Have you ever stopped to consider what life is?
All living beings are the continuation of a chemical reaction that keeps fueling itself which started about 3,7 billion years ago on a planet revolving just one of the billions of stars in the universe. You and me are no different. The fact that part of us consists of the most complex structure in the known universe, the human brain, and are able to be conscious of our existence doesn’t change the fact of what we ultimately are. A super complex structure with thoughts and feelings, but a chemical reaction nonetheless.
It always makes me chuckle when people claim that chemicals, in general, are bad since the people who say so are a chemical reaction itself and often promoting an organic diet which consists of the results of one of the oldest chemical reactions on earth since fruit and vegetables are the result of the same chemical reaction we emerged from.
Keeping in mind that we are just a chemical reaction can help put things in perspective a bit if you ever feel overwhelmed or are tempted to take life too serious. But does this make life less valuable? Not at all. To change the perspective a bit you could consider the following as well which is equally true: We are a part of the universe that is able to observe and experience itself, which is pretty cool. If we didn’t exist no one would ever notice the universe existed at all. Our existence makes the entire universe more meaningful. Without anyone noticing it being there it would be completely pointless.
It’s good to have options and be able to choose. However, when we are presented with too much options all at once we often end up with choice paralysis leading us to not making a choice at all (which is a choice itself). Since it’s up to us to decide what we make of our lives we can face the same issue when trying to come up with an answer to the most important question in our lives. What is it I’m going to do with my life?
At least you don’t have to worry about missing out on the thing you were supposed to be doing since there is no such thing. This doesn’t make it easier. Every time we decide to do one thing it means we are not doing a million other possible things. Economist refer to these options we have to miss out on as alternative costs. These alternative costs playing in the back in our mind can be the cause of the choice paralysis many of us experience when we can’t decide what it is we really want to do with our lives.
It’s not hard to come up with dozens if not hundreds of things you could do with your life. Even if you limit yourself to goals that are realistic in a reasonable short time span, with your current skills and knowledge, it can still be a daunting task to decide what to do. And with deciding I don’t mean just saying to yourself that you want to accomplish something, but actually taking action to achieve that which you intent to do (more on this here).
The feeling of existential angst that occurs when we suddenly realize that there is no predefined reason for us to be here may very well be a manifestation of choice paralysis. Once we realize there is nothing we have to do, except dealing with the consequences of our actions, we also realize there isn’t one right answer to the question of what we are supposed to do. This takes away the possibility of finding the one “right” answer, something we are destined to do, there is no such thing. So now there isn’t just one right answer, instead there are an infinite number of answers and we have to decide which ones to go for. This can be a daunting task which explains why so many people go through life settling for a mediocre path of choices they more or less stumbled into. In the face of a limitless amount of options they froze and ended up going for the default option.
However, finding an answer to the question about our reasons to exist is important in order to live a meaningful fulfilling life. Giving up on it because it’s a difficult question is not a very appealing option. As long as we don’t decide what we want to do with our lives we are just wondering about aimlessly, waiting for the time to pass until we die. So what can we do about this?
In the end it’s about finding something that excites you and just going for it. It can help to start with setting smaller goals if you are still fuzzy about what big dreams you want to realize. The important thing is to actually take action and do something. And if you do have a big dream, do yourself a favor and give it your all.
I’m not saying it’s easy to decide what you want to do with your life, far from it, no matter how smart you are. Being smart can even work against you since it opens up even more possibilities. Nonetheless we’ll have to keep looking for an answer. It’s not about having to do anything, it’s about wanting to do certain things. It’s your life, are you going to settle for the default settings or are you making something worthwhile of it?
Even though the idea of just living day by day and just enjoying yourself sounds great it is not that easy in practice. You can’t live without regard of the future and really live the life of your dreams. To do what you want you need to be able to do so. This will require certain skills and know-how which take time and effort to acquire. We need to use our time today to develop ourselves so that tomorrow we can do what we could not do yet today.
Bigger goals take time to work towards; they aren’t achieved in a day. Plus it’s hard to do whatever you want if you are stuck at a job for 40 hours a week and out of energy by the time you get home at the end of the day.
The whole idea behind living day by day revolves around the freedom to do what you want and live a fulfilling life. It’s a nice ideal and one that can be realized. We can do what we want with our lives, but we will need to put in time, effort, and planning to do so.
It’s about the timing. You can do it, but not if you start with it. If you do so you are severely limited in the choices you can make. Yes you can live day by day as a student but you won’t be one forever. By the time you graduate you’ll need to pay your rent or mortgage. You can do so with a full time job you can tolerate as well but you only have a limited amount of money and time to play with.
In order to achieve your dreams you need to acquire the required skills and know-how. If you just go on from day to day without any thought for the future you’ll never get to a point where you are able to do what you really want to do with your life.
In order to really be free to do what we want to do with our lives we have to set our goals and overcome the challenges. The more we study and train, the more obstacles we conquer, and the stronger we get, the more freedom we gain.
Since we only have one life we should try to avoid reckless behavior; if something goes horribly wrong we will have to live with the consequences for the rest of our life. However, we should not play it too safe either. One thing crueler than a fully lived life cut short is a long dreadful one that is wasted away because the person is playing it too safe. We have to find the balance between recklessness and cowardice.
Calculated risk is the key. Yes we can jump out of airplanes and snowboard down mountains, but we should be prepared when we do so. Before we hit the big slopes we need to practice going down little hills and the first time we jump out of an airplane we jump in tandem with an experienced parachutist. There is always some risk involved but that’s just part of life. However, to go down the biggest mountain you can find the first time you ever stand on a snowboard is just plain recklessness.
A choice is not made until acted upon. It’s one thing to decide to climb a mountain but another thing to actually prepare for it and do it. The real choices you make are your actions, whether you are aware of it or not. If you decide to chase a certain goal but end up never taking the appropriate steps to achieve it or give up along the way you have chosen through your actions not to pursue the goal.
Not choosing is a choice in itself. When you don’t consciously make a choice someone or something else will. Of course you are free to decide to let others or the circumstances make the choices for you and see where it gets you. However, when you do so, it doesn’t excuse you from the responsibility over your live. If you choose to let other people and circumstances make the choices for you, you have to accept the consequences of this. You can’t blame others or the circumstances if things don’t end up like you wanted. It was your choice not to take control in the first place. In order to really be free to shape our destiny you first need to commit to making your own choices. This means accepting full responsibility for your choices, both those you made and failed to make.
You are responsible for everything you do and what happens to you simply because you have to live with the consequences. Even when something out of your control happens to you and gets in the way of your plans you are the one responsible for dealing with it. This because it is your life and the unexpected obstacle towards reaching your goals affects you. You can ask for help but you still need to take the initiative.
Life isn’t fair, yet not unfair either. Is it fair the person across the street wins the lottery but you don’t? No. Is it unfair? No, it’s just a matter of chance. The same goes for our fate. However, what we do with what we’ve been born with and the situations we are presented with is up to us.
Fate is a lottery. The universe is as it is, not as we wish. We can close our eyes to this but it won’t make the bad things just disappear. Yes shit happens, to both good and bad people. However this doesn’t mean we have to accept the world to stay the way it is. Things like the laws of nature are just what they are, but we can make a change in the world within the limits put on us by nature.
The universe wasn’t made for us. If anything it’s the other way around. We are a way for the universe to know and experience itself. The universe is a wonderful thing but largely inhospitable to life. Life did emerge and flourish on this planet but this despite rather than thanks to the way the universe is. We are just here, neither wanted nor unwanted by the universe. It’s oblivious to us, except through the eyes of other people.
Life just wants to keep on surviving; it takes on different forms that compete with each other, in this way trying to outwit fate. The way this happens does not always fit in our human concept of fair yet that’s just how it is. We could get mad and complain about how unfair life is or focus on just dealing with it in the best way we can.
Life can been seen as a game where you are thrown into existence at a random time in a random place where the only objective is to survive and to explore the world. It has both a start and an end. What you do in between is up to you.
Games (including life) are unpleasant when you suck at it. You keep trying but you just can’t seem to do what you want. If this is the case you just need to become better at it. Study and practice more. Games get boring when you get too good at them and the challenge is gone. When this happens set your goals higher.
During our lifetime we fluctuate between these states of frustration and boredom. That’s just life. We get bored so we set higher goals. These higher goals require us to push ourselves which causes frustration of not being able to do it, followed by the sense of accomplishment when we finally master the required skills. After that we get so good at it that we get bored again so we set the next goal even higher. Life is one big progression; it just keeps going until you die. There is no point of final destination. It’s about the journey; you never arrive at a true end point. If you would there would be no point in continuing to live.
At school, some fellow students gave a presentation in which they discussed a questionable company of which the CEO was accused of being a cult leader and only employing cult members. The personnel for the company allegedly worked almost 80 hours a week for this person for a minimum wage without much complaining (except for the people who quit the cult/company). I wondered how this CEO got his people to sacrifice their time and energy to work so much unpaid overtime. Why do people choose to join such a “company”? I later realized that this company/ cult clearly gave these people something in return which they valued higher than mere money or even their precious time and energy. Something that all people deep down crave for, and is the driving motivation behind the choices people make and what they do. Joining this group gave them something to dedicate their life to. It gave them a purpose.
Life itself is without any meaning, however this doesn’t mean life has to be meaningless. We humans give meaning to actions and things. The definition of meaningful is something that serves a desirable goal/ purpose. We often lack the motivation to do certain things because we don’t see the point in it, it lacks a desirable goal. The same goes for life; a meaningful life is a life with a desirable goal/ purpose. This ability to give meaning to actions is both a blessing as a curse. By finding a worthwhile higher life goal we can achieve great things, however it is also a serious security hazard in our system.
All people want to live meaningful lives deep down. No one likes to waste away their lives, especially since this is the only one we have. We are hardwired to find and pursue a higher life goal. However as long as we haven’t filled in this slot ourselves by choosing our own goals we are open to being hijacked. People crave this gap to be filled, when this gap is not filled by a person’s own ambitions and dreams it is easy for others to offer to fill it. They offer people a purpose; this is how cults can get people to sacrifice themselves for the benefit of the cult leader. By hijacking the “Life goal/purpose slot” in a person’s mind, people with bad intentions can hijack their lives by getting them to sacrifice their time and energy and in some cases even wealth for the sake of the cult leader’s goal. Cult leaders don’t even have to force people, people make these decisions themselves because their choices are guided by the higher goal that makes life meaningful.
So how do we protect ourselves from this happening to us? It is really simple; make sure you are the one who fills the gap. Put your priorities straight and find out what dreams and goals you want to achieve so your choices and actions are in the benefit of you. Make sure you are the one who controls your life. This purpose is the ultimate control center. If you don’t take control over it, other people can do it.
To quickly come back to the ethical part of this all. Is it really this bad that this CEO got his people to work 80 hours a week for a minimum wage? It depends, he is fulfilling a deep craving in those people and it gives them some sense of self-worth and being productive, making them feel they are not wasting their lives away. However, it is bad to use these mechanics to your advantage at the costs of those you control in this way. By keeping this gap filled you prevent people from filling it with their own goals and you get them to sacrifice their precious lives. This is in my opinion unethical. The same goes for getting people to fill the gap with serving some higher being which may or may not exist.
To conclude: Make sure that no one can hijack your life by finding your own higher goals to pursue.
Imagine I told you that I have an old Neighbor called Jack. Jack is a powerful and rich man who’s personality and life is a bit of a mystery. However I do know this: If you work for him for a year, following his specific instructions which only take about a few hours a week he’ll reward you with a million euros.
Since his ways are mysterious the instructions to follow may sound a bit weird. They require you to wear a green t-shirt at all time and high-five anyone you meet who is named Jack. He also forbids you to eat spaghetti (all other forms of pasta are fine). Furthermore every week he asks you to send him an email about what you like about him.
Now, unfortunately you can’t contact Jack directly, he won’t answer the emails and you can’t meet him in person since no one knows exactly where he is at any given time. However, if you strictly follow the instructions for a full year you will get a million euro. Are you in?
Now it has to be said that there are people claiming to know Jack better and say that his instructions differ slightly. According to some the shirt color has to be orange. Another group claims that instead of not eating spaghetti you should only eat that specific food. But those people are of course wrong, I know Jack better. I have a special relation with him since he’s my old neighbor. I never actually spoke with him face to face since he’s so reclusive and mysterious, plus due to some unfortunate spaghetti incidents I haven’t received the million euros yet. But I know I’m right. I read the notes directly dictated by Jack and knowing him they accurately represent him.
So are you in?
Now you might have some questions. Is this for real? Does this jack even exist? But proving that Jack exists is not enough. You also would like to know whether the reward of a million euros is really given to those following his instructions. Even with those 2 things confirmed you need to be sure the instructions are indeed accurate. The only way to do so is to first find Jack and contact him directly. Unfortunately many people have tried but no one has exceeded in doing this yet. Maybe it would be better to live under the assumption that Jack doesn’t exist or that we at least should avoid making any assumptions of what he wants from us and go on and live our own life.
In this blog I have stressed the importance of goals quite a bit. As a reader you might wonder what the goals and dreams are that drive the person behind these articles.
In my post It’s not over until you give up or you are dead I highlighted one of them: Studying abroad, which has been one of my goals since forever. Now I’m approaching the completion of this goal. Another list item I have been able to cross of is writing a book: The Art of Positive Laziness.
Currently I have a bunch of goals which I’m working towards. Since it’s as much about the journey as the destination I’ve set the bar quite high. This ensures that getting there will keep me busy for a while as well as forcing me to keep developing myself to eventually reach them.
Instead of having just a bucket-list I have two separate lists. One which I simply call “The List” consists of my big overarching goals. Next to that I have a bucket-list with various other things I’d like to do one day.
Studying abroad and writing a book are the first items on “The List” which I have so far been able to cross off. Some of the other items on the list are the following:
1. Create my personal philosophic framework of life (the articles on this blog are part of the journey towards this.)
2. Create something that +1 million people use. (and become a millionaire as a result)
3. See the earth from outer space as a space tourist.
These are some of the bigger goals. They might look far fetched and they are certainly out of reach for me now. But as long as I keep developing myself I can get one step closer each day. Since life is just a game anyway, one where we have to make our existence meaningful, we might as well aim for the stars and see how much we can get out of it.
For me life is one big experiment to see how far I can get. Even if I don’t achieve all my goals at least I won’t have to ask myself what if I had only … At least I will have given it a serious try.
Running away from our responsibilities and reality by switching of our minds, either by resorting to drugs and alcohol or by just doing what you’re told and not think too much, is a curious phenomena.
For a long time in history this behavior made sense. If you were slaving away as a factory worker in the 19th century, just making enough to survive, you had good reasons to want to forget about the harsh reality. Especially if your only alternative to carrying on this though life is starvation. Even now, if you don’t live the kind of life you really want to, it makes intuitive sense to try to forget about it.
However, nowadays we have a choice. When we run away from responsibility we give away control. The more we avoid it the less control over our lives we have. In effect it ensures we stay in the situation we try to forget about.
Only by facing reality head on, and using our minds to take full responsibility, we can actually do something about our situation. Instead of trying to forget about our every day lives we can take steps towards creating a life we don’t have to flee from.
Our destiny is in our hands, as long as we take full responsibility of our lives. If we don’t we place our lives are in the hands of fate. This is not living, it’s merely existing. Surviving.
You work for the weekend, where you party and drink to forget about your week to do it all over again the week after. One day you’ll wake up and wonder where the last 40 years have gone. Is this really the best you can do? Of course not.
There are so many great things to experience in life. Why numb your consciousnesses and dull it? Why give up the chance to create the life of your dreams? Yes it’s hard work. But what’s the alternative? Spending your days working at a job that’s acceptable but not great? Looking forward to that week of vacation where you forget about the rest of the year? Why not try to create a life you don’t want to forget about?
Being intelligent is not the same as being smart. Intelligence refers to your capability to process concepts and information. Being intelligent helps with being smart since you learn more quickly. However, just having a good set of brains doesn’t say much about the content. We need to put in the effort to acquire the knowledge and fill our minds.Someone could have an IQ of 130 but not know much about the world at all. In this case the person might be intelligent but not very smart (yet).
Just as being intelligent doesn’t necessarily means we are smart, being smart doesn’t imply being wise. Being smart is about knowing how things work and understanding how things relate. It’s also about knowing what you should do in a given situation. Wisdom is about doing what you should be doing. It’s about acting on the knowledge. Being smart is required to be wise but it isn’t enough. Just because you know what you should be doing does not imply you do that by default.
Just like we have to put in the effort to get smarter, so we need to put in the effort to act on our knowledge in order to become wiser. It’s often not easy. We usually know pretty well what we should be doing. However, acting on it is usually quite hard. Things like fear or peer pressure often lead us to act against our better judgement, sabotaging our dreams in the process.
It’s the ability to act per default on that what you know you should be doing that makes the difference between those who seem to achieve whatever they set their minds to and the rest who just get by.
Being intelligent and smart can even work against us in our quest to become wiser. I don’t mean we should avoid getting smarter of course, we first need to know enough to realize what we should be doing before we can act on it. But, as a clever person you are also better at coming up with logically sounding excuses not to do things.
This is where the effort comes into play. We need to make sure not to fool ourselves. We should be aware of our line of thinking and how we act. In the end it is us who benefit from acting more wisely and us who suffer the consequences when we don’t. In order to become effective at achieving the goals we’ve set for ourselves, to be able to realize our dreams, we need to become wiser. This will require being a bit harsh on ourselves from time to time as well as overcoming some of our fears. This isn’t always pleasant in the moment but discomfort is not something we should avoid at the cost of sacrificing our dreams.
Have you ever wondered why people travel to distant places they have never been to ‘find’ themselves? Doesn’t it sound a bit strange? There is something wrong with this; not with the travel but the idea of finding ourselves.
We don’t find or discover our true selves, we create and define ourselves. Stepping out of our daily routines and comfort zone helps us to see what’s possible. This enables us to come up with new ideas of what is we can do with our lives and find new ways of achieving the goals we have already set. It’s a quest for inspiration and development.
Traveling or living abroad for a while is a great way to broaden your mind and find out what you could be doing with your life. Travel doesn’t always have to be physical either; we can get out of our daily rut by picking up books and magazines on areas outside our current expertise or interest. It’s a way of taking our minds on trips outside it’s comfort zone and routines. The more we learn the more possibilities open up.
If you have any troubles coming up with bucket list items you might want to consider moving abroad for a while and see what’s out there. And if you do have your bucket list items already set, great! Go travel anyway and cross them off!
Deciding what you really want to do with your life, which dreams to chase, is in essence defining your reasons to live.
Imagine meeting the grim reaper who tells you that your time has come. However, he is willing to let you live a bit longer if you answer the following:
“If I let you live a bit longer, what are you going to do with your life? Why do you need the extra time? What is it you still want to do, experience, and achieve? “
Your bucket list is the answer to this question. The goals on our bucket list are those things we still want to do, experience and achieve. Achieving the goals on our bucket list should be our main priority since it’s a list of those things that matter most. We don’t know how long we still have, we can’t afford waiting forever to get started. We really have no excuse not to give it our all since it’s that which we live for.
If the goals on our bucket list fail to excite us we need to rethink them. It’s our bucket list, we are free to change it however we want. Just make sure the items on it really resonate with you, don’t shy away from the more audacious goals because they seem out of reach. Just because they are out of reach for you now doesn’t mean you can’t grow to a point where they are within reach.
Whenever you feel overwhelmed by life and feel like you can’t go on anymore find yourself a new reason to live. Set yourself a new exciting goal to pursue and go for it.
And if you don’t have a bucket list yet start writing one. Writing your goals down is the first step towards achieving them. You need to know where you want to end up before you can find the best way to get there.
The things you are most afraid off or nervous about are often the things that you really should do. The only reason you are anxious about it is because it really matters to you, so you care more about doing it right.
If you only do those things that you are fully comfortable with you aren’t doing anything that really matters to you. You aren’t progressing either since you aren’t challenging yourself if you just strive for comfort.
“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” -Neale Donald Walsch
Nerves aren’t a bad thing, just don’t let them hold you back. If you feel nervous about something see it as a sign that you are doing the right thing. Courage is not the absence of fear but going through despite being afraid. So conquer those nerves and be awesome!
The things you want don’t always come easy. You can’t expect the universe to make things work out for you. If you want something you need to go out and make it happen. This requires a proactive attitude and the guts to take some risks along the way. You might stumble across some roadblocks along the way, but as long as you don’t give up you will eventually find a way around it.
Back in 2010 I was in my final year of high-school. I had set the goal to go study abroad afterwards. For over a year I had been planning it. Since the career adviser at school told me to just apply to a Dutch university I had to do it myself. After some research I found a study program that interested me in Sweden. I applied as early as possible and even arranged my accommodation. At the start of July I only needed to do one last thing to finish up the application; send in my high-school diploma. This shouldn’t have been a problem. However, due to the graduation ceremony having been postponed and the school having strict bureaucratic rules stating I could not get my diploma before then, I ended up being two days late.
Up to that point it was all up to me, I did the preparation as I should and did what I could to make it happen. Then because of something out of my control the whole thing ended up a failure. I got an email from the school in Sweden stating that I was too late and should try again a year later.
At this point I could have just given up and gone to a university back in The Netherlands or wait a year. However, studying abroad has been on my bucket list for years by that point. So instead I went on the internet and started looking for alternatives. About a day later I found a business program in Finland which had an application date for which I was still in time. I applied immediately and started looking for flights and arranging accommodation. At arrival I would still have to do an entrance exam but I decided that I just had to pass it. About six weeks after I got the email from Sweden I was living in Finland waiting for the entrance exam, which I passed. The goal had not changed, to study business full time abroad, just the way to get there.
When trying to get into the school in Sweden failed it was a lost battle, but the war wasn’t over yet. I could have been mad about the year of preparation that had been in vain and at my high-school for not giving my diploma in time. And I was of course, but I soon realized it wasn’t helping me so I took a deep breath and started working out a way to still achieve my goal. I could have given up, thinking it was just not meant to be. If I had done that I would not have been writing this now in Finland after completing my first 3 years of study there.
We become the average of the five people we spend the most time interacting with. No matter how ambitious you are, it won’t last long if you spend your days surrounded by people who have no ambition whatsoever. Being surrounded by people that believe that realizing your dreams is impossible and you should just settle for whatever life brings you will effectively ensure you will become like them eventually.
The same goes for people who constantly complain about how unfair life is and think the world owes them. The people who constantly blame circumstances and other people for their lack of success. Their thinking will affect your sense of responsibility and eat away at your ability to take control of your life.
They say that birds of a kind flock together, but it´s more that birds of a flock become more alike. This is because we are highly social animals. We unconsciously assimilate the behavior and way of thinking of the people around us to help us fit in more. If you don´t consciously decide what kind of person you want to be and what kind of people to hang out with you are at the mercy of the people who you happen to hang out with.
Now this does not mean that you should shun people that display the personality traits you don´t want to assimilate or that they are bad people. The people are most likely nice, funny, and well meaning. However, mindset is highly contagious. Spending too much time with people who’s thinking doesn’t align with that which you really want to do with your life will sabotage your success. With success I mean the accomplishment of goals you’ve set for yourself. Spending too much time interacting with people who have a defeatist attitude will undermine your drive to make your dreams come true. You don´t have to shun those people, just limit the time you spend with them.
Now you might want to help the people around you by instilling a sense of ambition and get them to chase their dreams so they can live more fulfilling lives. This is a noble objective but it´s ineffective to do so while hanging out with them all the time. A better way is to limit the contact with the naysayers while you work on accomplishing your dreams. Once you have done so you can show them that it indeed was possible and even help them out to do a similar thing. But you need to get the order right. Otherwise you´ll be driving towards your goals at full throttle but with the breaks on at the same time. It will wear you out.
You become the average of the five people you spend the most time with. It might pay off to reconsider with who you spend most of your time. If you want to live a fulfilling life and chase your dreams be sure to choose people who are like minded. If you want to start a company spend time with others who have the same goal or are already running one. If you want to become a writer hang out with other writers. And if you want to go through life blaming the world for everything hang out with people who do so as well. It´s up to you.
Go big or go home. This message is often found scribbled at skate parks. Besides the obvious message to challenge yourself by setting big goals it’s a reminder of the following: Give it all or don’t try at all. And once you go for something keep trying until you have it or have to go home for the day because the park closes or you can’t stand anymore. In that case come back the next day and continue.
If this mentality would be applied to life in general nothing would be out of reach. Goals might take longer and be a lot more difficult to achieve than expected, but sheer persistence will help us achieve them in the end.
Don’t lower your goals once you set ones that really excite you. If you’re not progressing try a different way to reach it. Change the path, not the destination.
You get what you settle for. If you settle for less that will be exactly what you’ll get.
Existentialism was briefly a rage in the 20th century but seemed to have died out a bit. In short it comes down to this: Existence is the starting point; meaning has to be assigned to it. One big shadow that loomed over the existential movement which might have scared people away was the idea of existential angst than comes from the realization that we are just here for no reason. However it’s not that gloomy as it initially looks. Existential angst is nothing but boredom. Since there is no reason for us to be here, we are free to choose what we want to make of our lives.
Existentialism is the philosophical view of the world that is best aligned with our current scientific understanding of the world. It looks at the universe for what it is based on what we can observe by scientific exploration. It doesn’t assume there is some kind of higher power looking out for us or expect an everlasting afterlife in paradise to make up for the tough existence we experience now. It doesn’t view this life as a waiting room or some test to pass.
It does away with any wishful thinking or false hope. The existentialist looks at problems for what they really are and deals with them head on instead of running away from them or accepting them by fooling himself that it’s for some greater good. Instead of praying for things to change for the better he or she tries to find out what is causing the problem and what he or she can do about it. The existentialist accepts that we are fully responsible for our own lives and actions. It’s up to us to deal with the challenges we face.
The existential view is not a pessimistic one but a realistic one. The universe doesn’t owe us anything; we don’t get what we deserve but what we settle for. Life comes without any guarantees of comfort or happiness. If we want anything we need to make it happen. Yes life is tough, but we can adapt to it and become stronger. We come equipped with a brain that has evolved to deal with challenges; we have to use it if we want to make life as pleasant and good as possible.
We can live a meaningful life by setting goals we want to achieve. Instead of merely surviving we can choose to set out on a quest to realize our dreams. We are free to choose how we spend our lives within the limits that the laws of nature and society impose on us. Even though the possible moves might be limited, they can be combined in an infinite amount of ways.
Even in the shadow of death I have nothing to fear.
Because when I die I simply disappear.
I’ll just cease to exist.
No harm or pain will persist.
If death is the worst that can happen to me,
I might as well take the risks required to create my own destiny.
Imagine that life would be a video game. How would it be described on the package? What can you do with it? What is it like? What’s the goal?
Life is a game that takes place in an infinitely large universe where the player controls an avatar on a small planet called earth. It’s an exploration and creation game where you develop your avatar in order to achieve the goals you choose to pursue. The game has no pre-set missions except for staying alive and exploring the world in which it is set.
When you start playing the game you are `born` in a random place and time, over this you have no control. Once you start playing the game you first need to learn to control your avatar. You start making sense of your senses and slowly gain control over your body. Once you learned how to use your avatar and how to communicate with other players you set out to explore.
As a player it is up to you to set out your own goals and develop the skills necessary to achieve them. In order to get inspiration on what is possible you can look around and see what other players have achieved (or have yet to achieve). You can collaborate with other players in order to achieve greater results or choose to go at it alone. Because of the laws that govern the universe in which the game is set your possible moves are limited. However, even though the possible moves are limited you are still able to combine those possible moves in countless ways and achieve an infinite number of outcomes.
The more you explore the world and learn about the laws that govern the universe the more possibilities open up. Goals which were out of reach at the start can become achievable with the right training and studying. However, one thing to watch out for is that there is no reset button. Every move has consequences which you as the player have to deal with until the end of the game.
Because the way the game is structured obstacles, disasters and other problems will pop up along the way. Even though you have no control over the majority of these forces it is still up to you to deal with it. The good thing is that whenever a new challenge is conquered you upgrade. You will be able to deal with similar obstacles in the future with less effort and you’ll be able to tackle bigger roadblocks.
You may have noticed that most of the game happens on just a tiny planet in an infinite universe. So what’s the point of that infinite universe? Expert mode! Once the earth is fully explored and understood players can collaborate to start exploring the rest of the universe. Expanding civilization and explore unknown worlds.
By the time you reach the end of the game you’ll be able to look back at the best bits of your gameplay. How interesting this is fully depends on how you’ve spend the time playing the game. Just keep in mind that you can only play this game once, you only have one chance to make the most of it. So what are you waiting for? Go out and play!
Imagine you walk down a path in the mountains. All of a sudden a huge rock falls down just a few meters from your feet. You nearly got crushed. You might wonder why the rock fell down. This seems quite a clear question, yet it can be interpreted in two ways.
In the Dutch language there are two words for ‘why’. The first one ‘waarom’ inquires about the reason behind someone’s action, the second one ‘waardoor’ inquires about the cause of something happening. When we ask ‘Why are we here?’ we are inclined to think about the first of the two meanings, we wonder what reason there is for our existence.
For something to have a reason there has to be someone who has a reason for it. It requires an intentional agent. In the case of the rock it could be someone who pushed the rock down. The person could have had several reasons for it. He might have pushed the rock over the edge because it was in his way, or he might have wanted to hit you. In this case the reason why the rock fell down is that the man intended it to fall down. The cause for it would be him nudging the rock over the edge of the cliff.
However, even if the man pushing the rock was the cause of the rock falling down it doesn’t necessary mean that there is a reason for it. The man could have accidentally pushed it down by leaning against it. He never intended the rock to fall down. In this case there is no reason why the rock fell down, just a cause. It could be that a little earthquake caused the rock to fall down. In this case there also is no answer to the question why the rock fell down, it just did. Again the event had a cause but no reason.
Similar as in the case of the falling rock we might be tempted to ask similar questions about life. What is the meaning of life? Why are we here? These questions might not have an answer for the simple reason that there isn’t a reason in the first place. Since there is no convincing indication that there is some supernatural creator who created the universe with a certain goal in mind we have to conclude that there is no answer to the question ‘why are we here?’ There is no reason for the existence of the universe and life, just a cause.
So how should we deal with this realization? Check out my previous post In Short
Death is the only certainty in life. We have to accept that it will happen at some point and there will be no second chance. This does not just apply to ourselves of course. Death can strike at any moment to anyone including our friends and family. When this happens we have to be strong and live on. We should not be too surprised or sad either. We should celebrate the lives they had and be glad for the time we had with them. If we let it halt us from moving on we end up wasting the bit of time we still have.
The finite nature of life makes it more scarce and precious. When someone’s time has come that’s just how it is, no matter how sad we get it won’t bring them back. We have to pick ourselves up and carry on. It would be inconsiderate towards the dead to squander the time we still have since they don’t have that luxury anymore. To throw away the chance to experience life and make the best out of it while others don’t have that option anymore adds insult to injury. When we do so we take our own lives for granted. You could compare it with throwing away perfectly good food with a starving friend in front of you.
Yes, when loved ones die it affects us and we have every reason and right to be sad., but we have to carry on nonetheless. While we are still here we should try to prevent taking life for granted and make something out of it.
Does the universe have problems? We have them, but are our problems a problem for the universe itself? Will it matter to the universe if we lose our job or destroy the planet? Not really.
A problem isn’t an intrinsic flaw in reality, it’s just an obstacle that gets in the way of achieving one or more of our goals.
This doesn’t make problems less real, it just makes them more personal. A problem for me isn’t necessary a problem for you. However if we both face the same obstacle towards a common goal we should work together to find a solution. Problems are our responsibility to solve.
If we turn the earth into an inhabitable mess it would be a problem for life itself since it gets in the way of its objective to survive. If I lose my source of income it’s a problem because it gets in the way of my goals of affording to pay my rent and buy food so I can survive. If I get sick it’s a problem because it inhibits my ability to achieve a bunch of other goals.
No goals no problems. But at the same time; no goals no purpose, no meaning (our goals provide us with a purpose and make our lives meaningful).
We’ll just have to accept the problems we face as part of the price to pay in order to live a fulfilling life. Let’s just face them head on and see them for what they are: Challenges to overcome in order to achieve our goals. Nothing more, nothing less.
When it rains during your BBQ party or a falling tree branch hits and damages your car you might feel inclined to ask the following; why does this always happen to me? However, it’s not happening ‘to you’ in the sense that someone or something is doing it on purpose just to punish or plainly annoy you. The universe doesn’t revolve around your existence; it’s not here for your sake. It’s not out to get you or help you. It’s just there doing its thing. It’s neither fair nor unfair.
The idea that life should be fair stems from wishful thinking. No two persons are the same. The conditions in which people are brought up, as well as the challenges people face, differ dramatically. Yes, it might be easier for someone else to achieve a certain goal than it is for you. But so what? What are you going to do about it? Should you just sulk and be mad about the fact that the rich kid at the end of the street had no trouble getting the money to set up his business while you had to call a 100 people before finding an interested investor? Should you just give up and think that you weren’t meant for that kind of stuff anyway? Of course not.
It doesn’t matter in what kind of position you are in right now, all that matters is where you want to be and figuring out what steps you should take to get there. There is no reason to be jealous of other people. It doesn’t help, it’s not productive. Life isn’t fair, get over it.
Negative thinking gets you nowhere. It takes energy, makes you feel bad and prevents you from succeeding. You might as well stop it and use the time and energy to actually take steps to getting closer to your goals.
It’s your life; it’s up to you to decide what to do with it. So what will you choose to do with it? Be mad at the world all the time for not being fair or making the most of what you have and work to achieve your goals?
Why are we here? What is the meaning of life? What are we supposed to do with our lives? People have been walking around with these questions long enough now. Time for some answers! Here is a summary of my take on life:
There is no reason why we are here. Life is just there, so are we. We are free to choose how we spend our lives but also fully responsible for our actions. In order to exert free will we need to fully accept this responsibility and act on it.
Life-goals/ dreams we set out to achieve/ realize make life meaningful since it gives us a purpose to live for.
Furthermore, nature in general aims to survive and grow. Everything that stops growing starts dying. By chasing our dreams we align ourselves with this principle by requiring us to overcome challenges, learn new skills and gain more understanding of ourselves and the world in the process. Plus as added benefit, when our accomplishments are big enough we can survive our physical death in the form of the legacy we leave and thus honoring the principle of survival.
So, what is your take on life?
From time to time I get into conversations about people’s dreams and life goals. I can’t resist bringing up the topic and asking about it. When I do I inevitably get asked what’s the difference between the two terms, especially since I often casually use either one. So are they the same?
Ideally yes, but not necessarily.
Your dreams consist of those things you would do, own and achieve in an ideal world. Overall they shape the picture of the world you would create if you could make any wish. Your goals on the other hand are concrete objectives you are working towards. The way to realize your dreams is by turning them into goals and accomplishing them. This requires you to make them more concrete.
Dreams are important, but as long as you don’t commit to them they will stay just that, dreams. You have to take turn them into life goals to make them useful. If you do so they are powerful motivators, they give you something to wake up for. At the same time they give strong directions to your life as well as more control. Once you have set a concrete goal you can start to figure out which steps you need to take to accomplish it.
So dreams and life goals can be the same thing, but you have to be the one making them so by committing to making your dreams come true. No one will do it for you.
Think about the following for a moment. You only live once; and relatively short in the larger scheme of it. After you die you will be there no more. You also have no preset mission for which you have been born. The universe doesn’t even notice if you cease to exist. This might sound pretty bleak, but is it really?Because you only live once, and live is short, it makes it that much more scarce and precious. There is only one person quite like you. After you die there will never be anyone exactly like you again. You are unique and precious. You can choose to have a serious impact on the world. Because you are unique, you can change the world in a way that no one else can. You have the potential to help humanity progress in a unique way which will be forever lost after you die.
Leave your mark by living to the fullest. It’s your life and you are free to choose how you spend it. However, make sure that you really make the choice on your own. This means accepting the responsibility over your choices and life. You only get one chance to experience the beauty of the universe and to make yourself immortal by your actions. If you want to contribute to some higher good that’s truly worth it, do something that improves the quality of the life of you and your fellow people. This, so people can fully enjoy this precious life we have. The universe might not care, but your fellow humans sure do.
So what can you do to improve the quality of life? The thing you should never do is sacrifice yourself. Whatever you do, never depreciate yourself for the sake of others. It’s perverted and directly contradicts the goal of improving the life quality of humanity. Be the change you want to see in the world Gandhi once said. If you sacrifice your own pleasure and quality of life, what kind of change are you really contributing to? What signal are you giving to other people? What if everyone would do that? Everyone would be worse off. Instead be an example, excel in some area. Write books, play music or paint. Do whatever you can to express yourself and inspire others to live life to the fullest as well.
Image you have to spend a few hours in a big room. In the room there is nothing but a few pieces of paper and a pen. What would you do with your time?
You could use the time to rest a bit, take a break from your hectic life by meditating or taking a nap on the floor. You might use the paper to make a list of your priorities or write a poem. Or you could draw a picture, fold an airplane and play with it or do some push-ups and some stretching.
It’s amazing how many different things you can choose to do and accomplice in an empty room with just a piece of paper and a pen. Even with the bare minimum of resources you are able to achieve pretty remarkable things.
Alternatively you might decide to just sit in a corner, waiting it out while being slightly annoyed about missing your favorite TV shows. In the end what it comes down to is that whatever you get out of your time spend in that room totally depends on you. There are no ‘wrong’ ways to spend your time, however not every way is as rewarding and fulfilling as the others. You have to spend that time anyway, so you might as well get the most out of it.
The same goes for your days at work, school or leisure. The day will pass, no matter how you choose to spend it. If that’s inevitable you might want to reconsider how you spend it, especially since your supply of days isn’t unlimited.
Are you just sitting this day out, or are you getting the most out of it?
The world is always changing, whether we like it or not. Processes that work fine today might be obsolete next year. The knowledge we acquire tomorrow might be outdated next week.
You never know what the future will bring but you can still prepare for it. The more we progress and grow, the better we get at handling those unexpected changes in the future. The more we grow and develop, the more challenges we can overcome.
Striving to improve our knowledge and standard of living is a natural thing to do. The main objectives of life in general are to grow and survive. By constantly pushing to grow we increase our chance of survival as a species. Think for example of the possibility to deflect meteors and asteroids which otherwise will hit the earth. Or the possibility to get the resources which are scarce on earth from outer space. Technological progress is what will bring us there.
So embrace growth and innovation. It might save the world one day.
Do we and the world around us really exist? I would like to introduce you to one of my theories about the possibility of this world around us just being an illusion. I will do this with a small thought experiment.
Imagine for a moment that you are a ‘god’. You are immortal and you only have to snap your fingers and your thought will manifest. You never have to put effort into anything since everything you want done just happens. You live in a world/ dimension which you share with billions of other gods like you, which is not a problem since the dimension is endlessly big, and everything you need can be manifested at will.
However, there are some downsides to being this godlike. Since you never have to try to achieve anything there is no challenge whatsoever. On top of that there are some limitations to your manifesting powers. You can only manifest what you can imagine. So what if you had all the time in the world, but don’t know what to do with it? What if you get bored?
Mortal life 2.0
Luckily, a new game came out recently which is becoming a huge hit within the community of bored fellowgods. In just a few thousand years (which is quite a short time when keeping in mind you’re immortal) the amount of players has multiplied from just a handful to 6 billion. It’s an interactive video-game, which can be best described as a virtual world where you can ‘step’ in. Once connected to the system you can experience this virtual world from the perspective of your avatar. You feel, hear, smell, see and taste what your avatar experiences. This whole game is played from first person perspective, in the most literal way.
This game called ‘Mortal Life’ is based on a somewhat wacky idea that everything is finite – which is ofcourse a ridiculous thought since everything has always been, and will always be. However this weird notion of finitely is the whole joke of the game. The setting of the game is a fictional planet called ‘Earth’ and you play as a fictional character which is being referred to as a ‘mortal’. The moment you start playing you’ll be born into this world on a random place and from there on the game starts.
The goal of the game is quite simple: Try to stay alive as long as possible and try to find out and achieve your ‘life-goal’ which you entered yourself before playing. You win by achieving this goal. The hard part about the game is that you are limited by set rules. You can’t just make stuff happen by snapping your fingers. If you want to get stuff done, you will have to figure out a way to get it done.
You have 2 options for this:
1. Working really hard and being lucky (before you know it you’re stuck in a dead-end job) or
2. Playing it smart and search for ways to hack the system.
This second option, which requires a lot of rational insight, is being made harder by a new feature in the game: emotions(these where missing in the first version of the game ‘mortal life 1.0’ which made the game too easy and boring). Even though emotions give color to the game, it also makes it a lot harder to play. Emotions can limit your ability to think clearly and rationally when they get out of control.
There is one other catch which makes playing the game a lot harder. As soon as you start playing it you will get into it so much that you forget that you are really an immortal god who is just playing a game to fight off boredom. You will be sucked into the game so far that you’ll start to believe that this (fictional) world and mortality are the reality. Before you can go any further with the next step of the game you first need to find out what the goal is you are supposed to achieve since you won’t remember it. A lot of players never make it past this level.
The other inhabitants of the world, fellow gods who are playing the same multi-player game, have also forgotten that this is all just a game and can make your (fictional) life even harder. They will try to stop you from progressing further in the game by recommending you to avoid risks. Once they have convinced you that this life is hard, and you can do nothing about it and you have no chance in fulfilling your dreams: you will be as good as game over. The only way to be be helped is to be woken up before the timer runs out.
Luckily there is a way to complete the game anyway, dispite all the challenges. You can do this by realizing this is all just a game. As soon as you’ll realize this it will become a lot easier to put things in perspective and achieve your goal. You will stay limited to the rules of the game (this is not the matrix), however, at least you know what you are doing and why you are here. You will have it a lot easier than your fellow players since they won’t take this great risks because they take the game way too serious.