Life is mysterious; an enigma full of questions. What is life? How did it begin? Why does it end? Do you have an eternal soul? Will you be reincarnated? Why are you alive? Do you exist for a reason? Are you assigned a purpose, do you create it, or is it unnecessary?
These are questions that many thinkers have asked themselves. I could dedicate this entire blog to the philosophy of life. I won’t do that – but it is a fitting place to start for this particular blog. After all, why is anything else important if you don’t know why you’re doing it?
Everything you do is Insignificant
Let’s take a moment to step back and put into perspective the insignificance of your life, my life, and the rest of the human race. Most people have almost no effect on their city, let alone their country, the current human race, the future human race, Earth, our solar system, our galaxy, or the universe. They drift through life, and fade away. You don’t have a chance at affecting the past, and your chances of affecting the future are low. Your best chance is affecting the present while you are alive, but that is a tiny fraction [assuming an 85 year life span, 85/13000000000 ~ 0.00000000654%] of the universes estimated life. When you can’t even affect the human race, how do you expect to have an effect on the universe? Even if you could affect it, the entire human race is insignificant, compared to the endlessness of the universe. The universe has been around for billions and billions of years before humans, and it will likely be around for billions of years after humans. The human race will only be around for a tiny fraction of the universe’s life. Eventually, and inevitably, the Sun will become a red giant and Earth as you know it will be no more. Humans will be extinct, and the universe will go on for an indefinite amount of time as if nothing happened. Not even a hiccup. Everything done or accomplished by humans as a whole will be worthless. You are just matter; some atoms and particles, being moved around and rearranged by an invasive and unstoppable cosmic force. If the human race as a whole is insignificant, how can you, a minuscule speck of life, a negligible part of the history of the human race, be of any significance? Let me make it clear: You are not.
To Be or Not to Be
Do you even need a purpose? Why don’t you just kill yourself? Why stay alive? Beyond your powerful and almost uncontrollable instinct to survive, what makes you try so hard to live? When you wake up in the morning, why do you bother moving [besides a need to pee – gets me out of bed every morning!]? Why do you do anything? What is your ultimate goal? Are you simply drifting through life with no sense of purpose? Most people do have an immediate answer for their purpose: Cure cancer, become world famous, end starvation. People work hard to get an education, get a job, buy a house, and many
workslave for 40 years in a 9-5 job. There are ‘good’ reasons for doing those things: A diploma gives you an edge to get a job, a job earns money to support yourself and loved ones, a house is a good place to settle down and raise children. But why get a good education? Why get a job? Why support your family? Why have children? You work hard every day to stay alive. Why do you put yourself through hardships with no purpose in mind? If you don’t know the answer, why are you staying alive? If you have no purpose, your existence is meaningless. Perhaps global genocide is in order. But alas, a common pattern emerges among living things: It wants to keep living. A survival instinct has been rooted deep within your genes, and you would go to great lengths to stay alive in extreme situations. Think of the movie, SAW. You naturally try to survive, enhance pleasure, and avoid pain.
Suicide: Not an Option
So, everything you do is insignificant, but you can’t easily kill yourself. Does your innate desire to continue living mean your life has meaning, and you need to stay alive? Then what do you do with your short amount of time? I’ve already established that doing things is insignificant. The huge majority of what you do is to stay alive: but what things are you doing now that you hope will have a lasting effect beyond your lifetime? I bet very little. I think many people reach this conclusion and become afraid. Afraid of death, of the unknown. This causes people to make up, and easily cling to stories that give answers. Much of global population sadly believing in incredible beings capable of creating everything, such as the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Enter religion. Religion gives purpose: Serve God. Life is easier to live blindly, but I can’t base my entire life on such extraordinary claims without any shred of evidence. Rational human beings require extraordinary proof for extraordinary claims. My particular choice of label for myself is “Agnostic”. Most religions appear to be unfalsifiable (why I’m not atheist) and unverifiable (why I’m not theist). I accept evolution. I am interested in the concept of souls and I’m sure I will be posting about that in the future. Others distract themselves from, well, themselves. They work constantly, and keep themselves busy, often chasing superficial goals. They have no time to stop and think. Though, even worse yet, are the zombies who melt their brains every day by watching TV.
Some, like you and I, do think about the bigger picture and purpose of life. But why are you even looking for a purpose? Would you truly be happy if you fulfilled your purpose? I imagine it being quite depressing. Humans want a lot of things, try to get those things, subsequently get bored of said things, and then they crave for more things. Is there really a purpose out there that will satisfy your desires for anything else? A purpose that you can put your entire being behind with no regrets, or second thoughts about the path you’re heading down? What if you accomplish your purpose while you’re still alive? Do you get a new one? Is it like free time? Do whatever you want? You are now wasting resources better used by people who haven’t completed their purpose. After accomplishing it, you are a useless life. You should die after completing your purpose, no? I’d like to think life is more efficient than that. Perhaps then, the purpose of life is not to do one particular action, but even deeper. Something that takes your entire life to accomplish: from the moment of your birth to the moment of your death. Living longer is a waste, and living less means you don’t have time to complete your purpose.
So, what is the purpose of life?
My initial explorations have led me to think there is no inherent meaning in life. We could define it ourselves, since we defined the question. We have created and defined the words used. The mere fact that our questions have answers is a coincidence that we have words to express an answer. Life existed before language – it existed before anything could think about or understand purpose – let alone define purpose. So assuming we must have a purpose was silly; life can exist without purpose. It doesn’t have to do anything, it just exists. Maybe our entire life purpose is to reproduce to continue existing. Go impregnate your significant other right now if your averaged IQs are above 125. We need more smart people anyways, so pass on your good genes! We don’t want this world turning into Idiocracy. In order for there to be one purpose that fits all of us – it seems logical to say that we would all need to have the same ethics and morals. Our values would need to be the same in order to be satisfied by the same thing. That brings the question then; can we even have one answer for everyone? There are people out there happily torturing animals – do you share a purpose with them? What about serial killers, rapists, and the Queen? Do we all share a purpose?
Further thinking has led me to my true answer, and it is a process I’ve used a few times to come to decisions, like becoming a vegetarian. What is in my nature? If I lived as the animal I am, how would I have behaved without outside sources influencing me (like this ironically inhumane society)? What would I have done with my life? As said above, I know two things are in my nature: enhancing pleasure and staying alive. Seems like I would have done whatever I want – as long as I live, and I am happy. Perhaps a grand purpose wouldn’t have been searched for, as I accepted my place as an animal within the ecosystem. The purpose of life suddenly became “have fun” and “be happy”. I didn’t see an argument for anything else. Everything I could do is insignificant, even if I cured every disease known to man. This was just the tip of the iceberg though, as after some research, I discovered that stronger thinkers than me, namely Aristotle, have come up with a more thorough concept along the same lines.
The Purpose of Life is Eudaimonia
Eudaimonia encompasses a lot more than the common, loose translation of “happiness”. It is deeper, and more of a way to live than simply an emotional state of euphoria. A better translation is “flourishing” or “well-being”.
The Dalai Lama agrees that we should be happy:
“I believe that the purpose of life is to be happy. From the moment of birth, every human being wants happiness and does not want suffering. Neither social conditioning nor education nor ideology affect this. From the very core of our being, we simply desire contentment. I don’t know whether the universe, with its countless galaxies, stars and planets, has a deeper meaning or not, but at the very least, it is clear that we humans who live on this earth face the task of making a happy life for ourselves. Therefore, it is important to discover what will bring about the greatest degree of happiness.”
And, while I’m quote dropping, right out of the horse’s mouth:
“Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.”
In Aristotle’s quote, the word “Happiness” is used, but this is likely a poor translation for the original: Eudaimonia. Aristotle believed that Eudaimonia is the ultimate human goal. He tells us we all agree that it is the ultimate purpose – but we do not agree on how to achieve it.
You already knew this in your heart. You’ve already been living this purpose. Do you deliberately do things to make yourself unhappy? No. You strive to be happy. Happiness is something humans are born with a desire to acquire: We enhance pleasure, avoid pain, and we try to stay alive – in order to procure happiness. Your every action is intended to capture happiness directly, or indirectly. The problem usually lays in our ability, or rather inability, to predict what will bring about real, genuine, long term happiness, and that has been the coup de grâce to the happiness of many. For example: Would many people cheat and lose their honour, family, and a wonderful relationship if they were better at predicting how unsatisfying sleeping with another partner would be?
To be clear: Happiness, in our common understanding of the word, is not our be all and end all purpose. Chasing in-the-moment pleasures your entire life is likely to leave you unfulfilled and unhappy. Happiness, the way Aristotle saw it, was the feeling of having lived a good life. It is deeper than just experiencing pleasure all the time. Gambling and hookers could be a good time and lead to pleasurable experiences – but it won’t lead to Eudaimonia. When you’re dying, would looking back on a life like that satisfy you? Pursuing fun and pleasure is not necessarily pursuing happiness or Eudaimonia. You cannot simply be born rich and buy happiness. Cliché, yes, but true. Money can help, but hyper consumption has diminishing returns. Death is often not talked about – it makes people sad. I think you should accept, and embrace, that you will soon die. You live for a very short amount of time, and if you take into account time compression, you’ve only got a very short time left. Being alive is precious, don’t take it for granted. Make sure you’re focused on your purpose and what you truly want. You’ve got no time to waste. You need to start enjoying your life right now instead of always looking for greener pastures. Enjoy what is right in front of you.
After reading this post, I recommend that you take some isolated time alone to reflect on who you are, and who you want to be. Do you project the values you want to? Think of what will matter deeply to you when you are on your death bed, and make sure to cater to those needs, so that you are happy and can die with no regrets. That is the sign of living the good life, of Eudaimonic Happiness. Happiness can be your default state. Enjoy your life. My orders.
How to be Happy
There is a lot to be said about being happy. When I initially planned this blog post, I intended to include a section on how to be happy. However, as I began thinking about how to be happy, it grew into quite a vast topic. It is worth its own blog post – and would help readers find information in my blog easier if blog posts were more singularly related to the post title. So in the future, expect a post from me titled “How to be Happy”.
Until then, remember that happiness comes from within. Don’t wait for your external circumstances to change for you to be happy! Many times you have no control over them. Happiness is found within you. You need to be happy mentally [think positive thoughts], or else the best external circumstances in the world will still fall short at making you happy. Look deep inside yourself, and conquer your inner conflicts. Face thoughts and situations you’ve pushed back. Clear your conscious. Meditation helps. So do drugs.
Stop chasing foolish goals that will leave you empty-handed when you acquire them, and stop sitting around chasing nothing. Find something that satisfies you on a deep level, and just live a good life. After all, nothing else we do really matters.
I hope you are all a little bit happier now, having enjoyed that post. This was my first real blog post, so it sets an impression for the blog. I enjoyed writing this one, and I hope you enjoyed reading it. I’ve never studied writing in any form, and that may show, but I try to get my thoughts down in a coherent, readable way. I do appreciate feedback. If you liked the post, you can subscribe and be notified when I write more.
What do YOU think the purpose of life is? Feel free to start a discussion in the comments!