The hour hand stuck 9 PM on the old wooden clock hanging above the entrance door to my parent’s Chinese restaurant. As if driven by instinct, one by one everyone stopped whatever they were doing. The waiters and my parents sprinted into the kitchen. Within a minute or two, groups of them came pouring out the large kitchen door holding metal insert pans filled with traditional Chinese food. The day was almost over and it was time for dinner.
Dinner at the restaurant felt like a tradition; we always ate at the same time. But that day was different. Why? Because it was the day I asked my parents for the meaning of life. As a 14 year old kid going through puberty, I was in a phase when I was questioning my existence. For days, weeks, and perhaps months I had been pondering about the meaning of life. I wanted to know the reason for my being, the absolute purpose for why I exist.
I was sad because I didn’t know the answer. I was desperate because I wanted to know the answer. But since I didn’t know the answer, I thought about asking my parents for one.
While we sat in our regular seats ready to enjoy our meals, I looked up nervously at my parents sitting across from me. They had a normal expression on their face, but I was panicking. My lips were dry and chapped from anticipation. I just didn’t know how to ask my parents about the meaning of life. So I waited and waited for the perfect opportunity, but I was getting increasingly impatient.
I eyed my parents with caution and blurted out:
The above translates directly to “people live for what?” Which essentially means “What do people live for?” or how I put it “What is the meaning of life?”
My parents looked up at me in a surprised manner.
“Why do you want to know the meaning of life?” My mom asked me in a Chinese dialect known as Fuzhounese.
“Because I just wanted to know.” I replied in a quick, stuttering tone.
My dad looked at me in a disappointed manner. He was making a puzzled face since I didn’t know the answer. He gazed into my eyes and spoke in a stern and convincing voice:
The above translates to “people live for themselves.”
When my dad said those words, a huge frown started to form around my mouth.
“That is not the meaning of life!” I complained to my dad. “My life’s meaning is about me? That sounds so freaking selfish! That can’t be the right answer?!”
My dad sighed and asked me in a concerned voice.
“So what is the answer then? What do you think is the meaning of life?”
“If I knew I wouldn’t ask you, dad.” I whined back at him ready to throw a fit. “I always thought that the meaning of life is about helping other people.”
“Well son, I already gave you an answer. Whatever you think is right, is right. Just know that I have my own definition to the meaning of life.”
After my dad spoke his mind, my parents went back to eating their food. But I was even more conflicted than ever. I didn’t like the answer. I didn’t like it one bit. It just sounded so selfish.
I always thought that life’s purpose is about selflessness. But I guess what I thought was the answer was in complete contrast with my parents’ interpretation.
Back then, the answer that I longed for was not the answer that I wanted to hear. But now a decade later, I can say with confidence that my parents were right. The meaning of life is about our personal dreams and well being. I was also right. The meaning of life is about service and helping others in need. In fact, the opposite is also true. My parents were wrong. I was also wrong. I guess what I wanted to say is that the meaning of life is up to personal interpretation. It varies; it fluctuates according to each different individual.
And this brings forth a topic discussed through many ages.
What if there is no observable, objective answer to the meaning of life? What if there is no meaning to life at all? And truthfully, from my personal observations, I think there is no objective meaning to life.
Meaninglessness to the Meaning of Life
The meaning of life has always been a highly debated subject. In fact, many religions and philosophies have varying interpretations of the meaning of life. Just take a look at the Wikipedia page. But to me, it is an awesome question to ask because it inspires me to think about what is truly important. After various mental debates about the objective meaning of life, I have come to a nihilistic conclusion that there is no right answer to the meaning of life.
If there’s anything that can explain how my thought process works in a genuine fashion, it would be a comic created by Pablo Stanley. The title of the comic is called Life and Donuts.
If you read the comic, the author tried to explain the purpose of living our lives using a donut analogy. I loved how he explained things and it made sense to me.
I am not here to claim anything about religion, atheism, or anything of that matter on the meaning of life. I am not here to talk about things outside of my physical realm of experience. I have no comments about heaven, hell, purgatory, or anything of that matter. I can’t do that because I know nothing of the astral realm even from all the stories I have read and heard.
However, I can comment on the meaning of life based upon my personal, physical observations of life. And here are some of the things I see and foretell:
Our lives’ meanings are ingrained only within the structure of our time being here in the physical realm. It is our conscious will to find ourselves, to give our lives meaning. However, what if we don’t have that will anymore? Does that mean the meaning of life merely cease to exist?
In about 120 years from now, most human beings who are currently alive will be gone, assuming that our maximum lifespan won’t change too much by then. So what is the meaning to our lives when the things we do, no matter the size of the impact, will be forgotten in time? The answer, defined in the most objective fashion, is as such: there is no meaning at all.
I don’t care if you are the next coming of Jesus Christ. In the passage of time, the past will all be forgotten. You may leave behind legacy as huge as some of the most influential people who have existed, but it cannot withstand the test of time. Eternity is just so vast and incomprehensible. Heck, we would be lucky if the human race still exist a hundred thousand years from now. We are not capable of comprehending and crossing the limitless boundaries of time and space.
I know this is a confusing way to think about things, but I like to think about all the living creatures and plants in the world. Does a tree questions its own existence? Does a dog worry about why he exists, while wagging his tail ever so fast? How about chimpanzees, who are the closest primates to human beings? How about a 3 year old toddler who can only speak some words? Of course not. None of them do because they lack the mental capacity to do so. It is not to say that ignorance is bliss, but rather that all problems exist only if we perceive them as problems.
And this is also why the meaning of life is trivial. It is a man-made problem. It is an artificial question that can only be answered with an artificial answer. If you seek to find an absolute answer that everyone can agree upon to the meaning of life, you will never find it.
So where can you find your personal meaning to life? The answer is simple: make one up.
The Meaning of Life is up to Choice
I remember for the longest time that I was a morose teenager. I wanted to find answers that cannot be questioned in any ways. I wanted answers that is universal and timeless just like the laws of gravity that applies to all masses in the universe. I needed the real meaning because I sought after clarity and peace of mind. Without clarity to the meaning of my life, the only thing I saw was meaninglessness. And life without meaning, to me at the time, was no different than living my life close to death, boredom, and struggle.
After years of intensive pondering on the metaphysics, I have found the sad truth that there are no real answers. At first I did not accept that truth. It was simply unfathomable to me that something so important can have no meaning at all. So I denied every aspect of it. The end result of the act blinded me from seeing the real issues at hand. I was only making myself suffer from something self made. What I had to do and needed to do was surrender myself to that fact. Otherwise, I was only leading my mind towards self annihilation. Instead now I focus on improving my personal well-being.
I accepted the truth as it is and started to look for my own meaning of life. By taking that simple step, I have taken responsibility for my own problems. And slowly, but steadily the solution naturally came to me. The salvation that I sought after was only found in the midst of my conscious mind because I already knew the answer. I realized that deep down inside, I just didn’t have the courage to accept things as they are. But now I have and the result of my discovery is similar to existentialism.
Existentialism is based upon the philosophy that each individual contributes to his or her own meaning to life. We live in a world where our reality revolves around our subjective views. Everyone is different. No one is the same. Thus, isn’t it natural that all our meanings of life are different from each other? I find it incredibly encouraging to think that anyone can formulate his own meaning of life based upon his own values and beliefs. There are limitless potentials for personal growth. Think about it.
Instead of trying to make sense of certain beliefs that differ from yours, why not look deeply into yourself for an answer? We have the capacity of thought; the capabilities to think about these things in an intelligent and responsible manner.
The funny thing about this thought pattern of mine is that there actually exists a philosophical theory known as existential nihilism. The idea is practically the same.
I will demonstrate how this process works by sharing my first motto to the meaning of life!
Living life day by day
Smiling, laughing all the way.
This version to my meaning of life was based around happiness. I find it convenient to judge the quality of my life using my happiness as a guide. However, I now realize something very important. We live in a world where duality exists. I wouldn’t know what happiness is without experiencing sadness. The state of being happy will always be temporary, just as my existence to life. But it is a state of being that is also defined by my choice. I can always be happy if I choose to be happy, and nothing can stop me from realizing that goal.
Another lesson I learned is that nothing needs to be fixed. Since my meaning of life is up to choice, then it is something that can change with time. It doesn’t have to be something I check off on a to-do list once and for all. It can be something that is ever-growing and evolving.
If you noticed anything, my current meaning of live is on my About page.
Live life happily and healthily, cultivate a universal gratitude towards life, provoke
conscious growth, love unconditionally, share universal truths and stories, and have fun.
The possibilities are endless. In fact, I can improve my motto again by simply incorporating other important aspects of my life. For example, I can include things such as improving family ties, mastering my skills to genius levels, contributing my time and money towards charitable causes, or a combination of them all.
In fact, my meaning of life can also be about misery, death, and struggle. But needless to say, that is not a smart choice. However, it is still a possibility. There are no right and wrong answers, just ones that you can come up with.
You cannot prove any of the answers right or wrong. How can you? It is impossible to falsify or correct someone else’s meaning of life because your perception and interpretation is different from others. There is no need to fight and cause pain just because someone view his or her meaning of life differently from yours. This is important. Work on your own well-being because that is the only one you have control over. No one can take away something that is dependent on your conscious will.
In my closing statement, I would like to offer a call to action:
Within our human nature we have the desire to find meanings to our lives. We search. We embark on a spiritual journey to satisfy our pervasive need to find ourselves. The path may differ from one person to another, but nonetheless it will be adventurous and mind-wracking. I implore you to be gentle with yourself and take all the time you need to find your meaning to life. And if you do find it, feel free to share it. You never know if you’ll inspire someone else to find his.
Good luck, and have fun.