Meaning is a bag of stones, waiting for us to put it down. Waiting for us to put down the load of expectations, of aspirations, of better times ahead.
The load of always subordinating the present moment to a hypothetical future one. We have to set it down if we want to keep on going.
After all, the best way to collect gems is with an empty backpack.
We’re born and we breathe in for the first time. We die with one last breathe out. In between these two moments, all we really have is our consciousness. A state of consciousness that we want to be a certain way. We have a set of requirements that we’re hoping to meet to a certain extent in order to regard our lives as meaningful.
What are these requirements? To answer this question is to find your personal meaning.
We’re looking for something, a feeling, a certain state of consciousness, a return. But what is often ignored is that one has to invest in order to get a return.
If meaning is the yield, the profit, the return, the question is in what we should invest to attain it. The answer lies in the only two currencies we have as humans, time and attention. We get to SPEND time and PAY attention.
The meaningful life is the return, the reward for investing your time and attention well.
Meaning is more important than happiness. Why? Because happiness is what we’re willing to sacrifice for something truly meaningful.
A healthy will to power should take the form of a will to responsibility.
What follows is that with great responsibility comes great power.
The most important thing about the nature of purpose to understand is that it is not, as often presented by religion, top-down. It is bottom-up, that is, you are free to create it.
I do not believe in the concept of a soul. I believe in consciousness, but that is not dependant on my belief in it. I couldn’t escape it if I tried, and boy have I tried.
You can live a miserable life for yourself and spread misery to others (lose lose)
You can live a great life for yourself and spread misery to others (win lose)
You can live a miserable life for yourself and be great to others (lose win)
Or can live a great life for yourself and be great to others. (Win win, aka the meaningful life)
Needless to say, it is advisable to strive after the latter, win-win way of living your life.
When I was 19, I chose not to kill myself. And with this, I don’t mean that I was suicidal. Not at all.
Instead, I realized that if we have the option to end our lives, we also have the option to choose to live fully. Just because someone is alive, doesn’t mean this person has deliberately, consciously chosen to make the most of this one life we can be sure of having. As soon as you’re born, living is the standard option, the option box that is checked by default.
So when I was 19, I chose to live fully and wanted to figure out what makes life most worth living. This is what led me to positive psychology.
But even though positive psychology provides us with a scientific approach to what makes life most worth living, it doesn’t provide us with a philosophical motivation for actually living. This is what led me to do research meaning.
In my opinion, the the fundamental question around meaning is: “Why to live?”
Only when this question has been answered in a life-affirming way can we ask the second most important question, namely “How to live?”
“How to live a meaningful life?”
This question is only valid because of life’s inherent finitude. I would argue that the more aware you are of this finitude, the more urgency you will feel to spend your time well. This is what the terror management theorists argue as well and so does research into people who’ve had a near-death experience.
So if you find yourself wasting a lot of time, maybe it would be a good idea to meditate on your own death (or, slightly more extreme, your own funeral or even decomposition) every once in a while. It’s one of the most powerful interventions that I know of and one that I can personally attest to the benefits to.
What the existentialists did is lay the worst facts about our human predicament out on the table so we can look at them, get accustomed to them, and transcend them.
Meaning is not real because it contains certain qualities that seem to come from outside of ourselves, it contains these qualities precisely because it is believed in as real.