On the Meaning of Life

Nothing new is likely to ever be discovered here. The meaning of life is one of those oft-repeated philosophical inquiries made by certain thoughtful individuals in those societies where at least some of the citizenry have reasonable security, adequate shelter and sufficient food. Once the basic needs are met, some people start to wonder why they exist. I have spent some time pondering that question.

However, like most others, the bulk of my life was filled with distractions by such mundane activities such as ensuring my value to society was established and maintained via self education, honing my few talents and exhaustively hard work. Obligations to family and employers consumed most of my youth and then my middle age. Now that my children are well grown and my working days have apparently ended, I have the privilege of a bit of leisure to examine my life.

My annual medical exam has been interesting since my retirement. The doctor questions me about thoughts of suicide, alcohol consumption and other risky behaviors that I don't recall ever being asked about when I was younger. Self destructive attitudes and behaviors must be a thing with people in my age bracket. I do know of one man who recently retired and during the few months he’s been home he’s gained a significant amount of weight, dresses way too casually (insert slob here) and whines regularly about having nothing to do. If this is the typical way many retirees behave, then the doctor’s questions are probably have some merit.

I found that leaving work bettered my health. I was motivated to quit smoking, quit drinking alcohol and adopt a regular gym centered exercise routine. I lost weight while increasing strength, stamina and muscle volume. It's been three years and I’m still going strong in that area, so I guess some would say I found something to do. I mentioned this possible activity to the person mentioned above. He wasn’t interested in trying out this option for himself.
“The human race is a monotonous affair. Most people spend the greatest part of their time working in order to live, and what little freedom remains so fills them with fear that they seek out any and every means to be rid of it.” ― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, The Sorrows of Young Werther.
I feel pity for the retiree (or anyone) that complains by saying they “have nothing to do.” Perhaps they lack imagination. Perhaps they miss being lashed while “in harness.” Perhaps they desire distraction from pondering their own mortality. Perhaps they don’t want to have time to consider the possibility that their lives were and are, in the eyes of the universe, just not all that important.
“As far as we can tell from a purely scientific viewpoint, human life has absolutely no meaning. Humans are the outcome of blind evolutionary processes that operate without goal or purpose. Our actions are not part of some divine cosmic plan, and if planet earth were to blow up tomorrow morning, the universe would probably keep going about its business as usual. As far as we can tell at this point, human subjectivity would not be missed. Hence any meaning that people inscribe to their lives is just a delusion.” ― Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
When I was younger I would likely have rejected the idea that human life has no external and intrinsic meaning. I reject that idea no longer, especially after several decades of observing absurd human behaviors such as tirelessly striving after (or at least pining after) inflated paychecks, exhaustively seeking power and higher social status, and in general harboring an insatiable competitive desire to be universally recognized as somehow special and superior to others. It's as if the meaning of life for many is to accumulate the most points on some cosmic scoreboard, almost as if human life were nothing more than a 1980's arcade video game.

Since life is so very short, temporary and apparently has no enduring or intrinsic meaning, could it be that what really matters in life is learning to be happy with whatever fate and circumstance has dealt out to each of us?

One time a young man was complaining to me of the struggles he was facing in life. He griped that things weren’t fair. He didn’t have piles of money like other people. I told him that in my opinion everyone here is a winner. Everyone breathing has won the lottery of life and the fact that you and I are alive means we are winners. And though we will all soon die, the only real losers are those who were never born.

Besides, even if there is a mystical purpose to life, no one ever said that purpose was necessarily going to be pleasurable.
“If there is meaning in life at all, then there must be meaning in suffering.” ― Viktor Frankl
Interesting how humans tend to consider suffering in life to be meaningless and yet reject the idea that pleasure in life is also meaningless. Life is life. It is either all meaningless or it all has meaning.

To some, the thought that the human constructs we value so much are in reality quite unnecessary or meaningless is depressing. To me, it is freeing to understand that everything beyond obtaining the simple basic necessities for survival is nothing but striving after the wind.
'Occupy thyself with few things, says the philosopher, if thou wouldst be tranquil.' [...] For the greatest part of what we say and do being unnecessary, if a man takes this away, he will have more leisure and less uneasiness. Accordingly on every occasion a man should ask himself, Is this one of the unnecessary things? — Meditations, Notebook 4, 24, Marcus Aurelius
All we do crumbles to the ground though we refuse to see. Now, don't hang on. Nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky. It slips away, and all your money won't another minute buy. — Excerpt from Dust in the Wind by Kansas

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