The Search for Meaning in a Shitball's Existence

Finding Meaning

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Here's the big issue with the meaning of life and why, I think, Douglas Adams proudly proclaimed that the meaning of life (and everything) was 42. Searching for the greatest, most diffuse, most incredible thing you could ever imagine is, ultimately, a letdown. Imagine being told you were just about to meet the most beautiful human who had ever existed, a perfect person in every single way, flawless and beyond criticism, the most wondrous specimen of biology nature could ever hope to fashion. What would that person look like? Can you even picture it? Probably not, but try. Try to form an image, and once you're as close as you can reasonably get to what you feel the most perfect human in every way is, imagine them wiping their ass and a finger tearing through the paper. Not their fault; they're perfect, but the paper was flawed. Now your perfect person has a poo finger. Are you disappointed yet?

Reality almost never lives up to expectation, and once you take something from the divine realm of imagination, from the place where your hopes and dreams are born, and set it on your sofa, it loses its mystique, its sense of awe. When you find the thing you think will answer all your questions and make your life more profound, it won't. It can't. And this is especially true for the meaning of life. Knowing the meaning of life will not make your life better; how could it? It will not elevate you or inspire you. Consider what happens when you know the end of a movie before you watch it thanks to some thoughtless boob telling you that Brad Pitt and Ed Norton were the same guy the whole time. It ruins it. It doesn't make it better; it takes the thrill away. The meaning of life has to be 42 in Douglas Adams' universe, because what the fuck does that mean? If they got a real answer, it would suck so bad, you don't even know. It would ruin it. Life would be ruined if someone literally handed you a booklet that explained it all.

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"Good God, I've been peeing wrong my whole life."

Despite the bummer that answering the question necessarily presents, answer it we do. Plato thought the meaning of life was attaining knowledge. Epicurus believed that living free from pain and fear was the ultimate goal of life. A secular humanist probably wouldn't even ask the question and instead would just go about living, supposing they were doing it right. Everyone has an answer that is more or less satisfying depending on what you personally already believe. So how the hell do you know what the actual purpose of life is? It's like asking what the best flavor of Skittle is (which normal people know is green, by the way). All the answers you don't like are going to disappoint you.

But there is one answer. There is one proper answer to the question of the meaning of life that even transcends the number 42 and is incredibly profound in its stupid simplicity. It must necessarily satisfy anyone who asks the question while at the same time falling prey to the exact problem I have outlined above of bringing to light and to unsatisfying reality the potential that your wildest dreams imbued it with. It is honest and true and wholly, terribly uninteresting and unfulfilling in every way. And it is strangely beautiful. Are you ready for it? Do you believe I can share it with you, that I unraveled the mystery of the universe that mankind has been reaching ever toward since we had the ability to be self-aware and understand there are greater things in heaven and Earth than we are born with the ability to comprehend? I better start a new paragraph and put down a drop cloth or something.

The meaning of life is to live it.

Do you want to know what your purpose in life is? Live it and find out. Will you be a leader of men? A revolutionary? Will you feed the starving, clothe the poor, and elevate the spirit of all who meet you and hear your words? Or will you be a short order cook and make passingly good french fries that don't have pubes on them? Both are valid, because both are lived lives. Do you prefer one over the other? Maybe. Doesn't matter what you prefer, though. The meaning of life is not related to the life you'd prefer to live, any more than the meaning of a pile of rabbit turds on your lawn is related to the position of stars in the sky.

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"We've been shitting star charts for centuries, actually."

Asking for a preset meaning for your life is asking for the end of a story no one wrote yet, and even if you are a theist, you are presuming that God or whatever force of will you believe in has already decided where you'll go and what you'll do, meaning there is no meaning anymore. It doesn't matter, because you're just going to do it, and your thoughts and desires and feelings are irrelevant. Some meaning you have there. You have reduced yourself to a cogwheel in a big, complicated clock, just ticking toward inevitability.

So what is the meaning of a life that gets cut short? A person who dies in a tragic accident? A baby who only gets a single breath? What was the meaning of their existence? What good could have happened there? Did they bring you happiness? Teach you something new? That very well could have been their purpose, as much as a chair's is to be sit upon or Justin Bieber's is to be a glib little ass wrinkle. Sometimes you don't get to know because that story isn't yours. And that's why the question of the meaning of life frustrates us so very much. You want to know what your story is, but you want to know the stories of everyone around you as well. You want to know how they fit together and work together. But you don't get to. And, on some level, we know and have to accept that maybe the meaning of a life isn't life-changing. Maybe the meaning of one life is just to be a footnote somewhere else. Maybe it's just to be and nothing more. Or maybe not. Maybe you don't even get to know the meaning because you never got to see how it fit into the grand scheme of things. I told you it's unsatisfying.

Being Meaningful

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The best way to approach the prospect of coming to terms with the meaning of your own life is not to ask what it is; it's to decide what it should be. If you care, that is. If you really want your life to have a meaning, you need to kind of make it happen on your own, and it should be good. Good for you, good for others. Good for something. Make someone laugh. Be a sexual dynamo. Learn to paint ponies that are so kickass real that ponies should be goddamned ashamed of their shitty ponyness.

But you need to take the reins. Why should the universe cater to your whims? You need to get off your ass. The universe has 7 billion people on this planet alone to deal with, not to mention the 100 to 200 billion other planets in our galaxy, or the 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 planets that likely exist in the entire universe (that's a septillion, by the way). You have to assume there's at least 100 other guys out there, so that's 7 billion and 99 people other than you who need to be monitored. Who has the time to ensure that your life has a good and fulfilling purpose? Only you. Now go make me the best damn sandwich you can make!

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Felix Clay

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