Is Life Meaningless?


Aesop's ants: picture by Milo Winter, 1888-1956

Many people believe that nothing really matters, because after all, in a hundred years we will all be gone anyway. Yet, they struggle, they stress, and they attempt to accomplish goals as though whatever they achieve will be permanent. Why?

Once the Earth disappears, which is the eventual fate of all planets, even Shakespeare's works will be gone forever. What's the point of writing them in the first place? We know things don't last forever, but we attempt to achieve them anyway. We make excuses for living. We help friends. We care for our loved ones. We even do some things for ourselves, so we will be better prepared to help others in their meaningless journey through life. Why?

In the large scheme of things, our individual lives do not seem to matter at all. Of course, many of us believe that on a small scale we do matter, because we are important to the people close to us. We feel as though our lives are significant, because our children, parents, and friends think we are important to them. Of course, if their lives are also insignificant, does it really matter what we do for them?

Philosophers tell us that just living is enough. If we simply enjoy whatever time we have, that should be sufficient. However, for me, that philosophy only works if I resign myself to the idea that my individual life is meaningless. I have some trouble with that concept. I would like to be part of something much larger. Can I make a difference to the world? Can I change the course of history? Can I improve life for future generations? Probably not, but what does it matter anyway, because even on a larger scale, my accomplishments will come to an end – and become meaningless.

I usually avoid the religious approach. Too many questions remain unanswered. Faith gives people the connection they need to something larger, which, in turn, gives their lives meaning. Still, too much remains unanswered and unexplainable by man, which works for some, because it allows them to explain away everything not explainable, citing faith.

I remember sitting alone in my backyard years ago. I began to watch an ant colony at work. The ants were quite organized. They each had their roles. They worked hard on behalf of the whole colony. They systematically built a mound of sand, and carried food to the occupants inside.

I started thinking about the fact that these organized, fascinating creatures could not possibly understand Einstein's Theory of Relativity. Yet, their lack of intellectual capability did not render Einstein's theories incorrect. It simply meant the truth was beyond their capacity to understand. Could it be that the concept of God is reality, and we just can't understand it? Sure. That's faith.

But that is looking at life from the outside in, and as we face the struggles of life, some of us crave more assurance. We recognize that we can't understand what we can't understand, just like ants. Nevertheless, it would be nice to take some comfort, while we are alive, in the fact that there is individual meaning for our existence.

So here is the bottom line. It is possible to view life from the inside out. We can understand that. Our lives are connected to other lives, and we are meaningful to them, and they to us. Although we would prefer to view ourselves from the outside in as being permanently meaningful to something larger, we can't prove it. However, it makes no sense at all to tell ourselves it really does not matter if we exist, BECAUSE WE DO EXIST! My life is important to my family, because it is.

While many people insist on remaining depressed over what they cannot understand, I prefer to enjoy my life, simply because I have one. I prefer to remain happy every day of my life, simply because it is important to those around me. I refuse to spend my existence assuring myself that the outside world recognizes the meaning of my life. I prefer to take daily comfort in the fact that what is inside of me can be shared with those I love and admire, which gives me purpose. I find it absurd to believe that living the Golden Rule violates the will of any higher Being that exists. To me, that is meaningful.

When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced. Live your life so that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice.

Cherokee Adage



  1. This post bothers me, tho u knew it would!. So philosophers like to play it safe, eh? As far as depressed people having that attitude, maybe we should look at them as folks who aren't well?- mentally that is, so naturally they would continue to exist in that state.. I am w/you! If I felt awful or knew something wasn't right I would want to fix it and not just sit back and let things go by the way side!. For those who play it safe, I distance myself from them because they would keep me from trying and experiencing.

  2. KBF: Understood. The answers I suggest work for me, but far be it from me to suggest to others that I have the answers for them.

    People become depressed for many reasons, and I have no expertise in the area. What I do know is that some people are deeply troubled by the lack of understanding of their own lives.

    I believe the only way to remain happy and in turn make others happy is to become whole within oneself. There is somethng not right when people lash out at others because they are uncomfortable in their own skins.

  3. A great, thoughtful, positive post! We need more happiness and contentment in this world. I think people could learn a lot from you. :)

  4. Me too JJ. I don't think we have to understand. We are because we are. I am because I am. What's important to me is all that counts here and now: Family, my lifeline.

    When I was told I had cancer, it was a kick in the butt. Get off your ass and start doing what you can do while you're here. That's when I started painting, (my family members). My paintings are for my children, as was everything else. I was adopted.

    I'm not an atheist, nor am I an active practitioner. My philosophy is: if you believe, than it's so. If not, then no. Pretty simple. Whatever you need.

    The world is not going to cry when I die. That kind of thinking is egotistical. It just reads real well.

    I used to think I'd want The nursery rhyme Row,row your boat on my tombstone. Now I think: "Rage, rage against the night. I'd rather be in better dresses."

  5. Post Script:. Yes, life is meaningless, unless you're living it.

  6. This a fascinating post JJ. I have also watched ants and wondered if I am being watched from above in the same way by someone/thing else.

    I have suffered from depression on and off through my adult life. If only being happy was as easy as wanting to feel happy. It's not the case for me but it doesn't stop me from enjoying my life.

  7. Be happy in the moment.

    “You've gotta dance like there's nobody watching,
    Love like you'll never be hurt,
    Sing like there's nobody listening,
    And live like it's heaven on earth.”

    Life is what you make it.

    Have you ever seen the movie Enemy Mine? As in the movie, I'd like to think we all need to know where we came from. Just as Adam begat Cain and Abel, may each and everyone of us be important.

    I can only hope that my great great grandchildren will be travelers of the universe when it's time for Earth to die, and with them my significance will go.~Ames

  8. Phoenix: I am positive, and content. Thank you for your comments.

    L.W.Roth: I accept your Post Script. I prefer to emulate Hemingway's grace under pressure, rather than Thomas' rage.

    KB: Understood. I do not maintain that contemplation of the meaning of life is the cause of depression, just a cause for some people.

  9. Ames: I agree. I lost my father 15 years ago, and he has been with me ever since. His significance has blessed me with a happy life.

  10. What ever rocks our boat and keeps us afloat that's all that matters! I agree with your ending thoughts, but I also add, not just for my loved ones and friends, but for myself as well. I value living, and being alive is a wonderful thing....that's what drives me.....every moment of every day! I still feel that passion as when I was a little girl and how lucky it feels to wake up and have another day!

  11. Karen S. You got my vote. I think you are right on the money. We must look at ourselves as well.

  12. After all the hype over Higgs boson, I have decided that I will leave the wondering to the physicists, because if I think about it too much, I would surely go hopelessly insane.

    With all that is going on right now, I am living each day as it comes. I can understand the agony of those afflicted with chronic depression due to some chemical imbalance in the brain. It runs in my family, but thankfully I have been spared. I really feel blessed.

  13. Judie: For several millennia, people have worried that Democritus' theory about a particle of matter, much smaller than an atom, could actually be responsible for creating other matter. They reasoned that if this were true, it might negate the existence of a Supreme Being. Speculation for thousands of years held that people need the concept of a Supreme Being for their lives to be meaningful.

    With the discovery of the Higgs boson particle, a/k/a The God Particle, worries have again re-surfaced. It appears that Democritus might have been correct.

    I am not a scientist or physicist, and I do not argue religion. However, I argue that it makes no difference on two grounds. First, it could still take a Supreme Being to create the God particle. Second, individuals can determine whether their finite lives have meaning simply based on their love of others.

  14. Well said JJ! I love that quote you closed with :)
    Miriam@Meatless Meals For Meat Eaters

  15. A very nice post. Life is what we construct. And it is short, so we must get the best of it, as much as we can. Some are very unlucky because they are faced with tragedies that it is not up to them to overcome them but, fortunately, they are a minority of us.

  16. Thank you, JJ, for the intellectual stimulation to go with my Sunday morning coffee.

  17. Like the title of Pema Chodron's book counsels, I'm trying to be "Comfortable with Uncertainty." What I know for sure seems to diminish with age, so I am free to choose what has meaning for me.


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