The Bad News: Your Life is Meaningless and Short, The Good News…?

What’s the meaning of life, sage reader?  Why are we here?  Why are we important?  Or are we important at all?  It’s not a test, of course.  I don’t know either, obviously.  I’m just a guy.  But I can’t help but think about it sometimes…

life is meaningless

A class I took in college actually touched on this a bit.

And of all the lectures and discussions in that class – most of which I spent drawing, zoning out, or back at my apartment napping – one remains with me today.  A light bulb of sorts went off in my mind, like what must happen to God when he thinks of something clever…

I think we were discussing Being and Time by Martin Heidegger (good luck reading that shit), and the professor said something which I had definitely heard before.

I’m sure we’ve all heard it before.

It was the idea that if life were represented graphically – if a line were drawn on a board, infinite and forever – that each point on that line would be meaningless and indistinguishable from any other.  But if one were to suddenly stop that line randomly – to cut it off at any location – then every point which preceded that division back to the start of the line would at once be made infinitely important.

life is meaninglessIt’s the idea that every moment in life is immeasurably valuable because life is finite, and that because life is finite, because we are mortal and each moment is a moment closer to our death, each moment is actually more valuable than every that came before it.

It’s the idea that every day of our lives is in fact more precious, because it is one less of the few we will ever have left.

It makes sense.  It seems logical.

But I didn’t agree with it at all.

To me, it seemed the opposite was true…

Life is meaningless because life is finite.

Remember…then I was a different person.  It was before my worst depression, but I was still a sad and sorry dude, not someone who saw much positivity in the world.  It makes sense I would think so “negatively”.  But even today, where I am – in many ways – the opposite in outlook and beliefs to where I was then, the idea that that lecture was wrong stays with me, and helps me see each day as I need to see it in order to make of it what I want.

Let me explain…

What the professor said that day…

…seems logical enough.

He views life in economic terms, in relation to supply and demand, value and commodity.  He used our general fear of death to impart on us the importance of every moment; that each minute wasted is a step closer to the death we wish we could avoid, and thus a thing to be cherished.

But I immediately thought of the ground on which my desk and chair stood – of the billions and billions of people now below that ground rather than above it.

What exactly is left of all those billions of human beings who ever lived; of all those so fortunate enough to have graced this beautiful earth – the men and women, the young and old, the rich and poor, the good and bad?

In almost every case – essentially every case – there remains neither a bone nor an artifact; not a memory nor a name.

Nothing.  Nothing remains.

And what of the trillions of days they lived, of all they accomplished and strived for, of all they learned and mastered, of all their joys and tears, their fears and insecurities, of everything they spent their whole lives worrying about and waiting for?

Nothing.  Nothing remains.

And what do they have to show for the struggle that was their life, for their greatest accomplishments, and most epic failures?  What trophy or reward; what token or prize?  What proof of their existence at all – anything to validate what to them was the most difficult thing in this world – their life?

Nothing.  Nothing remains.

I guarantee you now there was a man who lived in China 10,000 years ago who struggled and worried, who feared and bled, who surely existed.  What remains of his story, his life; the one he guarded so closely and protected so preciously?

And likewise there was a man in Syria 100,000 years ago, who acquired great lands and treasures, who led men to their deaths, and hoarded riches for himself.  What remains of his story, his life; the great wealth he amassed and the crimes he committed?

Nothing.  Nothing remains.

It’s as if they never existed at all.

Billions of people.  Nameless.  Storyless.  Meaningless.

These were men, women, and children who thought their lives were the worst lives, their problems the worst problems, their struggles the most difficult struggles.  Others thought they were the most special person, a worthy person, even a divine person.

Imagine how many of these people you could strike from history with no effect at all on what has become of the world.

A billion here.  A billion there.

What little difference it would make, really.  What little difference they themselves made.

These people’s lives…

…were certainly finite.  But I have a very hard time believing their lives were in any special way meaningful; that their lives were “infinitely important” simply because they ended.

Because when you step back thousands of years at a time, and look upon all those countless people who lived, struggled, and died on this earth, who appeared and disappeared in the blink of a cosmic eye, the comings and goings of any particular person or group of people seem to me as the comings and goings of the smallest germ colonies in the farthest jungles surely seem to you – completely and utterly meaningless, and entirely irrelevant.

Sure, those men – in China and Syria – mattered to someone, but those someones too are gone and forgotten.  Of what grand importance were any of them, really?

They lived tough lives; ones they believed held meaning, and so they toiled and sweated, and planned and worried, to have food to buy for another day, or a roof to sleep under another night, or a goat or mule to pass down to another son.

And it’s that that caused them such great stress?  That?

Some crumbs for dinner, or a thatched roof for a nap?  Some bill to pay, or love they lost?  All of which are gone by the way.  All of which added no great value to their lives, or numbers to their days.

They struggled and worried and cried for nothing.  They stressed and depressed and killed for nothing.  Their lives had no meaning.  Not a purpose, not a plan.  Not a reason, nor a cause.

Their “problems” were not problems, and their obstacles were not obstacles…except in their minds.

That they existed at all is entirely irrelevant to us, here and now.

And so too will we be irrelevant one day.


But what if life were infinite?

What if we were born and lived immortal?  What then?

In a life which never ends, imagine now the importance of every day.  Imagine its effect on the rest of our life through the eternity of time; how permanent our decisions would suddenly become.

Yes, our days would be limitless, and thus, in economic terms “valueless”.

But they would not be without meaning.

No.  They would finally have true meaning.  They would have potential.  Not just because they may improve us today, but because they may improve us forever.

Here, in our mortal and limited lives, the very best we can ever achieve is always temporary.  It can be nothing else.

But in an immortal life, think how important we ourselves would become to ourselves.

Think how important it would be that we surround ourselves with quality people and treat others kindly, for we would have to live with them forever; that we work only in whatever endeavors make us happy, for we would have to toil in them forever; that we learn to be happy at all, for we would have to live with ourselves forever.

Forever is a long time.  And though forever to be happy would be indeed heaven, forever to suffer would surely be unbearable.

But if that fate stood before you – if you faced the choice of eternity as you are or eternity as you could be – I am sure you would do as you needed to do to become the person you wanted to be.

You wouldn’t tolerate the abusive relationship, nor the mind-numbing job.  You wouldn’t tolerate your negative thoughts, or your fruitless beliefs.  You wouldn’t tolerate wars with friends, with family, with neighbors or nations.

You wouldn’t tolerate the battle you now wage everyday within your Self – the shit that angers you, that saddens you, that depresses you.

We would have every reason to change, every reason to become as we imagine ourselves to be.

But the reality is, we are not immortal.  Maybe that’s news to some.

We are born and we do die.  And in between most do nothing of note, and nothing of any great importance.  We’re too busy feeling sorry for ourselves; too busy worrying about what tomorrow will bring: the loss of a job, a relationship, our security, our lives; too busy stressing out over an exam or an interview, the bully or the popular kids, our appearance or our reputation.

We devote our every thought, and the sum of our energies, to the “great, great” problems of our small, small lives.

But so did all those people before us.

Do you think they would do things differently, if they had that chance?

Do you think they’d live?  Do you think they’d care?

That life is limited and finite…

…that it holds no real reason or meaning, does not mean it is not worth living, that it’s not worth trying, that it’s not worth enjoying.

For we are here already, and will continue to be until whatever time God or nature determines we ought not to be.

Till then – till our deaths – we are here.  We’re here anyway.  We’re here because – in some weird way – we’re meant to be here.

And so, by whatever luck, we have days left to live.

And in that class on that day, the seeds of a very important lesson were sowed…that to live the rest of my days, as I had lived the many days before that day – as a sad and sorry kid, weak of mind and body, and scared of most everything – seemed, well…stupid.

Cause whatever the meaning of life, of this much I was certain…

That on that day, and on this day, I stand above that ground rather than lay below it.

And that’s not a thing to waste.

And everything that scared me, and everything that worried me – some test, some cute girl, some misfortune or future I had no control over – all of it meant nothing.

So, fuck that.

It was time to be free.


Comment and share below.


20 Responses to The Bad News: Your Life is Meaningless and Short, The Good News…?

  1. Adam Austyn says:

    Thanks so much Lianne!

  2. CA02138 says:

    Adam, I came upon your blog/site on typing into a search engine “life is meaningless to me.” I share that because I want to be honest about my own bias. There’s so much I’d like to write, share, ask, but I know I won’t get to most of it. I felt compelled to drop a brief line because invariably tomorrow’s unremitting responsibilities will devour more of my … finite time, distracting me from things that really matter to me, like this topic you’ve raised.

    I read Being & Time not in college, but after, while I was hanging out in White River Junction, Vermont for a year at an old, craggy hotel, The Coolidge, just trying to get a handle on my own being. It struck me as telling that Heidegger’s understanding of human “being” (Dasein) was inextricably tied up with uniquely human experiences. Whether concrete or abstract, experiences seem to me to be filtered through the kind of mind Homo sapiens has. A second-grade assertion, I admit. But then why, I am left wondering, do so many bright university faculty and world thinkers assume there must be value/worth to life other than what humans imagine up?

    I think value–of life or anything else, for that matter–is largely a fantasy. Something happens to matter to us, maybe because this inclination is hardwired over millennia of evolution, and if the idea sufficiently benefits society it may be codified in implicit rules of behavior or explicit laws. But I cannot understand how sophisticated minds make the leap from feeling that something is very important and recognizing that many (most?) others agree to reasoning that therefore the phenomenon assumed to be critical exists independently (of human perception) and is universally true.

    An argument of the form “Because X, life is valuable” seems to me to suffer from a fatal fallacy–the assumption that there are universal, objective values. It’s not enough for everyone to believe life is valuable for life to be valuable any more than it’s enough for us all to believe Santa Claus arrives sometime on the evening of December 24th every year, for such an assertion to be true.

    I’m sorry to have gone on and on. My point is simple: unless there could be shown to exist objective value independent of human wishes/fears/psychoemotional-needs, any assertion about life’s objective value (instead of just opinion) is utterly specious to me. When I type into my browser “define value,” I get back the following:

    “The regard that something is held to deserve; the importance or preciousness of something: ‘your support is of great value’.”

    Much like Heidegger’s assessment of (human) existence and its intimate association with time, the “value” of life–value in general–appears intrinsically a matter of regard (personal and societal), not a matter of independent, objective fact. You’re right. We humans are largely terrified of death so we regard the time we have left. And that fear has precipitated all manner of fallacies.

    I like YOUR assessment–that because life is finite, because we’ll eventually all be gone and forgotten–life is meaningless. That feels “right” to me. What would the meaning of life be if the universe maximized its entropy, wound down and died? No more minds to regard life. No more life. I think the meaning of life would be the same then as it is now—a mere process that happened to matter to some beings experiencing it. And without minds to regard life, at least minds like ours (maybe other minds don’t generate “values”), there would be no value to life–then, as now.

    Adam, I think if we’d met in college we’d have been friends. Peace.

    • Adam Austyn says:

      Thanks so much for checking it out. This is def the most thorough and insightful comment I’ve seen round here haha. Glad you enjoyed it though. Apparently we think alike…

  3. Christian Cap says:

    Thank you for this article. I share this exact same mindset and it’s ironically reassuring to feel as though my take on the matter is valued by someone other than myself. Many famous atheist philosophers share the opinion of your professor, and sometimes I wonder if I’m the one whose wrong; these philosophers published countless books, and were intelligent and outspoken individuals. Reading how I feel, written and organized perfectly, I no longer question myself. I thank you for this article and the countless others on the site.

  4. Federico says:

    Thank you for sharing this thoughtful article. Sometimes I feel like this, exactly like in the article — Other times, I kind of forget about the meaning of life — and other times, I just wish tot understand only one thing, not much about “WHY I AM HERE” but more “WHO AM I” as a person, because, most of the times I am lost, and that is due to a loss I had recently — And that, I think, in my opinion is the worst experience ever. There is no book or doctor that can help, is a permanent mark inside, is not seen, but felt is like a knife that cuts you inside — This negative experience helped me to understand how important a family is, and how every single moment of life is a miracle and unique — Even if, at the end life is finite — I think — IN someway, I do not know, I have no idea, but maybe there is a meaning why we are here, maybe after this life there is another and is not over? Maybe is for God to see the true in people? I do not know, for what I know so far, until a year ago — until, possibly now, I just saw that there is no meaning in life, life is pointless, and that death is normal, whatever happens, happens — Now, I think that I understand — (maybe)

    I am sorry if I wrote a personal experience, but what I believe is that if I had spent more time with my father — I believe that I would have felt better — and not in a consistent grief, pain, shame etc — But would have gave me (personally) a meaning to life — Because now he is gone, I cannot do anything, cannot stay with him, cannot talk to him, cannot laugh with him or watch TV with him ….

    The main point is that, every second, minute, hour, day, month, year and every time I was with him — were special and precious — Every moment, I think is life and a special —

    The most important part of your article — I believe is the last part “I AM FREE”

    • Adam Austyn says:

      Yeah this kinda topic is just intrinsically too big for man, I think. And in different times we think different things or approach it in different ways. No way, for instance, that even I believe every thing in this article all the time. I think it’s kinda one of those things that – whatever comforts you at the time – is the right answer at that time.

      Glad you enjoyed though. I still read this one from time to time.

  5. Just Another Story Teller says:

    I’ve just discovered this site & kudos for another great post, Adam!

    So then, if the notion ‘life is meaningless’ is unsettling, consider that the opposite is surely more so. If life had intrinsic meaning, then an individual’s life would have an intrinsic purpose. If your life had an intrinsic purpose, it means that you not longer get to choose – you’re now a brick in the wall. How boring. But as it stands – one’s life is tabula rasa – its clay – its a white page & each one of us has – for a limited time offer – the FREE option to write whatever goofy story we want to tell & as an EXTRA BONUS experience our narrative in full-color, surround-sound 3D. That’s cool. I mean, I would pay a lot of money for that kind of opportunity if it wasn’t provided as part of the package. Because what we have without meaning is serious, radical freedom (and a heap of responsibility). Meaninglessness provides each of us equal license. Our (apparent) situation isn’t pre-defined and from the big picture point of view, it isn’t significantly different than that of our fellow human beings. I would argue that only in a world without meaning does our (apparent) situation become open, poetic, poignant & profoundly egalitarian. Each of us creates a story through our choice of beliefs and action – we can choose any story we want to tell. A boring story, a thriller, an absurd fairy tale, a tragic-comedic epic. And what we choose doesn’t matter – there isn’t anything one is supposed to do, so our stories are only a question of our personal preferences. And thanks to death, no matter what we choose – for better or worse – we all end up in the same place as one another & in the same situation we were in before this current gig started. Don’t knock death – it is a good thing & life would be tedious without it (like an eternal Chinese Opera that bangs on faaar too long). For those who screw up, death is amnesty. For those who don’t, it is the natural end point to a story well-told.

  6. Malia says:

    That’s a very good article I enjoyed it. I think pretty much the same except do you ever think about how our body is made? Like how well organized… how we can break down food for nutrients etc… or how animals hunt for food that hunts other things the circle of life etc. Why are we made so perfect? Why have we evolved in this natural way? Why are we all connected through the earth. maybe the meaning is past our capacity to understand whoever whatever made us in this way?

  7. David Bloomquist says:

    Please delete the F word and your site will be perfect. Thank you.

  8. Dan Churney says:

    Hello Adam,
    Well-written essay, but you paint a very persuasive picture of meaninglessness, then jump away from it at the end. You say life is not something to waste, but according to everything you wrote before, it doesn’t matter whether you waste it or not. Again, very good essay.

    • Adam Austyn says:

      Not quite. Don’t equate meaningless with useless. Life has no meaning, but it has plenty of uses. There may be no grand purpose to life, but only through life can anything good or positive be experienced. And only through your life, can you experience anything good or positive. All those things, all those smiles are real. More real than any memory of our existence long after we’re gone. The problem is, people look for some meaning in life, rather than find a life meaningful to them. People wanna think their life belongs to something bigger. But they should instead just enjoy their life, because it belongs to them.

      You’ll be forgotten soon after your death, but the life you live won’t be forgotten by you – and that’s all that matters.

  9. Dan Churney says:

    “The life you live won’t be forgotten by you – and that’s all that matters.” How will you remember it after you die?
    Kierkegaard said the greatest intoxicant is possibility. Death closes off possibility.

  10. kori says:

    I knew it.

  11. Laura says:

    Fantastic article! I feel so liberated…Great job!!!!!!!!

  12. Sid says:

    Like every other species the homosapiens will evolve and will be replaced. A higher species/class will always replace its subordinate and evolution is its witness. Live laugh eat fuck and do whatever you want its meaningless.

  13. Quesosauce says:

    My morals just went out the window. Let the raping and pillaging begin!

  14. Timbuktu says:

    Why not. Life is Intrinsically/instinctively meaningful and that’s why Adam ended up seeing and admitting it to be so. Perhaps only humans can doubt about the meaning of life and thereby get depressed; other animals are fully engaged in the meaning of life until full stop hit them. Adam’s mom also knew life is meaningful and that’s why rather than throw him in a pit early on, she raised him nicely until he can go to college and debate about life’s meaninglessness.

    Beyond the inextricably immédiat meaningfulness of life (which most humans believe makes sense but not enough sense) there is a secret meaning to life, there is a veil over us by which we are meant not to see more than necessary for the purpose of our current life. To begin to even sense the presence of that veil you have to believe. Of course I believe humans are here to see how and what they will do with their spirits and minds! It is also a highly perfect plan not to automatically let us immediately live eternally. We must pass through some things in order to experience well others to come. In the end our lives have a meaning to God.

  15. Ron Bracy says:

    Your thoughts are not something new. The ancient Hebrew Teacher wrote, “Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless!” (Ecclesiastes 1:2). And, these are the words of a man who was wealthy beyond comprehension, a man who had accomplished more in the world than anyone before or after him, and a man who was considered wiser than anyone before or after him. But, using his own life experiences, he debated the issue from the perspective of a three-fold cycle. In the end, he wrote, “Look, this is what I have discovered; … this only have I found, “God made mankind upright, but men have gone in search of many schemes. … Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” (Ecclesiastes 7:27, 29; 12:13-14). Thus, life is meaningful, but only if one follows the right path of life. And, where is that right path of life? Jesus answered: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6). Try His path; you will find that life is meaningful. God’s blessings, guidance, and protection. Ron Bracy

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