What, really, is the truth about life? Is it a big, cosmic joke? Does it even have any inherent meaning? What is even the point of doing the things we do? I often find myself asking these questions when I have yet again managed to stay up beyond 2 a.m. and spiraled into an existential crisis. Again. Jokes aside though, these are questions, which I’m sure all of us have sought to find the answers for at some point in our lives.
One of the greatest dilemmas that we as human beings suffer from is regarding the value of the human life. Is the human life worth anything? Do we as individuals matter in the grand scheme of things? On the one hand, narratives since the beginning of civilization have stressed on the importance of being a human being. Of course, the definition of a human being has undergone some changes since the old days. In the classical Greek society, for example, only adult males who were owners of property came within the purview of the definition of a human being. In this society, only they were considered as citizens and were allowed to possess rights, opportunities, civil duties, etc. Women, children, slaves, foreigners were not included in this category for a shockingly long time. When Christianity came to the forefront as a leading western religion, they united all of mankind as one- we are all human beings in the sense that we are all born in sin.
However, our self assurances of how unique it is to be human only further fuel our anxieties of being human, of life and of death. I have always found it exceptionally hard to believe that in the grand scheme of things we do matter. We live in a universe that is ever expanding, teeming with millions and billions of galaxies and star systems and things which even we don’t about yet. Did you know that earlier this year NASA had discovered nearly a 100 exoplanets (i.e. planets that are outside our own solar system) with their Keplar telescope? And you’re telling me that only we humans are special and unique in this entire universe? We barely even know about a quarter of what the universe is all about, and this just points towards how inconceivably tiny our daily existence is. The truth about life is that nothing matters. Life has no inherent set of meanings. There is no fixed purpose with which every human being is born.
But that is not to say that we do not have meaning or purpose in our lives. As the Absurdist philosophers have repeated time and again that life has no meaning, yet it is in our pursuit of this meaning that we may find and construct a meaning of our personal life, even if death still renders this activity ‘ultimately’ meaningless. The only way to get over this despair is to recognize and accept the transient nature of this process of finding meaning. It is only when we have embraced this absurd reality of life that we can truly have a shot at happiness.
The idea that life has no inherent meaning might sound daunting and depressing to many. I may come off as a cynic here, but believing in this absurdist philosophy has actually made me an even greater optimist than I previously used to be. You might feel like this lack of meaning makes life seem senseless and without any purpose. But that’s exactly where the beauty lies. You get to decide what meaning your life will hold for you. You get to decide which things and people are meaningful to you.
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The biggest truth about life is that it belongs to only you and nobody else. Of course, up until a certain age much of what we do is determined by our parents and guardians, but what we really make of it is entirely up- to us. Now, there are two ways how this idea functions. First, is that since you are the only one who is truly accountable for your actions, you cannot really blame anyone else or hold anyone accountable for the consequences of the mistakes that you make. As a child, whenever my mother found me procrastinating on my studies, she would tell me how if I did not do well, the only person who would suffer as a direct consequence of this would be me. Sure, my parents would feel bad for me and my teachers would probably try harder to guide me, but I would be the only one dealing with those consequences.
That is not to say that mistakes and failures are the end of your life. If anything, it is our mistakes that teach us the greatest, most important lessons in our lives. Whether we choose to use those failures as valuable lessons, is again, up to our perceptions of them. Mistakes are inevitable; if we choose to let them hold us back, that is exactly what they will do. But, if we use them as opportunities to learn, then they might just help you get ahead and grow.
The second thing that comes into play when you realize that your life is only yours is that you have the license to live it in whatever way you want to. You are the captain of your own ship, and you can go in whichever direction you want to go. Stop living your life for other people’s sake; if something makes you unhappy and miserable, it’s best to cut it out of your life. Yes, life is short, but it also the longest thing we will experience before we die. The least we can do is to ensure that it’s a good one as long as it lasts. We all spend considerable parts of our lives prioritizing those things which do not bring us real contentment, we run around fulfilling expectations of other people. Spreading happiness and joy in the lives of our loved ones is something we all want to do, but when it is at the cost of our own happiness, then maybe it is time to reconsider our actions.
Live life in such a way, that you do not have any regrets when you’re near the end of it. “What if?” is a question which is not just difficult to answer but also difficult to live with. This is the only life you have and since time travel isn’t a reality yet (such a shame), you don’t really have the option of going back in time and doing the same things differently. Do the things which truly make you happy. It is futile to continue to do things that make you unhappy presently, by rationalizing that they will make you happy someday. For all you know, you might be dead by then. For example, if you’re unhappy and miserable in your current relationship, then you owe it to yourself and your partner to either try to fix it in the present or to end it instead of stretching something that has long reached its climax. Or, if you’re stuck in a job that doesn’t satisfy you in any way, you owe it to yourself and your dreams, to pursue something that you truly like.
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Milan Kundera, in his book, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, talks about how there is no of finding out if what we’re doing in this life are the right things to do. We have no way of knowing if there is any better way of living our life, because we have no other lives to compare it to. It happens only once, and there is no way any individual can ever find out the exact correct way of living their life. What we can do, though, is living it in the way that is the most truthful to who we are and what we want. Don’t live your life trying to be someone you’re not or embracing ideals that you do not relate with. When I was a kid, I really enjoyed doing things that are traditionally defined as “girly”, my favorite color was pink. When I went to high school, I saw all my friends rejecting all these characteristically girly traits because they weren’t “cool” enough. Every girl who was my friend hated the color pink. For the longest time, I stopped doing all the typically girly things I liked. I even avoided wearing all my pink clothes. What I’m trying to say is that, forcing myself to fit into other people’s definitions of femininity made me miserable and unhappy. I tried to be someone I wasn’t but it never made me feel good about myself, because deep down I always knew I did not agree with this version of myself. And this applies to every single situation in our lives.
We might try to follow definitions and meanings that have been determined by other people, however, none but our own meanings will be sufficient to make us truly content with who we are. The truth about life is that it is only when we do what makes us happy that we can truly live it perfectly.
Featured image source: Pixabay, under Creative Commons License