The Purpose and Meaning of Life
This is an excerpt from Everything Is Infinite: Do Nothing. Get Everything.
The purpose of life is life itself. That phrase might sound meaningless, but hear me out.
Biologically, physically, the purpose of life is life itself. That should be self-evident. The purpose of all life is to breed and create more life.
But I realize that’s not what we’re talking about. Certainly having children can give your life purpose, but not everyone can have children, and not everyone wants children. Even those who do have children will eventually lose that purpose when their kids become independent adults. Would we ever want to return to the days when people died in their early 40s because their biological purpose was over?
Ummmm, no. There must be something else.
What is the purpose of life psychologically, emotionally, dare I say spiritually? Again, the purpose of life is life itself.
In fact, the purpose of all psychological things, all emotional things, all spiritual things, are those things themselves.
Take music. What is the purpose of music? The purpose of music is the music itself. You’re not listening to a song because you’re trying to gain something else. You’re certainly not trying to get to the end of the song. The entire point of listening to music -- its purpose -- is the listening. The point of music is to enjoy the music, to let the music swing your emotions, to feel the music. That’s all, and that’s more than enough.
Why watch a movie? Again, the purpose of the movie is the movie itself. You want to enjoy the movie, maybe feel something you don’t always feel strongly in your everyday life, maybe learn something. But you can only do that if you immerse yourself in the movie. It won’t do any of those things if you spend the entire film trying to analyze the “real” purpose of the movie. The purpose of the film is the film itself.
Same goes for any human endeavor. Why paint? Why sing? Why climb a mountain? The purpose can only be found in the full embrace of any human activity.
Why make love? Is it a coincidence that one of the most thrilling things we can do in our human bodies is exactly that which creates more life? Strange coincidence. It’s almost as if we are meant to enjoy ourselves or something.
Just one more and then I will shut up. Why play games? Again, the purpose of a game is the game itself. The enjoyment of the game is its own reward.
If you are a child you might think the purpose is to win, and throw a short tantrum if you lose, but if you are slightly more mature you will understand that the joy of playing is its own reward. You might even let a child win because it makes you so happy to see the excitement on that child’s face. You have learned that winning and losing are irrelevant. The purpose of the game is the game itself.
Were you ever alone as a child and so bored that you tried to play both sides of the checkerboard? Or both hands of a game of cards? It’s not fun, because you know exactly what moves you will make. So you’re stuck with boring old solitaire.
And maybe that’s God, stuck alone in the entire infinite universe with no one to play with. No surprises. No excitement. It knows everything so it can’t even get a good card game going. Nothing but solitaire for all eternity.
So instead, it plays the most exciting game of all. The most elaborate infinite game of hide and seek imaginable. It splits itself into billions and trillions of separate beings, each born with the illusion that they are separate, distinct individuals, and it pretends not to be God for as long as the dream lasts.
For what purpose? For joy, for growth, for creation, for wisdom, for love. For life itself. The purpose of life is life itself.
The Meaning of Life
If the purpose of life is life itself it becomes easy to argue that this outlook makes everything meaningless. If the purpose of life is life itself why bother trying to do anything other than fulfill the most hedonistic urges a person could possibly have?
Well, fine. Do that. Many people have done exactly that. And they all find out, in the end, that it’s an empty existence. Because I guess it isn’t that you want life to have some purpose, but that you want life to have meaning.
And here we go with more paradox. Life is meaningless. But your life doesn’t have to be. Because meaning is up to you. As with everything else in life, you are free to choose whatever you want. You are the person who gives meaning to your life.
So how to find meaning? I don’t want to pretend that I know anything that is ultimately true (despite the entire premise of this book), but let me give you this advice:
Meaning can come from anything that you enjoy. That which makes you happy gives your life meaning. And if that’s not concrete enough for you, try this:
Help somebody. Or do something -- anything -- that will improve the lives of people near you. Because you will always need help from people who are in a position to help you. So you should always help people who you are in the position to help. And unless you are the weakest person on the entire planet, there is always someone you can help. That’s meaningful.
Beyond that, life is simply about creating. Your journey to rediscovering the power of the universe at your disposal is all about learning how to use that power to create the life you think you want. The true central purpose and meaning of life is always creation. Decide what kind of life you wish to lead, decide what type of person you wish to be, and then create that.
But until you learn that, none of those other answers will satisfy you, because maybe you are searching for something -- meaning -- that is yet another outer world trinket that you hope will fulfill you. Maybe the entire premise of seeking meaning (for that matter, seeking anything) is more misplaced mental energy.
Maybe the entire meaning of life is simply to marvel at the bizarre miracle you find yourself in.
And the fact that you share this rock -- share life itself -- with billions of other people who all share the same existential angst is even more mind-blowingly strange. It’s so intensely bizarre that it becomes -- with the proper perspective -- endlessly fascinating.
And despite all that you still choose to focus on what’s lacking in your life. Even if it’s something as amorphous and ambiguous as the word “meaning”. I say don’t do that. Just don’t. It’s pointless. It’s meaningless.
Instead, think of it this way:
Imagine that you have written, directed, and edited the most amazing movie ever made. It has it all: an excellent story, fascinating characters, shocking twists, hilarious jokes, incredibly moving emotional moments, and the most satisfying ending in the entire history of film-making.
Millions upon millions of people love this movie. They are moved beyond words by its brilliance. Everyone agrees that watching your film is one of the most satisfying experiences of their lives.
There is only one person who is not touched in the same way: you, the creator of this movie.
Why? Because you were there at every step along the way. You know what’s going to happen, so there are no surprises. The jokes aren’t funny because you know they are coming. The twists aren’t shocking. The conflicts of the characters don’t move you because you know exactly how they will be resolved. And the ending -- the one that everyone agrees is the best ending ever written -- well, needless to say, you saw that ending coming from a mile away.
Of course you will take pride in your accomplishment, you will take tremendous joy in what you have created for people, but you will never be able to experience the same wonder as everyone else.
When you watch your own movie, all you can think of is the years of blood, sweat, and tears needed to make it happen. You think of all the things you could have done differently. You think of the compromises you were forced into by studio execs who didn’t share your vision. You think of the actors who didn’t quite pull off what you wanted.
Plus, you’ve seen every scene a hundred times in editing. There simply isn’t any way to remove yourself from the entirety of the experience. There’s no way to look at your film with fresh eyes.
The only way you could ever enjoy your own movie would be to wipe your memory of everything that had to do with the making of the film. Ideally, you wouldn’t even want to know anything at all about the crazy amounts of hard work necessary to create the illusionary magic of movies.
You would want to enter the theatre with absolutely no knowledge at all about anything that is about to unfold.
Now, if you’ve read this book so far you know where I’m going with this. Imagine that you created the entire planet and all the billions of its human inhabitants. Imagine that you know everything involved in the creation of this stupefying story we call life. How are you going to truly enjoy that?
With fresh eyes. By entering the theatre of life without any knowledge whatsoever about what’s about to unfold, or about how or why life exists.
And here you are.
Perhaps the real reason you are here is simply to marvel at the miracle of this tiny jewel of a planet hurtling through the incomprehensible vastness of space.
To enjoy it. To laugh at every joke. To cry at every misfortune. To cheer for the characters you love and to hang on tight while you are tossed through the ups and downs of existence. And finally, hopefully, to smile contently as it comes to an end.
And then you might say to all the infinite beings in the universe, “Wow, that was brilliant. You should go experience life on Earth. That planet deserves an Oscar.”
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