This satirical commentary explores the different ways in which people view the meaning of life, and provides a rundown of one pessimist’s view of what it really means to live in this universe.
Illustration by Liamarie Hammerly (IG: @soymaxxing)
Wait, what’s that?
That relentless buzzing…
Turns out it’s not a bumble bee. Unlike the bee, this buzzing can’t be shooed away by frantic hand movements.
In fact, this buzzing never leaves us alone. It taunts and persuades in the background, telling us that we mustn’t ignore its call. It lifts us up when we think we have it, and crushes us down when we don’t. What is it? Well, it’s the meaning of life, of course! Is the answer found through certain religious beliefs? Maybe even through science? Or could the answer really just be 42?
It all started about 13.7 billion years ago when the universe came to be. Unfortunately, that’s a bit far back, and I’m not allowed to make this piece too long or else you’ll get bored and stop reading. So instead, I’ll begin a little later.
It all started when God created life. Wait… what?
Yes, it can get a little confusing now with so much knowledge available at the touch of a button. Was it God? Was it The Big Bang? Whether you are religious, agnostic, atheist, or haven’t got a single clue, we all have different ideas of how life came to be. It’s these fundamental beliefs we hold that form the basis for what we see as the meaning of our life.
Let’s have a closer look at these.
Religion is an important part of many people’s lives all over the world. There’s no doubt it has had a huge influence on how we view life and its meaning. Some secular people even agree with certain theologians' arguments that without God, life would have no meaning. Why is this? Well, many claim that for so many to believe in a higher entity, religion and one’s sense of meaning must be psychologically connected.
In 2021, a study found that theists (those who believe in the existence of at least one deity) felt not just a higher presence of and need for meaning, but seemed not to need to search very hard to find it. Atheists, in contrast, didn’t have as strong a sense of meaning in life, or a large desire to need it.
Another study from 2022 concerning atheists views on the meaning of life after being reminded of death remarks, ‘According to terror management theory, humans rely on meaningful and permanence-promising cultural worldviews, like religion, to manage morality concerns.’ This interesting insight tells us that in the face of death, one will turn to something like religion for support and guidance. The fear of impermanence, or eventually dying, can be directly combatted through religious views, such as reincarnation or the afterlife.
On the other hand, many secular people also find other ways to deal with this. Without a deity there to help provide meaning, they must construct their own ideas about life. Tending towards more scientific or philosophical explanations for life, some may be more biological, surrounding the science of living organisms, while others may be more ontological, encompassing abstract ideas.
A journal from 2012 titled ‘Explaining life’ looked at the different ways people have to explain life and its meaning. In terms of science, they concluded that ‘Science alone cannot tell us anything about the meaning or value of life, nor can it explain the subjective perception of our own lives.’ (962) You see, science knows that there isn't one overarching meaning to life as we know it. Science knows that there is not one answer for why we are here, living and breathing. The problem with science is that it cannot take into consideration every single person's experiences and perspectives, and this fatal flaw makes it impossible for science to know our own personal goals and ways of looking at the world.
This means, then, that the meaning of life is irrevocably down to our own personal opinion. Now I’m not comparing it to one's preference of season or favourite colour, but in a way we all construct ideas that not only create who we are as a person, but also how we navigate the world around us.
If the meaning of life is so personal, then I’m going to give you special insight into one single pessimist's views on the meaning of life. And remember, this is one opinion of eight billion. Take it with a grain of salt.
Nothing actually matters in the grand scheme of things, so you might as well go rogue and break a few things… just kidding! Please don’t do that. But seriously, the way of the world is so much larger than you. Stop putting pressure on yourself to live up to certain expectations. Stop getting caught up in what you should be doing and focus on what you want to do. Are you really going to be concerned, lying on your deathbed, that you wore that absolutely hideous jumper that you loved to work one day, or that you ran to the shops in your dog-printed pyjamas to get milk because you’re an idiot and forgot to buy it the day before? No, I think not. No one else cares anyway.
Just because nothing really matters, doesn’t mean you can go around talking smack about everyone. Be kind. You’ll find yourself on your own pretty quickly if you aren’t, and that's no way to live. The pressures we and others place on ourselves in life are ultimately constructs and do not matter, but that does not mean we should forget that everyone around us holds the same worth, regardless of their circumstances. They have simply had different experiences and hold different opinions and perspectives. Our own experiences, opinions and perspectives can make it difficult for us to see from theirs sometimes, which is why it's so important to always be kind. You never know what someone has gone through, or what they’re going through as we speak.
Let go of vanity. Humans can be incredibly vain, and judge those who aren’t. It’s a cruel system that forces us to conform with society’s expectations. Its why aesthetics are everything, it's why there are levels in dating (you may be tempted to say they’re below your level, but you also might have just dismissed the one person you’d have really clicked with), and its why women can be so cruel to each other.
Surround yourself with people you love and who love you back. It doesn’t matter if that is one person or more than five, but the people you are around not only impact your mental health but also affect how you act and treat others. It's great and all having loads of friends, but which one of those would you really be able to open up to when you’re having a hard time? And which one of those would really stick around? Keep that person extra close.
Most importantly, find your calling. It doesn’t matter what job you have or how much money you might earn; if you don’t also do what satisfies your soul, then what are you really living for? Do you like helping people? How do you like helping people? By donating to charities and shelters? Being there for your friends? Listening to people when they’re struggling? Leading key research into cures for diseases? Or maybe instead you need a creative outlet? Go for it! Try it as a job, or try self-employment, or simply try it as a hobby - many of us know how difficult it is to succeed in the creative industry. Not to mention how soul-sucking it can be doing something we love as a full-time job. Sometimes you just want to enjoy it in your own time. The most important thing to remember is that whatever your calling is, it's vital you find it and keep it close to you. Without it, life becomes rather dull.
And finally, when someone asks you what the meaning of life might be, the safest answer will always be 42. No one can argue with that, not even you.