I think the meaning of life is to establish meaning in life, for he who has a “why?” can bear any “how?” Something with meaning is “of importance or worthwhile in quality.” The most essential facet of human sentience is the belief that your existence is important. To live a meaningful existence is to conduct yourself in a manner that justifies life’s suffering. This may be construed as unity with divinity (perhaps religiously); however, the sense that you exist for a cause greater than yourself is crucial no matter your background.
To pursue happiness?
I have previously asserted that the meaning of life is happiness, because if you are happy and satisfied with your state of being, then what more do you need from life? I have since revised my opinion. Happiness cannot be the meaning of life because its nature is transient. Satisfaction will wax and wane throughout life (even within a single day), but meaning will sustain you. Happiness fails because being is rife with suffering. If you conclude that happiness is the meaning of life, then how do you react when diagnosed with cancer? How reliable is happiness at tragedy’s strike?
Happiness does not withstand catastrophe because joy is too shallow to sustain you. Tragedy is inevitable and need be planned for. If not today, then assuredly someday, pain will debilitate you or a loved one. Establishing meaning is therefore crucial. When you have a purpose in life that overrides impulsivity, then there is always sufficient reason to carry on despite life’s harshest rigors. When you spend each day working toward a goal worth dying for, then you are unstoppable. No matter the challenges or the consequences, with meaning you can overcome inherent weakness to fulfill your sacred duties.
Why establish meaning?
Meaning is difficult to establish because it requires you to accept the burden of tragedy and suffering throughout life. It is difficult to find meaning because it necessitates setting a goal and committing to it with every morsel of your being. This often means that you’d need to complete difficult tasks, solve difficult problems, and struggle all the while.
So, why not just carry on chasing happiness? Why endure challenge and responsibility when one can freely lay idle? Life is suffering, so why not selfishly take every opportunity to lie, cheat, steal, elude, and manipulate people for impulsive pleasure? You die alone and so does everyone else. What difference would it make if you did so? Your world returns to dirt no matter how much you accomplish in life. Why ever do anything difficult?
These questions have troubled humanity for thousands of years:
“Short and sorrowful is our life, and there is no remedy when a man comes to his end,
and no one has been known to return from Hades. Because we were born by mere chance, and hereafter we shall be as though we had never been; because the breath in our nostrils is smoke, and reason is a spark kindled by the beating of our hearts. When it is extinguished, the body will turn to ashes, and the spirit will dissolve like empty air. Our name will be forgotten in time, and no one will remember our works; our life will pass away like the traces of a cloud, and be scattered like mist that is chased by the rays of the sun and overcome by its heat. For our allotted time is the passing of a shadow, and there is no return from our death, because it is sealed up and no one turns back.
Come, therefore, let us enjoy the good things that exist, and make use of the creation to the full as in youth. Let us take our fill of costly wine and perfumes, and let no flower of spring pass by us. Let us crown ourselves with rosebuds before they wither. Let none of us fail to share in our revelry, everywhere let us leave signs of enjoyment, because this is our portion, and this our lot. Let us oppress the righteous poor man; let us not spare the widow nor regard the gray hairs of the aged. But let our might be our law of right, for what is weak proves itself to be useless.”- Wisdom Chapter 2 (Revised Standard Version) of the Bible
The above argument is compelling and beautifully written, but I think it’s wrong. If all were to live as described above, then incentive to achieve glory ceases. Why would you ever strive to create something knowing that your peers would disregard it or steal it for their own pleasure? This mode of being only exacerbates suffering because every individual with this attitude is both selfish and unproductive. This model potentiates tyranny because it forces you to take from others in pursuing pleasure. Every day is worse than the last, for nothing is built and all is exploited.
What should I do then?
I propose that the antidote to human suffering is sacrificing for yourself and others. To spend today working for a better tomorrow will continuously fulfill you and improve everyone’s quality of life. Delaying gratification now brings peace later and multiplies your pleasure exponentially over time. Impulsive life only potentiates society’s decay, for when you pursue transient glee, you fail to support the social structures that enable such pursuits. To work is to decide that the fruits of your labor are better borne tomorrow than today. This indicates that life is worthwhile because you can improve the future no matter how wretched you are now. Therefore, you never act in vain; this is purpose. You will never accomplish anything if you deem all pursuits meaningless because you’ll never sacrifice appropriately. However, the more you sacrifice today, the better your future. Continuing this process over time creates consistent improvement and a sense that your existence is worthwhile. Failure to do so generates misery because those who neglect responsibility fail and thus grow resentful.
Sacrifice inevitably entails responsibility. I urge you to set a goal and endeavor to reach it before you perish. If you continuously shoot for the stars, then you may eventually reach them. It is always convenient to put off work for transient pleasures, but this will not fulfill you. Life ends no matter what you do, so make the most of it. Determine the greatest good you could possibly pursue, then take action to realize your vision. There is no such thing as wasted time when all your actions further your cause. To take responsibility for all future actions and accept the worst imaginable consequences is the feat of every hero.
Why me? How can I help improve this world?
Countless others have moved mountains in striving toward a goal. Why can’t you do the same?
You die no matter what you do with your life. How should you be remembered? How should you feel about yourself daily? Is the life you’re living worth all its suffering?
Only you can answer these questions, so I suggest you ponder them. We have merely 24 hours in a day and the shared goal to maximize them. Venture on a mission to accomplish the greatest feat you can conceive. This makes your life a game worth playing. There is nothing more worthwhile than succeeding despite your flaws and life’s hardships.
As mentioned, the more you sacrifice, the better your future. Further, the greater your sacrifices the greater your rewards. We don’t know how far this phenomenon can proceed. I think the only way to learn is to test this yourself. Your time on Earth is the greatest asset you can ever give. I suggest you determine your highest value (your “ideal”). Pursue this ideal all your life and your sacrifice may be rewarded.
Take action to make every choice worth its risk and every move worth the trip. Transcend your finitude in pursuit of virtue, because the past is only a memory and the future depends on your present decisions. Put yourself together, become respectable, and pursue meaning to your uppermost limits. Sacrifice yourself for something greater. Don’t delay. Good luck.