We’ve all thought about it at one time or another.
What’s the meaning of life?
Or perhaps it would be better to say: What’s the purpose of this existence?
We’re all thrown, kicking and screaming, into this world.
Condemned to pass an uncertain period of time as (mostly) hairless, upright primates on a dusty little orb on the outskirts of a second-rate galaxy.
And most of us spend at least some time thinking: Now what? What should I do with my fleeting time on this earth?
Well, you’ve got questions and I’ve got answers.
Or at least suggestions.
Keep in mind, as you’re reading, that these life paths aren’t mutually exclusive. Feel free to mix and match between them.
Anyway, thanks for stopping by. Don’t forget to leave your comments down at the bottom.
Jean Paul Sartre once said that everything has been figured out except how to live.
Well, Sartre can suck it. ‘Cause here you go: the meaning of life in 12 easy lessons.
Let’s start with something completely uncontroversial…
Dedicate yourself to Jesus
Or another deity, I guess…
This first life plan seems problematic to me.
If you’re into things like facts and evidence, you’ve probably realized by this time how unlikely it is that the creator of the universe made all this – trillions upon trillions of stars, and probably at least a few trillion planets as well – just so that he could spend his time worrying about the behavior of us (mostly) hairless primates on this one little orb.
The Bible, according to actual evidence, was written by average joes like me – who just happened to be born two or three millennia ago. Same with the Bhagavad Gita.
So it would appear, at least to me, that there’s little reason to base your life around the traditions and superstitions of Iron Age tribespeople.
Plus, all the stoning of adulterers gets exhausting – and don’t even get me started on the hassle of preparing your food based on someone’s prehistoric ideas about hygiene.
You will, however, get a lot of social validation from pretending to be a “good” Christian / Hindu / Zoroastrian / Whateverthefuck.
Yes, you’ll bask in the praise of friends and neighbors, who will delightedly recount tales of your extreme good-person-ness, pat you on the back, dedicate wings of hospitals to you, etc.
But this plan only works in the long run if you’re smart enough to choose the right religion.
Otherwise, while you might receive the social benefits in this life, you’re surely doomed to some sort of hellfire in the next.
So choose well.
In case you’re interested, my vote goes to Ganesh as the one true god. Because obviously… How could god be anything BUT an elephant with four arms?
(You can thank me when we meet in Hindu Heaven.)
And while we’re at it, here’s another uncontroversial one…
Have lots of sex. I mean LOTS of sex.
I guess at this point everyone’s aware that there’s a whole (rather large) segment of the internet dedicated to men exchanging tips on how to pick up women.
As a man, I’ll admit it: I’ve probably spent about half of my waking life since age 12 thinking about how to get one girl or another into the sack.
I’ve read articles about it. I’ve seen the forums.
I’ve googled “how to talk to girls” and even considered using Tim Ferriss‘ advice on how to optimize my OK Cupid profile. (Tip #1: get a shirtless pic where you’re holding a cat.)
Sex and dating advice for women is quite an industry too, and even less underground. “21 sizzling sex moves to try tonight” – says every Cosmopolitan cover ever.
Is sleeping with dozens of people really the “solution” to the “problem” which is existence?
In a word, no.
I find it absurd to think that someone out there has really achieved long-lasting happiness by banging tons of people he (or she, or pick your favorite pronoun) barely knows.
But many seem to think that the road to happiness is just that.
Turns out it’s not even limited to men… I’ve also talked to women whose life plan involved banging 100 dudes and then settling down happily to a lifetime of monogamy with “the one”.
Ha. Good luck with that – man or woman.
Maybe all these life plans are really just things people think will make them happy.
Well, in my experience, we should be very careful with what we think will make us happy… because if it doesn’t, we’re going to be even more disappointed afterwards.
Also, use condoms.
Next up, we have…
Get married, procreate, move to the suburbs
You’ll certainly win the admiration of your friends and family with this one – or at least avoid the annoying conversations about “when you’re going to settle down”.
But will it bring you happiness?
All kinds of studies have tried to prove that married people are happier. But then again, it’s possible that nobody wants to marry your grumpy ass anyway, and it’s not the being married that makes people happy.
Or maybe you’re sad because you’re missing out on all the tax breaks married people get, and the joy of joint health insurance.
Maybe it’s not marriage itself.
In any case, it would also appear that people generally have a sort of happiness set point, and that they don’t deviate too much from it over time.
So perhaps this whole “if I just do XYZ I’ll be happy” idea is futile anyway – more about that at the end of this article.
Anyway, about procreation: plenty of smart people think it’s a good idea. And what the hell do I know?
It seems to even feel like a biological necessity, for some.
So go ahead, bang those Tinder dates till you feel like settling down. Then, have a nice wedding. Forget about the condoms, forget about pulling out just in time.
Have lots of beautiful healthy babies.
Then, move to the ‘burbs.
But I guess that one deserves its own section.
The true meaning of life: Getting a mortgage
A friend once told me about her aspiration to “climb the property ladder”.
I’d never heard the expression before, and haven’t heard it since. It seems to be a British thing, now that I’ve googled it.
But either way, it sounds like a bone-chillingly boring way to spend your life on this planet.
Maybe I’m just some sort of freak, but I’ve never been able to muster any sort of enthusiasm for housing, furniture, interior decoration, or anything Martha Stewarty. (Unless it involves wrapping things in bacon or smearing them with butter. Then I’m in.)
And those home remodeling shows make me feel physically ill.
Not even exaggerating.
If I have to see one more cute midwestern couple selecting Italian marble countertops in an orgy of self-congratulatory conspicuous consumption, I’m probably going to lose my lunch.
Anyway, don’t let the actual math about home ownership vs renting get you down.
Mortgaging 30 to 40 years of your life in order to live, uh, somewhere (which you’d probably be doing anyway… just sayin’) is certainly a popular way to pass the time remaining until death.
And if something’s popular, it must be a good idea. Right?
Here’s another one…
Create something that will outlast you
Now we’re getting somewhere.
This is perhaps the only one of these 12 (Ganesh help me!) life paths that I really stand behind.
Create something great.
Or if you prefer, do useful work. Get really good at something, and do that thing daily.
That’s what I try to do with writing – sometimes successfully.
And I spend quite a bit of time sitting open-mouthed in absolute awe at the things other people manage to create.
Ask Morena. After about 3 glasses of wine, I’m likely to tear up over a Metallica song. Not because of anything in the content of the song…
But because I’d kill to be able to move millions of people in the way that good music does.
(And Metallica’s not even in my top 10. You should see me listening to Nirvana Unplugged at 1 AM. It’s awful.)
Anyway, I think this is a good plan. And I’m pretty agnostic about what useful and / or creative pursuit you choose to get good at.
Just pick something you enjoy, and do it well.
On the other end of the spectrum, theres this one…
Get more Instagram followers
Having more Facebook friends seems to be mostly obsolete as a life goal, but getting more Instagram followers definitely isn’t.
Not only will you get ego validation in the form of tiny red hearts, but you’ll also – once you reach “influencer” level – be able to spend your days shilling shampoo or artfully posing with a takeout bag from Wendy’s.
This plan works better, of course, if you’re the kind of person who has poppin’ pecs or who looks good in a thong.
If not, I guess you should just get used to a life of hard work and drudgery like the rest of us anonymous schlubs.
Now if you’re resigned to the fact that your ass isn’t round enough (or pecs aren’t ripped enough) for InstaFame, and you’re going to be working for a living, you should probably…
Get a good education
Otherwise known as: sit in rows and bore yourself to tears for a few decades, in exchange for a few marks on a piece of paper.
Mom will certainly be impressed with your collection of degrees.
Other than that, is education a good goal? Is it just a means to an end?
Does being well-read or well-educated somehow make you a better human being?
I’m not sure. I know plenty of well-educated people who can barely scrape together their rent payment every month.
And what does “better” mean, anyway?
During my own failed attempt at getting a good education, the director of the college I’d signed up for made an impassioned speech about how the liberal arts were useful exactly because of their essential uselessness.
I forget how he phrased it, but in any case, I was sold.
(I also can’t believe I was ever so stupid as to fall for such drivel, but I guess that’s another story.)
Anyway, it seems like several of these life paths involve going into quite a bit of debt, at least for most people.
I’m personally anti-debt, but pro-learning… So go ahead and get that degree, if you must.
Just don’t take out $100,000 worth of loans so someone can explain the sonnets of John Keats to you for a few years.
Trust me. (Or read this article.)
And keep in mind that financial freedom probably won’t come from your day job and your paycheck.
Is the meaning of life to “Have fun”?
One of the Spanish girls I dated many years ago was in the process of dumping me, one sunny spring morning.
It was a beautiful day, and we were in her garden (by which I mean her parents’ garden). It was a nice place, outside Madrid, with quaint brick walls covered with vines, a white table and some white chairs.
We were sitting in two of those chairs, and – as I said before – she was saying how she was done with me.
I forget exactly why.
Something about me being a miserable asshole, yadda yadda yadda.
In the middle of this conversation, she said something along the lines of “I don’t know what you want to do with your life, but I just want to have fun.”
It’s strange, but I had never thought of “fun” as being an actual goal. (And I guess that’s why she was dumping me.)
Anyway, this one seems popular among young people. Not sure how much “fun” you’ll be having at age 45 or so, if you’ve dedicated the previous few decades to “fun” as well.
And in fact, I have only the faintest of ideas what normal people consider to be fun. I think it involves going to parties or something.
But hey, if fun and parties sounds good to you, go for it.
And by all means, as the saying goes, “have fun!”
On the other hand, if fun’s not your thing, you’re in luck. There are plenty of things you can do with your life that are no fun at all.
Try this one…
Share politically charged memes on Facebook
Lots of people seem to think this is optimal the way to create a better world.
And of course, once everybody else sees how right you are, and changes their mind about all their silly, wrong-headed opinions, then you can finally be happy.
When I’m on Facebook these days – less and less, as it turns out – it’s all I can do to contain myself…
These are my friends and all, but do they ever think to fact check their memes?
Quick true or false: Every country on the planet (except the US) has universal healthcare.
That one’s false.
But don’t let facts get in your way…
Share that meme!
Because facts are fascist. Or something. (Also, make sure you throw the word “fascist” around a lot, despite having no idea what it actually means. Or if you’re more right-leaning, try “communist”.)
Anyway, I guess people do this stuff because being outraged is slightly better than whatever else they’re feeling.
My advice is the following: if your plan to be happy requires millions of other people to change their minds or behavior, you’re going to be one unhappy little puppy.
Get used to it.
And while we’re waiting for that socialist utopia, we might as well…
Make lots of money, buy lots of shiny stuff
Money makes the world go round, as they say.
Or, the way I like to phrase it, “Cash Rules Everything Around Me”.
And sure, making money sure beats not making money. Dolla dolla bill, y’all.
Also, acquiring status symbols just might fill your existential void once and for all.
And wearing a shiny new Dolce and Gabbana belt will certainly get you the envious glances of the folks at the yacht club.
Just get the belt.
You’ll be up to your eyeballs in others’ approval.
Or will you?
As someone (I’ve forgotten who) pointed out, somewhere, when you see a guy in a Ferrari, you probably think “Wow, I wish I had that car”.
You NEVER think “Wow, I’d love to hang out with the guy driving that car”.
If Ferraris aren’t your thing, feel free to substitute whichever other status symbol works for you. You’ll see it’s true. You don’t actually respect people more for displaying wealth and status.
At most you wish you had more wealth and status like them.
So consider that before dropping 8000€ on a handbag: nobody really gives a shit about your handbag anyway. They only care about their handbag.
And while we’re on the topic, there’s a 99.9999999% probability that they don’t give a shit about YOU.
Do the math. Divide the number of people who (probably) give a shit about you by the population of planet earth today, and then express that as a percentage.
Yeah, I didn’t say this would be uplifting either.
Anyway, here’s a sexier one…
The true meaning of life: Have great abs
Having a six pack is, of course, a noble endeavor which many of us try and fail to achieve – sometimes for years on end.
And while I would like to someday see my own abdominal muscles, I don’t really expect it to change my life.
(Do women start throwing themselves at guys as soon as their abdominal definition reaches a certain level? Perhaps some guy with abs can clue me in.)
Also, this is kind of the same thing as before. When I go to work out on the beach here in Barcelona, I see some guys with some pretty exceptional muscles.
But rarely do I think, “Wow, I’d love to get to know that guy.” It’s more like “The things I could do if I had that jerk’s abs!”
So I guess the lesson is you should do these things for yourself, not because you expect to get external validation from them.
Anyway, diet and exercise are supposed to work.
Cutting back on the carbs, going paleo, drinking less, doing lots of planks, whatever.
When you’re done, have fun rubbing your own abs, or get someone else to rub them… The options are limitless!
Escape saṃsāra, reach enlightenment… the true meaning of life?
In some way this does appeal to me.
But it also sounds like a lot of work. And possibly, like the kind of thing that’d have me wearing genie pants and eating lentils in some remote Indian village before too long.
(Just try doing the lotus position in those $120 Diesel jeans from back when you were buying status symbols…)
In any case, you can get a good bit of enlightenment without going full-on woo woo. You don’t have to paint yourself with turmeric or start believing in reincarnation.
As Sam Harris points out in his speech on Death and the Present Moment, we’ll do any number of crazy things to build a better future.
But what are we really doing except ignoring the present now, in the hopes that at some other time, the present will be tolerable?
The present moment is all we ever have.
So why not put aside the striving for more Tinder dates, the clinging to status symbols, the yearning for advanced degrees or a perfect posterior…
And just be happy in the now?
Also, buy my book.
I promise to use all proceeds for spiritual pursuits.
And wine. Mostly wine.
P.S. After writing this article, I talked to my friend Anthony Metivier from over at Magnetic Memory Method about the meaning of life, and he asked the following questions: “What does it matter if there’s a meaning to life? What would change if there was? What would change if there wasn’t?” So. Mind = blown, as the kids are saying. Anyway, what do you think is the meaning of life? Comment away… right here. Thanks!