kind of fact): I am not a dog. I am not a child (although I sometimes act like one). I do not know what’s around the corner. I don’t know what happens when we die. And I don’t even know the true extent of control we have over our lives.
As far as I can tell, I am a conscious human being with some form of “higher” intelligence (vs. Bertie, my dog) with an ability to ask questions and be aware of my asking.
When I look around, everything in “nature” seems to have a defined meaning in our world… The plants… the birds…the bees…even the pissing mosquitos. So what is our role in this world? Can it be that man is the only thing in our world without a purpose?
Fine, so what’s the answer smart-arse?
As another wise man once said (Henry Ford): “Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs…”. Expanding on this isn’t “life” nothing but a load of “small jobs” or “micro moments”? And if we break down the BIG question it becomes “what is the meaning of this moment?”
Simply put, human life is a finite compilation of “micro moments”, emotions, thoughts, speech, decisions, actions… Come rain or shine, be rich or poor, be brown eyed or blue eyed, your life is the sum of all these “micro moments” which determines how you feel at the end of the day, at the end of the week, at the end of the month, at the end of year, and fundamentally at the end of your life.
Might this mean that the purpose of life is not so complicated after all?
Could it just be to “feel good” in the moment… And to aggregate and compound those “feel good” moments on top of each other to build a “feel good” life. Can life really be sum-up by a tragic teenage tattoo-“carpe diem”?
And borrowing a bit more wisdom from Socrates: Maybe there is NOT just one sacred purpose of life which we one day discover in an eureka moment whilst taking a bath? Maybe each of us has a different meaning to life…Maybe our meaning changes as our life changes… Maybe we have multiple meaning to life… Maybe there are an infinite number of meanings to life…
SO WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LIFE?
Is the meaning of life to find your meaning? Maybe here lies the answer, only YOU can decide what makes you “feel good”. It could be to truly love, to be of service to others, to shape the world in your vision, to play in nature’s grand symphony, to watch Netflix and chill… Everybody is different, everybody has different circumstance, obstacles and gifts… Only you can dictate how you live, and what makes you “feel good”.
But then again, I have always been told that I am special snow-flake, one of a kind, unique to my core. So maybe I was always going to develop this answer… As it gives me meaning!
But whether or not you choose to explore this question for yourself, your everyday choices matter and are finite (sorry to get dark, but death is another one of those truth-facts). How you prioritize your time defines what your life means, or doesn’t. The meaning of life is who you talked to, who you listened to, who you loved, who you hated, who you healed, who you hurt, what you read, what you built, what you destroyed, etc etc ect…
“The very purpose of life is to be happy…The key is to develop inner peace.” The Dalai Lama
Maybe, just maybe, it is not our question to ask?
As Viktor Frankl points out in Man’s Search for Meaning, maybe it is not our question to ask… Instead, it is we who are being asked the question. It’s our lives that are the answer. Shit just got deep!
Hang on a second, isn’t the answer just to have babies?
Like every question, the answer changes depending on the situation and perspective you are asking from.
Whilst making babies does sound like fun, it is not the answer. Sure, from a purely a biological gene’s eye view the answer might be to make babies and ensure the survival of your genes. But from almost every other perspective — individual, group, moral, environmental, or life as a whole — the answer lies elsewhere. An example is all the incredibly fulfilled people out there who do not have babies…
So, I ask you: How is your life defined? What makes you “feel good”?
Lesson #2: You cannot discover the meaning of your life on google.
Life is one big opportunity to experiment and work out what makes you “feel good”.
One way to live a fulfilling life is to take ownership of the process of shedding old purposes and cultivating new ones.
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Like all good things in life, none of this is new and a lot of this is borrowed from others wiser than me: