Going into this project, I was fully aware of the fact that it could very well be my undoing. Pondering over the purpose of life—if there is one—has driven me down a dark hole several times now. But recently I’ve come to realize that running from my problems doesn’t make them go away; refraining from asking my most feared questions will not change their answers. So, I decided that I would do it—I would immerse myself in the world of nihilism, and if it is my downfall, so be it.
Nihilism is defined as “the rejection of all religious and moral principles in the belief that life is meaningless”—a daunting thought for some. But the more time I spent exploring this idea of a purposeless existence, the more I realized that it wasn’t an inherently bad thing. In fact, I’d argue that this whole process has strengthened my relationship with life and my understanding of it. And at the end of the day, while it’s still just a belief of which we have the freedom to or to not abide by, I will say, looking at the world through a nihilist’s glasses made me recognize just how much perception dictates reality, and I’d like to share some of those new perspectives on existence I stumbled upon in my experience, one I very much recommend.
Face to Face with Finality
Most of us are familiar with the different ideas out there proposing what may happen after our time here is up. But despite whatever faith it is you do or don’t subscribe to, the idea of death is not an easy one to digest. Even immortality in the sense of an afterlife is still not something we have the full capability to process as humans. But for most, myself included, it’s still a more comforting thought than believing that maybe this really is all there is to existence—that we’re here, and then, suddenly, we’re not: which is why nihilism’s proposal that this is the case is not typically a warmly welcomed one. And perhaps that’s because as people, we seek purpose in everything, and chalking our lives up to nothing more than an evolutionary happening suggests that there isn’t one.
What’s the point in being here if there is no point in being here?
That’s something I contemplated a lot, probably too much, in fact. As I’ve gotten older, it seems I’ve grown less fond of being self-aware. And yet, no matter what I’ve believed in the past—which has been a variety of things—this longing to know that my being here actually means something has always been there. We have an old wooden playset out in our backyard; I remember swinging on those swings a lot as a child, imagining what it might be like to fly every time I flung forward. And if you asked me then what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d probably tell you a bird. In fact, if you even asked me last year as a senior in high school, I bet I’d say the same thing. It just seemed so much simpler, to be a part of nature—to not worry about what life was, or your place in it because you just automatically had one.
And I found myself pondering this same thing last December while watching a herd of deer by my house. Seeing them graze mindlessly in the dying fields with one another—a peaceful scene, to say the least—made me experience that same longing I did as a child. But that’s when it finally hit me—we are a part of this earth, and like the birds and the deer, we come and go. But you don’t look at the creatures of this world and devalue their existence because of what they do or how long they’re here, so why do we do that to ourselves? Why is simply living not enough? As humans, we’re a part of nature, and like all natural things, we too must pass away. But death doesn’t belittle life. In fact, I think it’s quite the opposite—it gives it meaning. Its permanence makes our words, our actions, the good we do—along with the bad—matter. Life doesn’t have to be grand or infinite to be valuable. It already is.
Peace Over Happiness
Yet still, acceptance of the idea of life at its bare minimum doesn’t automatically grant content. Ironically, it may lead to discontent—a feeling I’ve had a fair amount of history with over the years. But it seems that discontent—whether you consider yourself to be a nihilist or not—is a universal experience that the majority of us struggle with at least one time or another.
Often our level of happiness is how we determine our quality of life, which explains why probably the most sought-after answer of all time is to the question, how can I find it?
But the thing is, you really can’t. Happiness is something you feel—it comes and goes unknowingly. It’s not something you can search out externally or hold onto. And yet still we look for it in money, in admiration, in love, even in others, though it seems we never quite find it that way, do we?
But there is a comforting take on that proposition: peace and happiness are not synonymous with one another—and that’s something that took me a long time to realize. You see, happiness is something you feel, but peace is something you find. Maybe in a moment of solitude, perhaps in the presence of good company, or even in appreciation of the earth’s beauty. But by whatever means you seek it, peace can be found and kept, and learned and perfected—it’s an art, really. I’ve grown comfortable with the fact that it’s just unrealistic to expect to be “happy” all the time. Life just doesn’t work like that. And that’s okay, because if you have peace—even if you don’t feel happiness—you’ll be alright.
Dance Before the Party’s Over
So… why are we here?
Honestly, I still don’t know, and I’m not sure I ever will. But driving yourself crazy trying to find the answer to a question that doesn’t have one isn’t going to get you anywhere—believe me, I’ve tried. The undeniable truth is, we’re here. We’re here, and we can’t control that. But we can control what we choose to do with the time we’re given; and the best thing we can do, is to make peace with our existence because it’s one of the few things in life we can’t change. But from there is a blank canvas of new beginnings, because to me, accepting life for what it is isn’t an end goal—it’s a starting point.
There’s a really lovely quote that comes to mind when accepting things for what they are:
“Life may not be the party we hoped for, but while we’re here we might as well dance.” -Maya Angelou
So dance, before the party’s over. Go see Everest. Have a movie marathon in your friend’s basement. Write books you’ll never publish. Fill your existence with things that make it feel beautiful. Because whether you’re counting down the hours or stretching the seconds, they’re in limited supply. Devote meaning in your life through things like these—things that make you feel like your time here has value, because it does.