What To Do When Your Life Feels Meaningless

by Alexander Heyne · 157 comments

I was a really annoying kid to talk to when I was younger.

I was always asking “God questions,” almost always revolving around the word “why.”

Why am I here.. what am I supposed to do.. where should I go next.. why do I have to do this..

And it pissed people off, I mean, for chrissakes sometimes you just do stuff and don’t question it, right?

Just go to work and eat bitter and suck it up.

Just use 2 cups flour and 3 eggs in the cake and stop thinking about it “why” they are in the proportions that they are in.

Just learn this material and stop asking why you’ll need to know all of this to be a doctor.

After I got out of the juvenile phase of life (where every “why” you ask gets a “because I said so” in return), I entered a new phase of life.

More people asking why.  Why am I here.. what do I need to do for the rest of my life..

And I thought: hmm that’s funny. First as a kid, now as an “adult.”  Everyone is still asking why. And most people are still giving themselves “because I said so” answers.

So once again I started asking myself WTF should I do with my life? What can I do with my life? What am I supposed to do with my life? And, most importantly, WTF do I want to do during my life? What makes it feel worthwhile?

Finding a Reason to Live

Survivors of all types of accidents or horrendous living conditions often share eerily similar stories.  Despite the harshness of the current reality, against all odds, they maintain some special sort of reason for going on (See the Stockdale Paradox)

They maintain a “why” beyond just “staying alive” that keeps them going.  They found some greater purpose.

Viktor Frankl was one such person.  He was a victim of the Nazi regime and spent several years in the Auschwitz concentration camp while his entire family and both parents passed away.  As his body was slowly whittling away and as thousands of people died around him he was deeply pondering the state of his life.

His mémoire, Man’s Search for Meaning, is interesting to me for one main reason: because one can watch his mind deliberate as it searches for a meaning in all the death, suffering, and apparent meaninglessness that was going on around him.

Frankl’s conclusion?

Life is not primarily a quest for pleasure, as Freud believed, or a quest for power, as Alfred Adler taught, but a quest for meaning. The greatest task for any person is to find meaning in his or her own life.”

The words hit an eerie nerve in me, after all — I know plenty of people my age making a lot of money, who outwardly appear happy, but inwardly they feel like what they are doing is pretty pointless.

So they just go ahead and do what other people are doing, to have some semblance of a sane, ordinary, normal and supposedly *happy* existence.

I ended up thinking about this more: the deepest human value, one that you can selectively pursue and cultivate to enrich your life, is it really happiness?

Or is happiness a consequence of doing things right?

“For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success — success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think of it.”

Searching for the wrong thing


I think there’s one particular reason why many of us feel completely lost. It’s because we’re searching for the wrong thing.

Many early philosophers believed that our primary motivation in life was personal pleasure or happiness — that’s just what we strive for and that’s just what our purpose is.  I mean, it makes sense:

  • What’s the most important thing according to your body, your ego? You, of course. Who do you look at first in a picture? Yourself.
  • We naturally shy from, say, putting our hand on a campfire (it hurts) and enjoy doing things like eating cookies and having sex. They make us feel good.
  • We help people: it either makes them feel good (which makes us feel good) or it directly makes us feel good.

There’s a good argument for straight up pleasure / happiness / joy being the sole purpose of life.

But what if pleasure / enjoyment/ happiness were just unintended byproducts. What if they were just positive consequences of doing the right thing and instead there was something you could deliberately cultivate?

There’s a better explanation for why we’re lost and why all of us constantly strive to find happiness at some point or another.

Happiness and Success as Un-Intended Side Effects

Ready for this?

The cure for being lost and feeling like your life is meaningless is not to re-find happiness.

The way to become unlost, happy, and successful is found all in one thing: purpose.

Through purpose you find passion, you find happiness, you find drive, you find meaning in an apparently meaningless existence. These all blossom as perfect byproducts.

And by purpose I don’t necessarily mean “your one ultimate purpose.”  Purpose, like happiness, isn’t static.  It’s not just “Oh I’ve always wanted to be an Astronaut since I was young!”

For some parents, raising their kids and being a good parent is their only purpose — but once their kids move out and grow up they suddenly find their lives feeling more meaningless.

College kids that graduate university are accustomed to having a purpose: pass this class, semester after semester after semester, and finally: graduate.  Once they graduate? Many lose their sense of purpose.

Normal every day people sometimes find purpose in others — a loved one for example — and once that person leaves their life they are crushed and fall into an existence that feels meaningless again.

Purpose, therefore, can be fleeting too.

But purpose – no matter how temporary – is so important because it makes you feel like what you are doing in your life actually matters.

And purpose is the ultimate fix for no longer feeling lost, no longer feeling like you’re in a dream or an observer of your own life.

It makes you feel in control.

Purpose in the Modern World

“… that feeling of which so many [people] complain today, namely, the feeling of the total and ultimate meaninglessness of their lives.  They lack the awareness of a meaning worth living for. They are haunted by the experienced of their inner emptiness, a void within themselves; In addition to this, however, man has suffered another loss…No instinct tells him what he has to do, and no tradition tells him what he ought to do; sometimes he does not even know what he wishes to do. Instead, he either wishes to do what other people do (conformism) or he does what other people wish him to do (totalitarianism).”

The feeling of meaningless is one of those scary nagging feelings we all get at some points in our lives.  We wonder if there is some grand scheme out there for our suffering, or why after working for a couple years in a job that’s “alright”  it doesn’t feel like it has a point anymore.

It’s because both happiness and success are closely tied to purpose.

It’s the reason why when you talk to so many 20 somethings that are in their first, or second, or fifth professional job, these days they’re like “It’s alright, It’s a job.”

Oh, really?

They have to convince themselves that what they are doing has meaning.

A pretty sad thought if you ask me.

Going Big or Going Home

Alright, so your life feels pointless.  Either you’re totally lost, or you have everything but it doesn’t seem to make a difference.

You’re getting paid, you have a good apartment, you have a car.  Now what?

There are 4 ways to get a life that doesn’t suck and destroy the feeling of meaninglessness. 

  1. Figure out your story
  2. Figure out what the hell you want and make a plan
  3. Determine your “why”
  4. Engage in flow producing activities

#1 What’s Your Story?

” You can’t go on without a story any longer than you can read a book about nothing… “

A while back I wrote one of the single most important posts for lost people who feel their lives are meaningless.

It’s called Getting Un-Lost and Re-Writing History and the big question it asks you is this:

What kind of story are you living?  What kind of story do you want to be living?

The problem with not having a story is that even if you experience a lot – travel, learn, try new things – you aren’t providing a context for all the experiences to occur in.

The experiences just become noise, they are random, chaotic, and although enjoyable, they don’t come together and provide any coherent feeling of “purpose.”

They aren’t part of a larger storyline.

If you don’t currently have a story there are 4 qualities inherent in any epic tale:

  1. A character who wants something,
  2. Has the potential for failure failure,
  3. Struggles,
  4. But does whatever it takes to realize the story and see it through
Without a fundamental underlying story, experiences, no matter how enjoyable or epic become noise.  The story is the lifeline, the backbone, the thread that connects all experience and makes them worthwhile.

 

#2 What the hell are you aiming for?

“I find it fascinating that most people plan their vacations with better care than they plan their lives. Perhaps that is because escape is easier than change.”

-Jim Rohn

People seem to be goal averse.  Maybe it’s because setting goals sets you up for disappointment (Oh, I didn’t lose 30 pounds like I said I would in my New Year’s resolution).

Or maybe it’s because people are lazy.

Or maybe it’s because people don’t know what they want or haven’t thought about what they want.

But there is one big reason why you should set goals – even arbitrary goals like running a marathon – and that’s because they give life structure.

At the basic, most fundamental level, the easiest way to turn a meaningless life into a meaningful one is to set a random goal and go for it.

The more facets your goal has, the better.

E.g. Building a business you care about is superior to learning a language (from a purpose standpoint) because it will take longer and has so many facets you can improve upon.

Really dunno what to do?

Learn Spanish (Better? Move to Spain and learn Spanish.)

Set arbitrary fitness goals: gain 20 pounds of muscle, lose 20 pounds of fat.

Make a bucket list of awesome things you want to do. Do one every week/month/6 months/year.

Remember these goals are random, superficial, and provide a temporary sense of purpose. They are, however, better than nothing and are an easy step into feeling like life is worthwhile.

Read: The manifesto and check out the section “Why You Can Never Get What You Want Unless..” On page 28.

 #3 What’s your why?

“Those who have a why to live for can bear almost any how.”

-Nietzche

We already talked about the importance of having a story — a context for all the experiences that your life is made up of.

But there’s one other quality inherent in a meaningful life: why are you doing what you’re doing?

Why are you doing the work you do? For money? Or for some reason that provides real internal sustenance?

Why are you going to the gym? Is it to look good for your girlfriend/boyfriend/ or is it because you deep down want to do it for yourself?

Some people are more easily influenced by the “why” than others.  For example, some people can really defer their happiness and job satisfaction just working for money.

Others get severely depressed after a short time.

Similarly, some people can legitimately go to the gym and transform their bodies for another person — a guy who loses 50 pounds because his girlfriend is threatening to break up with him, for example.

Other people quit soon after because they realize what they are doing is not for themselves.

So when I ask “what is your why?”: why learn a new skill, why start a business, why run a marathon — “just because” is a fine answer in the short term, but to power you long-term the “why” will need to be something that deeply connects with a core value in your life.

Honestly think about the following two options and tell me which one you resonate with more:

  1. Starting a business so you can make much more money than you currently are.
  2. Starting a business because you’re tired of meaningless work, working for someone you dislike, working with people who dislike what they do, having your hours and schedule pre-arranged, etc.
What is the real, emotional, deep seated reason for doing what you’re doing?  

 

Read: Start with Why by Simon Sinek

#4 Engage in flow producing activities

Yes yes, by now you should know Doc. C is one of the main influencers of everything I do in my life.

This fourth way to avoid a meaningless life is a paradoxical one — it’s less easily sought out than the other 3.  In a nutshell, you are looking for an experience - flow, to be specific.

Being in flow is that magical moment when you do an unbelievably perfect shot during a soccer game — time freezes, the stars align, and you describe it as feeling “perfect.”

Being in flow is the artist’s muse – the concept of time evaporates, goals and structure don’t exist, only enjoyment and pure engagement in the current activity exists.

Flow is the state where most of us are happiest, where we feel in our element, where we feel challenged and as if our tasks and time are worthwhile.

I really could spend all day talking about flow as one of the singular most important concepts to learn about, but instead i’ll redirect to you several of the posts I’ve written on the topic.

  1. Making Greatness Part 2 (Discusses Flow in Depth)
  2. If Your Work Sucks, Learn About Flow

So in a nutshell, why seek out flow producing activities? They are inherently enjoyable, inherently feel meaningful, and are self-described as some of the most powerful transcendent moments of life.

Read: Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

Finding meaning in the 21st century

Distractions & diversions – that’s pretty much how I’d sum up the era we live in.

Literal, physical distractions like TV and the Internet, as well as psychological distractions like the preoccupation with money or success.

Killing distractions is but one small part of living a meaningful life — there are so many facets like meaningful work, quality relationships, and higher purpose.

But for starters, as things you can start today, the above 4 points: Your story, your goals, your why, and flow producing activities can easily take a meaningless life and turn it into a worthwhile existence, arguably the most important thing of all.

“What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment. To put the question in general terms would be comparable to the question posed to a chess champion: “Tell me, Master, what is the best move in the world?” There simply is no such thing as the best or even a good move apart from a particular situation in a game and the particular personality of one’s opponent. The same holds for human existence. One should not search for an abstract meaning of life.  Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated.”

-Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Read: Man’s Search for Meaning

 *** Click Here to Read Part 2: (Is This All There is?) What to do When Your Life Feels Meaningless ***

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{ 150 comments… read them below or add one }

Laura Kimball March 7, 2012 at 12:37 am

You nailed it when you said that the origin of this problem is college and the fact that once you graduate, your life is no longer segmented in 10-to-12 week semesters but an endless sphere of time. Yes, you have to report to a boss and pay bills like rent, but there’s nothing that signifies “change.”

Purpose, what a big, enormous word that carries so much weight.

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Alexander March 9, 2012 at 6:29 pm

Yeah I think most people just need to artificially give life structure in order to give it purpose. Hence why I think goal setting is important even if they are short-term goals.

And purpose is definitely a bit of an esoteric discussion going on here, but I think it’s really one of those big top 3 issues that people my age need to meditate on.

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Steve Rice March 13, 2012 at 9:41 pm

You are so wise, Grasshopper! It took me so long to learn the connection of purpose fueling passion. I’m just now learning the fluidity of purpose and I’m getting comfortable with it!

LOVE Frankl, and so glad you mentioned his work. It’s a fascinating study on human behavior and psychology.

I’m so thankful I found your site over at Benny’s place (Get Busy Living). I’m grateful for the opportunity to write for him. I was hoping to connect with people just like you!

Added you on my Reader feed. Can’t wait to come back for more “good stuff!”

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afheyne March 15, 2012 at 4:52 pm

Hey Steve thanks for stopping by,

Yeah Benny is a great guy, glad you found me through him!

And as much as I try to keep my writing and my tips practical.. sometimes a slightly-spiritual undertone comes out. Just can’t help it! People want more from life.

Good to meet you !

Alex

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Vivek narain January 17, 2013 at 2:39 am

Hi Being a sort of psychic i can tell you mind boggling truths. Spiritual is more practical than any down to earth practicalism,my experiences tell me we are nurtured by disembodied spirits and if we are receptive we can comprehend what is our purpose here in fact even what career to pursue. I have found that carl jung was indeed a kind of messiah and sent to make us aware of the meaning of life. @rajalda

Tori April 3, 2012 at 2:58 am

Hey Alexander,

This is a great post and I absolutely love it and am glad you put it up! :D
This is just what I needed right now, for I am 20 and just graduated from polytechnic and like a lot of people my age, have no idea what to do next. College or work? If college, what are you going to study? are questions I always get asked. Honestly, I do not know. And even though they can’t tell, I am scared inside of course, as I find out that my life has no meaning.

I once had a “what’s the point of it all?” phase where I question the purpose of almost anything, everything. Then I came across a quote that goes something like this:

“There is no point. The only point is the point you give it.”

It was almost like an epiphany. It’s stuck with me ever since. This makes perfect sense and I sort of adopted it as my philosophy. Purpose is defined by our own selves. Since we’re already here, we might as well live a life filled with purpose, for as you said “makes you feel like what you are doing in your life actually matters.”

And on your question about which reason for starting a business resonates with me more, I chose 1, without even the slightest hesitation. I guess that really gives me something to reconsider about.

I too am thankful I found your site through Emilie from Puttylike! You’ve got a great blog and I can’t stop reading your posts. Keep up the good work. You’re doing an awesome job!

– Tori

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afheyne April 3, 2012 at 6:06 pm

Thanks Tori!

Yeah I think purposeless-ness is one big characteristics of the new lost 20 somethings.

I TOTALLY agree with that quote you said “There is no point. The only point is the point you give it.” This is my exact perception of the world too – I’ve spent a lot of years thinking about meaning and purpose and what my purpose is, how do we find our purpose, etc.

And this is one of my conclusions (use it at your own risk): the idea that we have some “grand” purpose we are born with is one of the stupidest lies that society has put into our head. Just like our preconceptions about love are mostly due to hollywood and chick flicks, modern society has tricked us into thinking we have some great purpose that we need to find and everything will make sense.

Again that’s only my 2 cents, but for those of us who feel like life is purposeless or meaningless, the best way to find meaning is… GIVE it meaning.

And I appreciate the kind words Tori, thank you for stopping by !

Alex

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Clivant April 4, 2012 at 8:50 pm

Hey, this post is inspirational.

I totally agree with the part about setting random goals. In addtion to setting random goals, I feel that we should always try to break up big goals into smaller ones. This will make those goals more achievable and keep us moving.ﹰ

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afheyne April 5, 2012 at 2:53 pm

Clivant,

Yeah I totally agree with you on goals – an easy way to give life meaning (even if it’s just temporarily) is to set goals, and obviously in order to achieve those goals you need to break them into baby steps!

Alex

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Edwin June 26, 2012 at 9:11 am

With reference to the college comment.

Thats exactly what I feel. I have just graduated from engineering, earning a fantastic salary, not much work stress at all, but life is soooo meaningless….

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afheyne June 28, 2012 at 12:56 am

Hey Edwin,

Yeah I hear that. So do you have any plans to figure out how to make it different? That’s one of those things none of us are told. We may get that first sweet job. We may get that first apartment that is awesome. We may get that new car right out of college. But then what? So many of us feel like life has become so meaningless after that. Stuff to ponder !

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Helen Wiles August 26, 2012 at 12:18 pm

I find having a portfolio career really helps with finding meaning and purpose. Using a diverse range of skills and having the flexibility to find that flow you talk about are all possible when you have a career that spans more than a single job title. Important to get the right elements in the portfolio otherwise you risk a portfolio without meaning but get it right and you’ll feel alive like never before!

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afheyne August 27, 2012 at 11:37 pm

Helen — I agree 100%, having diverse interests also has the potential for you to find flow producing activities.

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Ana August 27, 2012 at 11:27 pm

I don’t really know how did I end up here but I’m glad I did. This post is 100% and, to be honest, I knew all this before but I could never organize it in my head. I’m 18 and everyone keep telling me that I’m silly or I have all my life to take decisions when I tell them that my life is completely pointless. I keep losing my will to try new things, and now I can’t even fulfill my obligations. I think I stopped trying to achieve some goal when I convinced myself I wasn’t good enough, not even just to try it. I feel like I’m healthy, money was never an issue, I have a supportive family and awesome friends but I can’t enjoy anything. I don’t know what I want, I don’t want any of the things life can offer me. That’s why sometimes I feel like if I wanted to end my life…

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afheyne August 27, 2012 at 11:40 pm

Hey Ana —

A book that has totally changed the way I view life is calling “Finding Your Own North Star” by Martha Beck. Most of us, when we start viewing life as meaningless and pointless have a couple things wrong: #1 Our thinking about life and #2 We have stopped trusting our intuition.

Ignore your intuition long enough and it’s easy to become stuck in a life that is miserable and totally un-aligned with what you want.

I highly suggest checking the book out! Let me know what you think.

Also check out “The happiness advantage” , another great book on Amazon.

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Mike November 3, 2012 at 1:54 pm

I was compelled to read your website. Out of curiosity. Unlike prior posters, I’m not young (55). Since I was 4 1/2 years old (no lie, as a paperboy), I’ve worked my entire life. Part of growing up in a poor family. I focused on money and education. I kept my nose clean. I finished in the top 2% of my class, thinking that would get me some type of scholarship. Wrong. So I sold all of my belongings to fund my college education, the whole while thinking a piece of sheepskin would make life better for my family, and myself. Wrong again. My point is this. Chasing a buck will only get you the antlers. Thinking money is a measure of one’s self-worth is a fool’s dream. I’ve seen the highs, and the dregs (which I’m presently in). But there comes a time when one says “What was the reasoning? Why?”

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Alexander Heyne November 5, 2012 at 2:34 pm

Hey Mike —

Yeah I hear you. Half of my family is immigrants (Haiti), and my girlfriend is an immigrant (Philippines), so there is a strong immigrant mentality in my family where success and achievement are the be-all end-all.

Can you explain a little more what you mean by “chasing a buck will only get you the antlers?” Are you referring to the idea that you chased the wrong things in your life?

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Colette November 13, 2012 at 10:38 am

I am having a lot of problems in my life and this post has been very helpful to me. I have been putting my happiness and future in the hands of my son and boyfriend, and recently both of these have slipped though my fingers. I now realise that I must have something for myself that makes me happy, so that I am not left feeling alone and useless when these temporary good feelings go away. I understand that happiness and success could be by-products, but the problem I have now is that I am stuck. I am in the stage you have been talking about, I feel lost, but I was wondering if you could tell me how to find the motivation to set goals? I know that if I was to set a goal, such as finding a new hobby and getting some kind of award.. maybe losing weight, or getting a new job.. then I would feel good at the end, but I just can not seem to muster up some kind of reason why that particular goal appeals to me. I want to have a happy life and feel fulfilled at the end, and I don’t see how any of these short term goals are relevant to or will have any affect on my future. Do you have any advice on finding the motivation?

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Alexander Heyne November 13, 2012 at 12:57 pm

Hey Colette —

“Finding” motivation is very hard. I’ve found that it doesn’t work.

Motivation happens naturally when you’re on a path that inspires you.

Rather than finding motivation to set goals and achieving them, go with your intuition.

Does your intuition tell you to go in one certain direction or follow a certain path? test out a certain job, etc?

It it does – follow it. If it doesn’t, and you feeel massive resistance and lack of energy in any direction, you’re going to have to fight that resistance and just make a move.

DO anything – switch jobs, force yourself to try something new, break up routine. Getting stuck and getting depressed are very scary for one main reason – they keep you paralyzed and unable to take action for months or potentially years at a time. Whatever you do – take action. I know it feels like maybe your intuition is dead and you have no idea which direction to go – but just make a move – forget how useful it is, or how much you like it, or where it’ll take you. Just move.

Motivation will come from growth !

Alexander

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Roxanne November 27, 2012 at 2:41 pm

Hi Alexander,

Thanks for the blog post! I loved the quotes and am going to write those down. I agreed with a lot of things you said and it was nice to see some of my semi-realizations put down into words.

I’ve been feeling really unmotivated and depressed lately – I moved to a new country for a year and thought that would solve everything, but I actually only became more depressed with the initial lack of social contact. I’m trying to be happy despite it all and have meaning, but how do I give my life meaning if I don’t know what I want? I used to want to work in an international non-profit and I still think I would enjoy that, but on the other hand I want to do something freer and artsy. I don’t want to go to grad school and be stuck wearing a suit forever.

Not to employ you as my therapist, but I just don’t get life. Doesn’t there have to be a meaning? Isn’t there some overall purpose? If I just fill my life with pointless goals and purposes, won’t I look back when I’m older and think it was all worthless? Even if I get my dream job and get married and have children, it will be nice for awhile but then I’ll die and the same thing will happen over and over again. Isn’t there something bigger? I really like your post, but it seems you are saying that life is meaningless and we just have to pretend it isn’t by filling our lives with meaningless but distracting goals and ultimately useless causes.

I could go on in this vein for awhile, but once I start thinking about this I just make myself more depressed! I really do want to be happy and fulfilled, but it sometimes seems like I would be living a lie if I ignore the truth that life is meaningless. Or something like that.

I’m kind of rambling above and feel free to not respond to that, but could you tell me what to do if I don’t know what my story is and what I want in life? I really have no idea what I want and I’m at the stage where I can’t just pick a path for fun – I either need to go to grad school, commit to another year abroad, or try to find a job back home. Ai yai yai!

Okay, thanks for reading and sorry it’s so long!!

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Alexander Heyne November 30, 2012 at 11:03 am

Hey Roxanne —

The Short answer: One of the most interesting lessons I learned during a hard year of my life was this: If you THINK life has meaning, and you THINK that’s critical to your well-being, you will NEED a meaning.

But for people who DON’T think life has meaning, and DON’T think it’s critical to their life-fullfilment, they are happy doing whatever they want.

A perfect example is Religion — people often use religion to GIVE life meaning, and in the process make it easier to understand. When “Everything happens for a reason” suddenly you don’t feel so alone anymore, right? When everything you do suddenly takes on a purpose, there is no more worry and no more stress.

Without this getting into a theological/philosophical discussion, such is the power of the mind — I found myself thinking much more about purpose and meaning when I wasn’t fully satisfied and paying attention throughout the day. Often when you’re engrossed in what you’re doing you don’t have time to think about the grand-scheme of things.

I Would suggest two things

#1 (The most important) is stop thinking about life and focus more on enjoying it. It’s hard, and it’s almost that washed out “focus on the moment” cliche advice, but it’s more important than anything else. Depression, unhappiness, and lacking purpose are thinker’s diseases.

#2 Sit down and figure out what you want.

I’ve recommended books like Finding Your Own North Star which will help you do that. But sit down in a cafe for awhile and ask yourself, in the following domains, what do I want? Job, family, husband, kids, house, where I live, what I do, do I travel, am I in clubs or oganizations, etc.

The answer to “Doesn’t life HAVE to have meaning” is a bit philosophical – can any of us truly know? No. But like I said, whether or not you THINK LIFE HAS MEANING is much more important because it will affect your behavior and whether or not you are satisfied everyday or depressed.

E.g. Christians like to say that everything is for a reason – god has things planned for you and it’s all here to teach you something. Suddenly depression makes sense because it’s teaching you about life right?

Taoists will say that life has no inherent meaning – the only meaning is what you give, and the only purpose of life is to LIVE FULLY RIGHT NOW every single moment. Every moment is your purpose of life.

Other people will say that life has no meaning, so I’m just going to do whatever is fun.

See where I’m going? Your perception of life (e.g. whether or not there’s a purpose) is more important than the actual facts themselves.

My point is NOT That life is meaningless. It’s just that we’re born with a blank slate. Thoughts, ideas, religion, etc. all turn that blank slate into a dinner plate of various conceptions about life that alter our behavior.

Some (“this is all for a reason”) will improve our behavior and mood. Other modes of things (“Life has no purpose”) will make us depressed and unmotivated.

Also I emailed you so we can talk more !

Best,
Alexander

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whateeeever March 22, 2013 at 5:28 pm

hey, man
amazing insight. i got really depressed for 5 days, i couldnt do anything. and i kept on thinking and thinking, i thought i had gone mad, cuz i used to be soooo happy, like almost all the time, always spreading happiness, motivating others and getting my own work done. u are absolutely right, i will just do whatever is fun. i like some luxury things, so i like to get enough money to make some dreams come true. i know that i love to work, cuz i like the feeling of success and it gives me a purpose because somehow i am moving on with my life. ur reply was amazing. thanks :*
Niki

cns January 10, 2013 at 11:43 pm

I googled, “feeling lost in life feel like a failure don’t know what to do.”
Thank you, Alexander. Thank you.

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Alexander Heyne January 13, 2013 at 5:51 pm

You’re welcome CNS! I hope it helps :)

Alexander

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Jakeo33 March 4, 2013 at 6:26 am

Great points. Especially the one where “you may have many experiences and travels, however they occur without context”

I was always dreamer and had a childhood dream to “become a …”. Mine was reasonable, but it was in a science field. And since I struggled a bit in school, it turned out that I hated school (And my grades) but loved academics! By 20, I was working two jobs, going to college (4 different ones because of a major switch), learning to fly airplanes, skiing all the time, etc. I had goals to at least become what most of my peers are at my age now. (33 years old). What I don’t get is older people *still*, despite my situation, tell me that I am “years” ahead of my peers. Now what is that suppose to mean and the purpose of life, when your peers all got to get married, have good credit because their parents paid for college, bought houses on daddies dime, and a great career where “everything just fell into place”… Therefore you can see the envy thingy developing there. While now, while I was starting to do things at 20 that many 30 years are now wanting to do and can, I now feel like a convicted felon high school drop out dope dealer with the worst possible credit rating because of college loans (defaulted. Burger King does not pay good enough and I refuse to rob a bank. You told me that I should go to college. AND I HAD DREAMS. Sorry society, I would do it again if I could), and barely hugged two girls in the last 10 years and I am not that ugly or have a nasty personality. Point is, with my existential crises is that I am learning that my 30’s are the HARDEST years of my life, while looking around and seeing many of my peers having their best (envy), while have intense and somewhat realistic dreams when younger only to work hard, fail and fail again only to ultimately fail. I am not a negative person by nature, however when you work hard at something with goals and fail to realize them in the worst possible way feeling like all that time spent was for nothing while living in an environment where it is cold and unfriendly to single men in their early 30’s (suburbs). I know what I need to do, but lack the resources to do it quicker which as you can see leads to more of a depressing pity party rather than a “go for the gold, shoot for the stars, in the flow” like experience right now. When my INTENTION was for it to NOT to end up like this to the point of exhaustion, depression, and lack of meaning. Sure it may be pity, however, one cannot simply hop scotch down the sidewalk singing about lolipops and cherry trees full of sunshine and positivity either without lying about your emotional state. The frustrating thing is not what I did not get to experience yet, but it is knowing that I know what to do to correct it, and the further my resources to go “get it” in life decreases, I am being put into this perpetual state of laziness all while STILL being told that I am “miles ahead of my peers” while I am the one failing and expressing negativity, while they seem to have everything perception. I write this so long because BAM. I am 33 and oh yea, my life feels meaningless especially in terms of all that my peers have (stuff that society expects of you at this age). But if I have to find one meaning, it would actually be that I am still, with near obsession, interesting with the same passions that I already FAILED in. So what ever quality that it…. somehow I need to apply it to the rest of my life. But I am lost and don’t know how. Therefore, finally making it seem like I am already over the hill and kicked the bucket at the age of 33!!! Thanks for reading and empathizing. Obviously I expect no one here to help me. This is not a self help blog. I just make, unfortunately a great example of this.. that somehow now I have to turn it into my purpose… remember that “somehow” I am miles ahead of my peers ya know!!?? LOL

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Alexander Heyne March 6, 2013 at 6:47 pm

Hey Jakeo33,

It sounds like in your 20’s you were “miles ahead of your peers” because you were enjoying life and not slaving in the rat race. But in your 30’s, you were still enjoying life and not at all thinking about work —

So let me ask you this then, what is the one thing you’d want to change? What is your priority? Changing the field you work in?

It’s funny that you write me saying that 33 sounds old… man, there are 60 year olds emailing me telling me that they are “Gonna quit their jobs, fuck it.”

As far as I’m concerned, you can’t be “too old” to quit a shitty life and get a better one.

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Khawar March 5, 2013 at 7:04 am

While you will be searching for meaning of life and go through a lot of books, don’t miss Quran.

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**Reason** May 17, 2014 at 8:25 pm

Khawar,

This is the entire point of this dialogue — to address the existential concerns of persons ‘devoid’ of some identification with a framework that discourages the ability to think honestly about what we face.

The Quran **IS NOT** the place to look for answers to these questions. Nor is the Hadith, or any other document created by Islamic-pundits.

How does absolute predestination in the divine will of an absolutely unknowable being answer the question of “meaning, ” and, “purpose?”

This is about the real world — not, “anxiously anticipating my first opportunity at suicide-murder reality.”

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Stefan March 5, 2013 at 10:49 am

Alex,

Really enjoyed your post. I am having a bit of existential crisis lately. I quit my first job out of college after 6 months because I hated it. The past month I have been job hunting like a mad man. I have been super depressed, ruminating philosophical thoughts about the point of life. I mean do we really just work, retire, then die? For what? What is the point of anything? Did you go through something similar to this? Thanks for your time.

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Alexander Heyne March 6, 2013 at 6:33 pm

Hey Stefan —

Yeah man I went through that A LOT, believe me. And I went through it in the good times, so you can imagine how much worse it got in the bad times.

The unemployed depression is the worst though – too much time, not enough structure. I would suggest getting a job ASAP — do it differently this time, and work on experimenting with something you enjoy.

That was my million dollar question: do we just work, retire, then die?

But what if your life was work = something you love that also pays the bills, retirement = 3+ months of travel every year, and death = at the end of a loooooong and exciting life.

That’s pretty much what my life looks like now (not even 2 years later). Life can change really quickly man, and can become exciting, fulfilling, rewarding.

You gotta ask yourself what lifestyle you DON’T want – and make sure all your moves don’t lead you there.

— Alex

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lydia March 24, 2013 at 8:51 am

It doesnt seem fair that being an american we have the luxury to seek these answers. Meanwhile in war torn or impovershed countries people pray for a break. I dont understand why does life smile on some contries and take a dump on others. If all of us deserve happiness what gives?

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Alexander Heyne March 28, 2013 at 4:21 pm

There’s no such thing as “deserving” happiness. No one deserves anything in life. Regardless of where you are now, you find ways to make the change towards a life you enjoy more.

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aumma March 28, 2013 at 3:44 pm

I love it! Thank you so much!!

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Alexander Heyne March 28, 2013 at 4:20 pm

You’re welcome Aumma :)

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blacksnow April 7, 2013 at 3:39 am

Easier said than done. I kind of get the point, but what if you don’t really have anything that fires up your passion? I mean everyone can find their purposes and passions, but I don’t have one. I just sit lazily watching anime to cure my boredom. Everything seems so Ordinary for me.

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Alexander Heyne April 7, 2013 at 12:23 pm

Blacksnow –

It’s definitely easier said than done. That’s a universal part of life though :)

I don’t believe that you don’t have a passion or purpose. You just need to find one. Remember – 1-2 years ago I was EXACTLY in your shoes, miserable, totally stuck in life, wasting my days away because I couldn’t find my fire again.

Check out some of the other guides I’ve written, like this one: http://milkthepigeon.com/2012/09/11/5-most-useful-tools-for-finding-your-work-in-life/

The important thing is to force yourself to try new things — I know you feel resistance in every direction. I know you have no energy or inner fire. Just test things out, as many things as possible, and one of them will lift your spirits a bit.

– Alex

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Jini April 17, 2013 at 4:57 am

This burning question of “meaning of existence of our lives” also hit me since i was in 6th grade. It’s too early to be hit by that question, but it did take a troll on whole “life perception”. Now, at age of 21, i feel like i lost the meaning I found few years back… although I have been able to do most of the things I decided, I am in field I wanted to be in, have been through unexpected experiences….. but after all.. in the end.. it feels void… complete emptiness in doing that “meaningful” things as well. Everything is pretty well at its place, am working what I loved to do, have very supportive parents, true friends (whom I can count on as life long friends) , I engage myself in activities I love like anything…. to keep myself revitalize :every week-photography, painting, music, meeting new people, knowing world, psychology , reading hell lots of books and doing ( & actually experiencing life) far better than my peers..
then why most of the time this feeling of emptiness surrenders… even though i know what exactly i want to do?!

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Alexander Heyne April 24, 2013 at 10:37 pm

Hey Jini —

You know what you want to do. That’s good. Are you doing it yet though? Sometimes people feel a little lost until they’re living it.

Maybe you just want deeper meaning.

You’re involved in activities you love – but what about meaningful activities. Some kind of project with a larger meaning, beyond just you?

For a smaller percentage of people, I think there is definitely a higher calling too. For example people who are called to philosophy, spirituality, religion, etc.

Does that help at all?

– – Alex

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Zack Baker April 23, 2013 at 4:06 pm

I like this post allot , it’s very motivating nice work :) But do you not feel there is a risk that following your passion may result in failure. And if your fail in that what else really is there. And like sometimes your passion is just a bit out of reach right. For example say you were a standard kid with standards average grades , and you want to be an astronaut , that dream is not really gonna be possible with your mediocre grades , then what do you do ? You could continue to follow your dream where the chances are low all your life and you will probably not get there , or you settle for less. Its just really confusing right ?

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Alexander Heyne April 24, 2013 at 10:24 pm

Hey Zack –

Emailed ya back ;)

— Alex

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james smoth April 23, 2013 at 4:07 pm

hi what ius up

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Dustin April 24, 2013 at 2:55 pm

I feel like you just saved me from 80 more years of suffering. I just wanted to thank you so much for this blog.

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Alexander Heyne April 24, 2013 at 10:23 pm

Haha you’re welcome Dustin! Lemme know how else I can help.

— Alex

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Stephanie April 24, 2013 at 11:11 pm

Thank you for sharing Alex. It really makes a difference. I will make sure to pay it forward.

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Alexander Heyne April 25, 2013 at 5:31 pm

No problem, Stephanie :)

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Matthew April 27, 2013 at 3:14 am

Thank you so much for typing this. I was feeling sort of suicidal… and it was scaring me. I felt like everything felt pointless. Then I read this and I feel so much better, I have to make a purpose for myself, I define my own purpose.

I’ve been with my long distance girlfriend for almost a year and this helped me realize that I want to eventually live with her, and have a family as we grow up… because I love her, and I want to raise two kids. It’s probably a long shot but I have hope.

Thanks again. You saved my life.

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Alexander Heyne April 27, 2013 at 11:13 am

Matthew –

You’re welcome man! Shoot me an email if you ever have any questions or want to talk.

— Alex

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loli May 5, 2013 at 9:18 pm

whenever I google on a life subject to read and inspire me i usually never end reading the articles because it seems super long and i can never finish them. my purpose in this message is to let you know that just the formation and the way you put this article is not awesome, its really extraordinary! God bless you..
p.s: i read the entire article and plan on reading on the other links you put.

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Alexander Heyne May 7, 2013 at 3:20 pm

Hey Loli ,

That’s awesome, I hope they help! Email me if you have any questions.

– Alex

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Psh May 5, 2013 at 10:27 pm

Life is meaningless. If any of this shit works for you it’s because you’re too stupid or credulous to keep your mind consistent. Life exists through and for breeders, the endless multiplication of zeros; if you’re not a nobody you will never have a place in existence.

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Alexander Heyne May 7, 2013 at 3:21 pm

Hi there babylon catholic church,

Best of luck in life thinking that way.

Best,
Alex

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Psh May 8, 2013 at 3:54 am

Go fuck yourself with your veiled condescension. It’s true, and if you don’t like it you can go die in a fire.

Kim-André May 19, 2013 at 1:02 am

Hi Alex,

I quit school after 10th grade to become a rapper. But after quitting school life continued to happen, I worked some apprentice jobs that gave me fractions of minimum wage and ended up quitting them and selling Cannabis/Hash for a living. I befriended people that had been living harsh lives on the streets and we eventually explored conspiracy theories and esoteric knowledge together that waked me up to the idea that everything I’ve thought of life might be a lie aswell as to the existence of the eternal spirit of life. Because of a higher understanding of money, the power elites of society and industry I became demotivated to puruse my aspirations within music, because I didn’t want to sell my soul. I didn’t want to make music for money, but to express. I’ve explored so many solutions to our problems on this planet and find it demotivating that a lot of people in power to do things knows about these solutions but don’t take action upon them because it isn’t within their own personal interest when it comes to short-term and direct profit, at least not to their knowledge. I see a pattern within our every-man-for-their-own-superficial-profit society and that is, if there’s something that needs to be done that don’t generate unrelated & personal profit, it won’t be done, whilst if you have enough money, you can make so much evil happen, because there seems to always be someone desperate or ignorant enough to fulfill your wishes if you just pay their price. Anyway, I’ve been unemployed for a year now and I’ve gotten in a rut. I’ve smoked DMT and eaten magic mushrooms and I realize the grand and ultimate emptiness of it all, not to say I haven’t had some incredible experiences of unconditional love, enlightenment, oneness and bliss. And the emptiness is so captivating… I know I can use it to my advantage but when I start feeling motivated I get scared. Because I know for a fact that everything I love can and will be taken away from me any moment. What if things start falling into place and I die? The lack of meaning comes back and I lose all motivation. I’ve realized I’m addicted to food and I think it is because it is a form of filling the void. I’ve tried fasting for a couple of days and I feel so much better in my body when I cease to eat. But then there’s all the emotional attachments to different foods and even non-foods like candy that just, is there, present within my consciousness, tempting me, suggesting to me to acquire and eat it. I’ve been a vegetarian for over 1.5 years now, I was a vegan for a year but lately I’ve dropped a bit out, ate a couple of vegetarian pizzas and some pastry with milk and eggs in them, not to talk about fried rice with eggs. I don’t have any reliable source of income so it’s hard to be on a diet. I want to go fruitarian as a transition into breatharianism. I always end up binging on unhealthy food. I sometimes get my hopes up that there is a reason for everything and that when I’ve accumulated enough experience of my self I will be able to control the illusion and create a paradise for my self, a type of heaven, nirvana, 5th dimension, call it whatever you want to. But as an eternal being, can any new experience of my self really add to All That Is? Perhaps this is my eternal nature? This is it. There is no ultimate purpose for everything. It isn’t hard to believe as purpose/meaning/reason is an idea/concept invented by our infinite soul. Existence came before reason. So existence (us) doesn’t need to justify ourselves. Not that justification is my reason for wanting there to be a purpose. Total freedom is my reason for wanting there to be a purpose. I want to be totally free to express exactly how I want and manifest life on my own terms, free from suffering, exploring myself in all ways I can imagine and be happy ever after. But maybe this isn’t what any of us truly want, and maybe it can never happen. We don’t know. Because it is thinkable that life is a school of contrast to get inspiration for the after-life. But it is also thinkable that when this body dies, so does the memories, desires, hopes, dreams and everything else associated with this lifetime – I experience the beginning and end/the light/oneness – reincarnate and it all goes on for infinity. I like what you wrote about that happiness and success isn’t static and might be an unintended by-product of finding temporary and ultimately illusory purpose, aswell as the idea of serving an idea of “something bigger than us.” I will make sure to keep it in mind in the days to come as I find my way to unconditional bliss. I’ve thought many times that life is the infinite opportunity to forget itself. To lose yourself in the moment. When you are all that is and you lose yourself, you truly become one with life, because after all, the sensible muchness of it all is ultimately nothing. When you become nothing you’re immortal, because – nothing lasts forever.

Thank you for sharing with us fellow selfling.

Namaste

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Troubled-One May 28, 2013 at 8:39 pm

Happiness is a mere distraction! Life really is meaningless. It doesn’t matter what you do with your life, it is still meaningless! You will be just as important 100 years from today as you were 100 years ago. You didn’t exist then and you will cease to exist in the future, nobody will remember you and nobody will care. Life really is meaningless!

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Alexander Heyne May 31, 2013 at 2:26 pm

Hi “troubled-one,”

Yes, I don’t think life has inherent meaning. But that doesn’t mean it can’t become meaningful based on how you design it. That is untrue that “no matter what, it is still meaningless.” Sure, inherently, it is meaningless. But your own perception will transform and life will become highly meaningful.

I disagree – “nobody will remember you and nobody will care.” What about all the other people who have changed lives in the past? Well known people like Einstein, Ben Franklin, and unknown people like the millions of amazing parents and grandparents that change their childrens lives. They are remembered, and people do care.

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themostdismal June 17, 2013 at 4:25 am

Those people will fade away as well and even the universe is falling apart . The problem isn’t the meaninglessness of life, instead the problem is that people keep deluding themselves that it isn’t and keep having kids. Life is just not a good thing.

Ross Campbell August 11, 2014 at 12:12 pm

and in that sense it isn’t a bad thing either. It just is.

Life has no meaning but that which we give it. If your goal was to change the education system (an example) and by the end of your lifetime you achieved that then you gave your life purpose and hopefully changed the life of many others for better or worse. That is all we can hope for. In the end it is still meaningless but it may have an effect and meaning on those who succeed us.

fudgepacker June 2, 2013 at 2:39 pm

fluff, just like all the ‘how to be happy’ preachers.

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Alexander Heyne June 7, 2013 at 2:03 pm

Hi “fudgepacker” (cute name btw),

Care to elaborate?

Best,
Alex

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Robert June 15, 2013 at 5:47 am

I don’t have much to add or say about this, but I’d like to thank you for this enlightening read. It really connected with me.

My philosophy at the moment is to keep things simple, realistic and sober, and not to let ego or pride stand in the way of proper judgement. It works for me because it helps me keep my feet on the ground, and the pain of failure I get feels natural and something to learn from. So that when I fail, the pain has meaning and feels educational and I’m able to let it all in, to promote some sort of growth. Emotions I have serve purpose and are therefore a fundament for me to build upon.

I have a feeling this might be strange to read, if so, sorry about that, I don’t write a lot and english isn’t my first language(well, technically it is, but I digress).

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Alexander Heyne June 17, 2013 at 2:48 pm

No problem Robert!

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Rob June 24, 2013 at 8:02 am

Life is life. You are born, you live for awhile, then you die. Nothing more nothing less. Writing up a feel good speech for those poor F**kers out there by giving them false hope is wrong. Life is sh*t regardless people deal with it. And you are just a kid! Should be writing this crap when you are 40 and have gone through full life experiences. The idiosyncrasies of life still amaze me and you are one them. Hold a gun in your mouth then contemplate life and see where it gets you. If your brains are not splattered across the wall by end of it, then you have found some pathetic reason to live or trying to hold on to some notion that our lives are intrinsically inclusive of something relevant- which it is not.

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Alexander Heyne June 25, 2013 at 5:18 pm

Hi Rob,

“Nothing more, nothing less.” Well, actually a lot more. Yes, life overly simplified, is birth, life, death. But in the middle people build businesses, change lives, travel the world, have kids, write stories, read stories, and do many many other things.

Life is “shit” ? Please tell me how this is an objective fact.

Do I really need to be 40 to write this? I don’t think so. Because I went through the process of feeling that my life was meaningless, and I got through it. I’m no longer there, but I know many people that are. I figured I would write this for them.

Hope that answers your concerns,

– Alex

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laura July 19, 2013 at 1:05 pm

Thanks for being so honest and sharing your suggestions… please explain how you decide on an answer to your solution-questions. I am having a hard time getting behind an answer that is arbitrarily generated… very afraid of making the wrong decision. It seems like it could get even worse, if I find a purpose and it fails on me, even though I guess what your saying is that it inevitably will, because it keeps changing. It has been too long since I was living for a purpose, and I even have lost “my story” since who I thought I was, I outgrew. I eagerly await your response, and in the meanwhile, I am going to read the articles you inserted for further reflection, and do some laundry.

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Alexander Heyne July 19, 2013 at 9:56 pm

Hi Laura,

Our story always changes, depending on where we are, what we’re doing, how old we are, and who we’re with. The only thing you can do in life is have faith that the pieces will connect in the end – obviously you can’t see that in advance, you’ll only be able to see it in retrospect. Why not take on a new purpose, see if it “clicks” and take it from there?

Best,
Alex

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laura July 19, 2013 at 1:23 pm

I read that you said to just do things that I actually enjoy, but I guess it is hard to enjoy things because I know that they are not going to last. I am realizing that I have a lot of anxiety over impermanence because I know what it feels like to get stuck – for a long time – between feeling an authentic sense of satisfaction from one thing, and another. I have been stuck in the gap for a long time, I am in the gap, now, and I am too terrified about ending back in the gap, to reach for something new, and have it end…. guess I have actually become very used to being in the gap, and though I hate it, I have made myself believe that “my story” is being in the gap. It’s like everyday feels like a situation where I have to work myself out of this fear, only to wake up to it, anew, each day…. like a hellish version of the movie “Groundhog Day”.

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laura July 19, 2013 at 2:03 pm

…it’s like things loose their flavor very quickly, for me. I know how horribly ungrateful that is, of me… but it is like I have this compulsive fear of things being impermanent, which is what contributes to them not lasting… I think you would say that this is because I am not in the “flow”, which I would agree with…. like I am in a static situation, and I have short bouts of flow and long gaps, in between. I too quickly begin to think, and loose my state of being unaware of the fact that I am not content. I think you are right, that I am mostly discontent when I am thinking. It is very hard to find distractions from thinking… usually these things come to their wonderful end within an hour, tops, or they can turn sour, if you overdo it… like how I started to hate the smell of coffee, which I normally love, because I had to make it all day, because it was my job, to do so, at one point. I have been labeled with ADHD, but I think it is more than that, to blame. I think it is also because I feel like it would be selfish or impossible to be in the “flow”, all the time… irresponsible… since my main job is taking care of children and animals and a house. I am often envious of my children, because they are free to follow their wants… it makes me so annoyed when they say they are bored, because they have the freedom to seek what they are curious about so much of the time, and they waste it…. meanwhile, I am just managing lots of stupid ‘stuff’, and watching them find the flow… trapped in all the stupid ‘stuff’ that makes up the life of a stay at home mother… if I followed my bliss, I think I might forget to feed them, or just wander away. How do you find the flow when you have no option to change your routine? I feel like a terrible person for not finding joy in watching the people I love find their joy. I feel very selfish, cowardly, and jealous. At least I am being honest… I want the real thing… no point lying about it… not trying to fool myself.

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Alexander Heyne July 20, 2013 at 1:42 pm

Hi Laura,

Yeah you’re absolutely right, you can’t just go about and follow your bliss. If we were animals and could eat, sleep, have sex, go to the bathroom when/where we wanted, it would be easy. Obvious we’re not, and we can’t. Especially if we have families to worries about or kids to take care of.

It’s very difficult to be in flow all the time. I agree we can’t usually have that luxury.

In work… how can you find flow? Based on what you said I take it you’re a stay at home mom? I would definitely suggest ordering the book “flow” – it’ll help you figure out how to find it at work.

But what’s preventing you from enjoying the time with the kids – helping them grow and learn, rather than being envious of their ability to wander freely? It sounds like this is a sign of a deeper discontent in your life.

If you can’t change your routine, find flow in the routine, or create the kind of personality that naturally enters flow (again the book goes into this).

Are you watching the kids the entire day, or is there a way that you could have someone watch them for a portion while you engage in activities you like?

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laura July 19, 2013 at 2:13 pm

Life is just “sum”… it is everything. Paradoxical meaning… it is what it isn’t, and it isn’t what it is…. sometimes the water goes up, and sometimes the water goes down. It goes every-which-way, whenever, and you just have to go with it, or you drown… you must be able to stay in the flow whatever way it goes… you have to stay flexible… at least we can enjoy being unaware when we are not thinking… if we never thought, we would not really be able to experience and know what it is to be unaware – (and happy)… right?

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Alexander Heyne July 20, 2013 at 1:35 pm

Hey Laura,

Your writing sounds pretty Taoist-y. I agree that life just “is” – it’s neither good nor bad, it’s just… life.

I think awareness and unawareness are sometimes irrelevant. Thinking often impedes the flow of life though. Sometimes I wonder if I became so unhappy for a year just because I was thinking a lot and not doing enough.

– Alex

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laura July 19, 2013 at 2:19 pm

I think some people need a lot of exercise to wear them out, and some people need thoughts to chew on, similarly, to wear out their brains… when you don’t get enough mental exercise, it is hard to wear out your brain, and it is even hard to go to sleep… and it is hard for me to stop pondering to the point that everything seems pointless… I feel like we just have to take what we get, and not through a fit… going with the flow… or do we get to have a creative part in making the flow? I almost want to believe that is not true, because it would seem like I am missing out on that, currently, no pun intended. (which just does not seem very fair). I guess I am throwing a fit.

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Alexander Heyne July 20, 2013 at 1:32 pm

Hi Laura,

I think we absolutely have a large part in cultivating flow. In fact the entire book FLOW is about how to cultivate it. If it interests you, check the book out here: http://www.amazon.com/Flow-The-Psychology-Optimal-Experience/dp/0061339202/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1374341562&sr=8-1&keywords=flow

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laura July 19, 2013 at 2:30 pm

You are a good person, for wanting to help others find meaning… if everyone really believed everything they wrote here, they would not need to be searching for answers, and they wouldn’t have found themselves, here. The fact that people are searching is a reason for optimism.

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Alexander Heyne July 19, 2013 at 9:51 pm

It’s what I’m here to do Laura !

– Alex

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Max July 26, 2013 at 10:53 pm

When i stumble upon this article i thought it just another shitty article about telling you how to live your life but fortunately it was not. I must say i was impressed with this because these are actually only guidelines (very helpfull); because a man can only find “WHY” on his own, others can only show him a path but he alone must walk it. The reason why i am writing this because i still have not find my own “why”. I am 21 and currently i am on third year of philosophy and history on college. I read a tons of books with great variety of themes, watched a thousand of movies and tv shows but the problem lies in myself, i just cant find the purpose to anything; i am not suicidal like most people in world because i see no purpose in it too; we are all going to die anyway sooner or later. Human nature is destructive one and it cannot be changed, in history civilizations rise and fall and every empire is built upon blood and death of millions. And so is today. People dont change its just an illusion; its like “The more things change, the more they stay the same”. People lived miserable like forever and its just sad. Also i liked the part about daily routines; i mean its just killing me, every day is almost the same. I am trying to find my purpose since i was 15 and no matter what i do i just cant seem to find it. I am actually satisfied with my past 21 years of life and i dont regret much but right now with each passing day i am feeling worse and worse. I have everything a man can actually want in life but still i want something different something more (not materialistic) more in a sense of doing something amazing for myself. Well hope i find it one day before i die.
Bye the way, great article. I think you really helped a lot of people.

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Alexander Heyne July 28, 2013 at 1:04 pm

Hi Max,

I think “looking for purpose” vanishes once you start doing things you like.

When you have a job that deeply puts you in flow, when you have hobbies that you love and keep you focused, and when your relationships are meaningful and enjoyable… life just makes sense.

I often encourage people to “give” life a purpose. I think this is the point of religion. An artificial means of giving life meaning. But if you ask me, there’s an easier way – try to find flow in as many moments of life as you can. It’s the way to inherently turn off the brain and enjoy life. People that are in flow rarely are busy thinking about the ultimate meaning of life.

Best,
Alex

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Francesca August 1, 2013 at 4:07 am

This is actually mind blowing. I thought I was a boring person who was just existing. I’m so relieved to know that other people know and feel exactly the same way as I do. I’m 21yrs old and felt empty with no direction because I simply had no passions/goals in other words no structure. I thought I was going nuts at one point! X

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Alexander Heyne August 2, 2013 at 9:11 am

Francesca, you are definitely not the only one feeling this way. Just look at the amount of comments here!

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Jon de olefarte August 21, 2013 at 3:16 am

I am 48 freaking years old. I do not take advice from a twenty something (even a wise one) ever. I am sorry I ever stopped by here. Gbye.

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Alexander Heyne August 21, 2013 at 9:30 am

Jon,

Age is not always directly related to life experience or wisdom. I know many 48 year olds with far less life experience than some 25 year olds.

Thanks for stopping by.

Cheers
Alex

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anthony etherton September 2, 2013 at 1:21 am

Life just is…

Life IS meaningless, until we create a meaning for it. Life is just a beating heart, a brain and all the other organic stuff our ‘vehicle’ needs so it can transport our consciousness around the planet.

It’s the individual who must create there own purpose and carve out a life for their self.

Of course there’s a choice to be made, but before that choice or choices can be made, the indivudual has to be ‘awake’ to make them.

So I would offer that, in part, it’s the job of those who are ‘awake’ to wake up as many others as they can.

Ants

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Alexander Heyne September 2, 2013 at 2:04 pm

Hey Anthony,

Totally agree. Life inherently has no meaning. Whatever meaning we find is whatever we give to life.

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Anthony etherton September 2, 2013 at 3:28 pm

The scary yet wonderful thing is that it took me to the ripe old age of 50 before I woke up, but there seems to be many much younger people, yourself included, who seem to be ‘awake’ in the world and that’s brilliant!

Ants

Anthony jr September 4, 2013 at 9:05 pm

I came upon this site by accident, however I really enjoyed the different perspectives on life and its meaning or lack of according to some. I for one think life can be interesting, fun provocative and adventurous all dependent on your sate of mind of course. Its easy to get lost in just living life without purpose. Somehow people who don’t have the freedoms and basic luxuries we enjoy here in the USA have a better capacity for understanding this, when someone says that life is meaningless, I believe they have just stopped being grate full for being alive and healthy . Lets look at it this way I have a brother that was born with epilepsy, and starting having seizures since the age of 5 so he takes 3 different kinds of medications just to control his condition, when he takes his meds they make him sleepy for a couple of hrs. He misses out on a lot of stuff because of this. He tried to be self sufficient and tried going to college , however the stress was to much started triggering more seizures so he had to quit. Of course their are worse conditions others are born with or encounter in their lives, so it kind of bums me out when people complain about life and the lack of meaning they experience, wake up and smell the coffee! and stop being so selfish build something , help someone, inspire others with your life, it isn’t just about money, careers, and your ego, its about letting go, and following your dreams in spite of failures and shortcomings, and most importantly its about others more than you realize, not for the sake of being remembered 100 yrs., from now. And for those that already have everything they ever wanted and are still unhappy, heed this advice, learn to appreciate the small things in life, the laugh of a child, a stupid joke, a sunny day or an autumn afternoon. These and many other of life experiences are the things that no matter how fleeting they may seem, should make your life worth while. So its really up to you and the chances you take and breaks you get, along with some careful planning, that will determine if life is a worthy journey or if you will decide to give in to pessimism, guilt, and self-pity. Give life a chance to broaden your horizons, give your self the opportunity to live fully. cherish, love, and encourage others to do the same. Above all, even though you think you have all the answers and life is void of meaning to you, don’t bring others down to your level. Good luck !

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Alexander Heyne September 11, 2013 at 9:54 am

Hi Anthony,

I don’t claim to have all the answers.

But in my observation, life doesn’t have meaning, but that doesn’t mean it has to be meaningless. There are many ways to give life meaning. Religion is one attempt at that.

– Alex

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Matt Smith September 14, 2013 at 9:57 pm

been wondering this my entire life, I would not underestimate what Frued was saying, Happiness is a quest for pleasure, and if he elaborated, he probably would have said that if finding purpose in your life is a pleasure, then
that be it.
Im sure that some would argue, that their
“purpose” was raising 13 children, but by the 5th one it was a chore. So as we evolve, it may be actually in whatever you do just finding pleasure in whatever your doing is the key. And then being able to plan your life out to get some pleasure, whether that be a purpose you have found or just getting laid for once? Anyway you look at it, I don’t think living things are meant to be happy constantly anyway, some of the darkest days of my life, end up changing me, or I have to change something that ends up being more of an enjoyment, but just making it through one more day perhaps find some purpose or just watch a sunset, may be the “pleasure” we all are looking for? My thought.

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Anand September 15, 2013 at 12:49 am

You are 100% correct!!! HOWEVER, what you are essentially saying is that Life is about Passing Time. The key to life is to distract yourself from it’s meaninglessness, i.e. find a way to pass the time until you die. While I agree with you, that is also a sad truth about life.

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Alexander Heyne September 28, 2013 at 9:36 pm

Hey Anand,

I don’t think life is about distraction. If you view life as meaningless, it becomes that. If you view everything as meaningful, it will become that too.

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anthony etherton September 29, 2013 at 7:21 am

My lovely, ironic, funny, intuitive father died this week, he was 83 and had a series of illnesses, any one of which could have taken him at any time and last Thursday one of them did. It was in his sleep fortunately so he had as peaceful an end as we, and I guess he, could have hoped for.

In his passing he reminded me about the fragility and transient nature of what we call life.

On the morning of his passing he was alert and actually asked for a roast dinner. We drank tea and talked and when I left that morning he was tired but conscious and as alert as you could expect a sick 83 year old to be.

At 5pm I got a call from my brother to say he’d died, gone in his sleep… and just lke that, he traded in his old body for the only things he, and all of us are destined to leave behind us… the memories and feelings he created in others through living his life everyday.

One minute here, the next second gone.

It reminds me to consciously create life, such as it is, in every moment we breathe, because no one gets out alive and while you’re around you always have a choice to go one way or another, no matter how small that choice might appear to be.

Thanks for you final lesson dad.

Big hug

I love you x

Ander September 20, 2013 at 7:36 pm

Somehow I knew this was leading up to a sales pitch of some kind.

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Alexander Heyne September 21, 2013 at 11:33 am

Hi Ander,

What do you mean? I actually don’t have anything for sale haha.

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Vanessa September 20, 2013 at 7:50 pm

This article really struck a chord within me.
As far back as I can remember I have wanted to lose weight. I have had successes and gained it all back. Many lessons learnt Yes! But the life purpose of losing weight still stays stronger than ever. Like I was telling a friend a few days back, If I do lose the extra weight and achieve a perfect figure, there will be nothing left to do in life. :) I shudder to think of not having that purpose.

I am thankful to god for everything he has given me. Relatively good health (inspite of the few extra pounds), good family, dinner on the table, roof over my head. Yet, sometimes when I think of friends who are still single, I often wonder how nice it must feel to wait….keep looking for the ‘Mr Right.’ In their shoes, it must be frustrating, eating away at their self-esteem, questioning their own desirability. Still, they have a purpose.

For me, if not for wanting to lose weight, my life had no purpose.

End rant.

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elizabethe May 9, 2014 at 9:53 am

That is a very interesting take, Vanessa.

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Sheng October 7, 2013 at 10:32 pm

Hi, I enjoyed reading you post thank you for that. But I have questions though, if there is no point but the point that you put to it, doesn’t that mean even the purpose that you have given yourself is pointless anyway? And if so, what is the point of making that statement at all.

So if based on your logic, that each person gives themselves a purpose that is fluid and changing, nothing then should be objectively good until you put a purpose to it? So if a terrorist finding purpose in killing thousands of people should he be credited for doing so? Or if a child abuser finds that he needs to hit the hell out of a kid to teach respect, should he also be credited for doing so as well? I know that these don’t sit well anybody, so doesn’t that mean that there is a good that is above and beyond what we create from within? suggesting then that there is a purpose to doing good in and of itself.

I’m not trying to be offensive but sincerely wondering what’s the purpose at all in the bigger scheme of things.

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Alexander Heyne October 24, 2013 at 4:20 pm

Hi Sheng,

I think you might be thinking too much – no, the purpose you give to life creates purpose. Just like how you can have an AMAZING job but in your head think it SUCKS – and then it becomes a terrible job. Our thoughts and perceptions often dictate our reality.

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hello October 9, 2013 at 10:02 pm

The meaning of life is death.

Good day to you sir. :)

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Kashif Ansari October 16, 2013 at 12:49 pm

life is nothing. it is lives as lived per second and minute and hour and day and month and year and lifetime that i am concerned with. for they all count. there is no particular meaning to life or the universe. it is all just flow and the great unconsciousness of nature in one big drive that is blind and very messy. yet the smallest insect has all the organs that a larger organism has. imagine even the smallest amoeba has all that it needs to function as a viable lifelike organism. so what to say of man. yet man is nature’s biggest blunder. well if he is a blunder than so much the worse for that bitch names mother nature. man will do what he wants and he will take the help of all his faculties such as instinct and intelligence and intuition and some iniquity too. life is found in the here and now. the moment of surprise like a child yelling out shrieks of wild delight upon seeing a caged parrot. a child wants to bother flies instead of letting flies bother it. an adult is sick and tired of flies hovering around him. i think you can see the difference in energy levels between the two. you get my point.

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Fluffy October 18, 2013 at 6:50 am

Hey Alex,

Thanks for the article. I just wondered what you think about the feeling of conflict between what you get ‘flow’ from doing and it’s higher purpose? I’ve always enjoyed drawing, design, photography etc and trying to create a career in an industry where I could use some of these skills but sometimes when I think about it artistic pursuits don’t really seem to help people in a tangible way that say a doctor or charity aid worker may do? Some one I knew once made a comment that actors only entertained people and I guess it got to me and made me feel a little sad that maybe artistic pursuits aren’t very meaningful or purposeful in the grand scheme of life.
What if you have dissonance between the things you enjoy to do and their meaning? Would be interested to hear some thoughts.

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Alexander Heyne October 23, 2013 at 12:16 am

Hi Fluffy,

The truth is that you need to MAKE those things tangible. The artists that truly survive (or thrive) are the ones that learn business skills. Learn how to put a price on your art, market it, and sell it, and you will thrive like any other person. The core problem is trying to communicate the VALUE of your art. Once you can do that (show someone else how it’ll change their life) you can charge a lot.

Of course your art changes lives – you just need to explain to people (Sell them) on how it does.

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Knowwhatiwant October 26, 2013 at 7:12 pm

Hi Alex,
Great post. Thanks for sharing. My problem is that I have a goal-or I thought I did. But it’s probably the one goal you can’t do much about in life. Since I can remember, I have wanted nothing more than to be a wife and mother. I’ve always love children and I never feel more myself than when I’m in a relationship and able to share deeper parts of myself and share life physically, emotionally, spiritually, etc. with another. As you can imagine, when a relationship I’m in ends, I’m devastated. Each relationship brings the hope that “this is it.” I will finally start my “real” life.
I’m 30 now. Of course I thought finding a husband would’ve happened by now. I thought lowering my standards, being more open to men I might not have previously considered would help me find the person I’d spend my life and raise children with. I know this sounds like a desperate female who believed every Disney movie I ever saw.
I have great career that allows me to be self sufficient and utilize the analytical and creative sides of my brain. I’m generally happy when I’m alone…but not when I’m lonely. I feel like I’ve done everything I’m “supposed” to do in life. I’ve set goals, I’ve reached them. I’ve set new goals and reached those. I’ve discovered things I didn’t know I wanted. But there is always a hole. I know without a doubt that a family is something that will give my life true meaning. I have literally thought of my future family every day since I was a small child. It’s odd to think how young I was when I would think about having a family-a five year old should be thinking about what she wants for Christmas, not the toys she’ll buy HER children.
So how do I 1- find meaning when I feel like I know my purpose but “can’t” achieve it yet? 2-what do you do when your life goal is mostly out of your hands. I can “put myself out there,” I can be social, date online, etc. (have done all of the above) but meeting the right man is not something I can put a date on. 3-what if I don’t realize this goal? Then life is pretty pointless. And it’s feeling more and more like that each day.
I appreciate any thoughts you have.

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Alexander Heyne December 16, 2013 at 11:59 am

Hi there,

Let me start with a basic question: why do you feel like you need a man to make your life complete?

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Matt007 October 29, 2013 at 2:50 pm

The BEST and in my view, most accurate part of what you have said is:
” Alexander Heyne July 28, 2013 at 1:04 pm
Hi Max,

I think “looking for purpose” vanishes once you start doing things you like.

When you have a job that deeply puts you in flow, when you have hobbies that you love and keep you focused, and when your relationships are meaningful and enjoyable… life just makes sense.

I often encourage people to “give” life a purpose. I think this is the point of religion. An artificial means of giving life meaning. But if you ask me, there’s an easier way – try to find flow in as many moments of life as you can. It’s the way to inherently turn off the brain and enjoy life. People that are in flow rarely are busy thinking about the ultimate meaning of life.

Best,
Alex”

And here’s the paradox: when you are in flow or have found your niche/zest for life – the mind sees one reality. One that makes you FEEL better and kind of distracts the mind. And yet it is considered distorted thinking if you realize its all: birth; ageing; illness; death… In my view everything is about sex and survival – and the rest exists to create the illusion of meaning. Of course, it is better to have a perceived meaning than no meaning; but ultimately they are one of the same thing. And life is a cruel ‘entity’ as it teases – and ultimately takes ALL… It’s that simple and not an over-simplification.

If complication is sought, study evolutionary psychology that shows that behaviour as well as physical facets are evolved. And that sexual as well as natural selection shapes the physical and the behavioural (though the sexual selection aspect is 2 sides of the same coin and another stealth means of complying to ‘survival of the fittest’)…. The understanding of this; and reductionism merely adds weight to the meaninglessness argument.

As does ‘survival of the luckiest’ ie God’s Dice ie shit happens and God krept out the back door. So not only is there no ultimate meaning; there are nasty land mines thrown in the mix too…

Whilst your prescription is kind of the only viable antidote to obsessing on the lack of true meaning; it doesnt negate the impact of the REAL NEWS ie we can win the battle; but nobody wins the war!!

As this FACT becomes somewhat impotent when perceived meaning displaces thoughts of meaningless… Man’s (and women’s) search must go on…
Best wishes.

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Azman November 13, 2013 at 9:56 pm

Awesome. The way you explain … spot on.

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Jack November 26, 2013 at 11:17 am

What if my core beliefs say that what we do on this planet doesn’t matter. That’s what I truly believe. So where is there purpose then? The purpose of life is to express life. So living is the purpose. You can do whatever you want beyond that. Just understand other people will do what they want, and you may not always see eye to eye.

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Nev November 26, 2013 at 11:26 pm

But what if I’ve taken “Life is meaningless” to the next level?
Any purpose one gives to one’s life is also, in essence, meaningless. There is no objective meaning and one’s subjective tack-on meaning is made up and ethereal.
My own happiness is meaningless so why go on?

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Alexander Heyne December 2, 2013 at 7:17 pm

Nev,

Life is always ethereal. But you’ve got it all backwards. Rather than being meaningless, every single moment is INCREDIBLY precious because every single day time is ticking down.

There are no ordinary moments. When you live your life like that, everything changes overnight.

– Alex

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gridsleep December 21, 2013 at 4:22 pm

While there are absolutes–life, death, and what to do about them–emotion which is the guide for each life is completely arbitrary. There is no absolute happiness. “Just pick something.” “That’s it?” “That’s all there is.” “Then, again, what’s the point?” You see, to live or to die are absolute events. Why to live or to die are just picked from a hat. The problem is, if nothing gives a sense of happiness or accomplishment, then there is truly no point in being alive. Existing for the sake of existing. Which is the true absolute reality. There is only mass and energy and all the patterns of it, all temporary, all interchangeable, all part of one great pattern. All just what it is. In the end it doesn’t matter whether you pick something or not. Pick whatever makes you happy or might and find out if it does. If nothing makes you happy, well, you’re just out of luck. There are no guarantees.

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Beholder'sEye January 2, 2014 at 7:10 pm

Great posts and very insightfull. My thoughts on the meaning of life are these. I agree life has no inherent purpose, it’s just void of it as it is. The very fact that we are born purposeless tells me that. Was there a purpose in our conception? Did our parents had a purpose when they created us? I dont think so. It was all a byproduct of a passing disconected distraction. In order to give life a purpose and therefore a meaning aka a distraction, we (1) must inmerse ourselves in passing disconected flowing distractions or activities that will temporarily take us off of the reality of life’s emptiness, therefore we wont feel the passing of life in those moments. That’s what most people do or try to do some more sucessfully than others. Passing fleeting flowing distractions like hobbies, drugs, money, travelling, children, working, relationships they are all distractions that could give your life a momentary purpose and a meaning to some or lesser extent and help you carry on. The extent in time, satisfaction, to which they get you in the flow and distract you from life depends on how much they really have to do with who you are as a person. You can either do that or (2) you can start connecting these distractions and align them with who you really are and what your heart tells you you should be or become. Then the result is an ongoing ever flowing distraction that it will feel like your life is this never ending flow of experiences that gratify you tremendously every step of the way and make you feel like there is an enduring purpose and a meaning to your life. It is in my opinion the ultimate distraction cause it gets to a point where it becomes your life’s journey. When that stage is reached you become emotionally numbed to the passage of time, every moment it’s a joy, now you have a purpose and a meaning to your existence. That’s what I should do in this life and nothing else. You set a path in that direction with a smile on your face and the journey to that end becomes your purpose and meaning even more than your ultimate goal cause at the end of your life wether you reached your goals or not you will leave this world happy and comptented that you lived your life purposefully and gave everything you could to reach that thing not that you were sent here to do but rather your heart, your guts, you intuition, your whole self screaming set yourself to do. Now lets us all find that path!

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Pooja @ On Books! January 5, 2014 at 12:33 pm

Exactly what I wanted. At just the right time. Thank you :)

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Daniel January 6, 2014 at 4:30 am

This is the best blog post I’ve ever read.

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Alexander Heyne January 6, 2014 at 2:37 pm

Haha, thanks Daniel.

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Swarup Mondal January 12, 2014 at 3:15 am

Thank You, Sir. LOTS OF RESPECT. :-)

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Alexander Heyne January 22, 2014 at 12:59 pm

You’re welcome Swarup :)

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Anonymous January 14, 2014 at 6:24 pm

My partner has no purpose and he’s perfectly happy.

I had a purpose, a really good, worthwhile purpose, of bettering humanity and the web of life, but I’m still unhappy.

He puts in zero effort to be happy, whereas I’ve sacrificed a great deal of physical comfort throughout life to achieve my “purpose”, my “why”, only to suddenly realize that we’re all going to die anyway and it really doesn’t matter.

I’m still trying to figure out why he thinks his existence is the shit. It’s not that I don’t value mine in particular. I just can’t see why I should value anything or anyone at all, him or me or our kids or anything.

I’m in my late 30s and I’ve felt like this for most of my life, except for 10 years during which I converted to Christianity. During that time, I wasted a great deal of talent and hope on jack. I was never a fundamentalist but I believed very much in helping others, love, and assorted lies. Now I’m neither enlightened NOR rich.

I welcome any tips for achieving a stable detachment, happiness, inner peace, whatever. An end to the relentless question of why and whether I am doing well enough or could do better and the pain. Either the answer or just a way to stop asking it without leading to suicidal thoughts, as I have two small children and I probably should not kill myself, just in case it’s not all a dream and my death would cause them to suffer. Of course my existence causes suffering to others, given limited resources on the planet, so it’s not like I can be happy about it.

In case you think that is enough reason to stop the “why”, it is not, because that line of thinking just mucks you up and leads you to question why you care about your children in the first place, which let me tell you is not a good place to be. I can accept that I’m not supposed to have thoughts like that.

What I don’t understand is how I am supposed to avoid them since it seems like a logical place to go.

I should point out that I have a technically good job which most people would like to have, that I have traveled, that I have hobbies which I’m supposed to enjoy, etc. But none of these succeeds in curing pain or distress. Nothing erases the “why” from my mind, and nothing erases the knowledge of suffering of others from my mind. And when I do cut myself off from others, that doesn’t save me any trouble as it’s quite difficult to live without thinking at all of others, and I can’t just turn it off and on like that.

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Alexander Heyne January 22, 2014 at 12:59 pm

Hi,

“whereas I’ve sacrificed a great deal of physical comfort throughout life to achieve my “purpose”, my “why”, only to suddenly realize that we’re all going to die anyway and it really doesn’t matter.”

Couldn’t disagree more, and (if it makes you feel better) there is no logic to this statement. Yes, it does matter. It matters because it makes you feel unhappy today. And tomorrow. And the next day. All those days matter.

You mean “why” – as in , why are you here, what are you here to do?

In my opinion and experience – meditating for a long time – many people get it all backwards.

Many people think “there is no purpose” thus every day doesn’t matter and there’s no point. This is, in fact, the exact opposite of what the sages of have told us for thousands of years. And proof that this is wrong – it makes you and I feel miserable. Like there’s no point in living. I would hardly say that’s a worthwhile, evolved, spiritual belief or practice.

What the sages have hinted at for so long is this: “There are no ordinary moments.” Every day of life is deeply special, and once you treat it that way, life becomes a treasure. Not something you want to rush through or just end today.

“I had a purpose, a really good, worthwhile purpose, of bettering humanity and the web of life, but I’m still unhappy.”

Start from here. What happened? Why wasn’t it making you happy?

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Anonymous January 22, 2014 at 3:04 pm

Hi Alexander.

Nothing is making me unhappy. There is no reason, objectively, to be happy or unhappy. I feel like I just pulled an unhappy card. I’m not as miserable as a leper in a slum, I’m not as rich as the son of a millionaire. I’m not as healthy as some, but I’m healthier than most my age.

What is making me unhappy? I just don’t really enjoy very much of my life. My job is theoretically meaningful, but like 99.9% of jobs, obviously much of it revolves around doing things that are not recreation. Even an artist spends a great deal of her day looking for galleries and making money to survive. It’s work. Mostly I spend the entire day mentally planning for how I am not going to get upset when my kids come home and start yelling at me. No matter what I do, they always seem to find a reason to complain, even if I ignore the complaints and try my best to head them off with positivity. I think they can sense that I dread their presence, but quiet tolerance is about all I can muster after 7 straight years of their mission to destroy my morale so that I will lie on the couch with my eyes closed while they consume everything in the fridge (please, let someone else here have real kids and know what I am talking about). Or whatever they want to do. That is kids. That is life. I shouldn’t mind. I should enjoy cleaning up throw-up, being screamed at, watching my kid sit there and not do homework. One smile, even if it’s because she just smacked her sister, is supposed to make it “all worth it”. Yeah, right.

““There are no ordinary moments.” Every day of life is deeply special, and once you treat it that way, life becomes a treasure. Not something you want to rush through or just end today.”

Great idea. I tried saying that to myself for six weeks. As I get cut off in traffic: “There are no ordinary moments.” As a car stops in front of me at a green light without using the turn signal: “Every moment is precious.” As I pay my credit card bill, used to pay for a divorce from an abusive relationship, which I got into in part because I was in denial that anyone could be that much of a jerk: “Life is a gift.” As I tell my older daughter not to suffocate my younger daughter: “Isn’t this what life is all about?” As my step-kids refuse to eat the food I make, even if others have said that recipe is really good and my partner insists it is: “EVERY MOMENT IS PRECIOUS.” As I clean the house. As my boss tells me my spreadsheet takes up too much room and *simultaneously contains too little information* even though it’s *all numbers she specifically requested, by column, in the font size she chose*: “Life is a gift.”

Yeah. Okay. Maybe when my kids graduate high school and I get a job teaching yoga on the beach or something. For the time being, life is at best tolerable, and then only because I know how bad some others have it. I get occasional stress-related back pain. I interpret this as the universe telling me to get out of the way.

Oh, I know. I’ve got to change my attitude.

My question is, why? What’s the point? Why change my attitude when it does nothing to change the reality of the situation? I am still going to get yelled at by my kids. I am still going to make sandwiches that nobody eats even though I prepare them according to specific instructions and they get to do the shopping. I am still going to sit at my desk with a backache. I am still going to re-write the report 500 times, adjusting the margins. I am still going to say “I love you” when they go to bed only to have my kids answer, “But mom”, before I hiss, “We said we wouldn’t argue tonight! I LOVE YOU! I LOVE YOU! No arguing! Happy bedtime! I LOVE YOU!!!!!” and they answer again, “But mom I have to keep talking… I’m not tired and I don’t want to go to bed.” Me: “Just lay there quietly and think of happy thoughts. No arguing. I LOVE YOU.” Child: Says something else. I walk away. Child leaves room screaming/whining. (Note: We have already spent agonizing hours over bedtimes, biological needs for sleep, and you will have to believe me that I have paid for, gone through, and burned in anger every sleep therapy book there is for children, except Go the Fuck to Sleep, which, although amusing, would be inappropriate to have around children who can already read. Also, if you aren’t a parent, you should know they look down on locking your kids in rooms, with the exception of a safe room, for very short periods of time, and certainly not overnight, for autistic children and such. But even then, you get judged. Not an option. I looked into it.)

I never should have had children. I never should have gone beyond the age of 13 when I first started having suicidal thoughts, but I believed those who said that if i got lost in the flow of serving others and being part of the web of life, I could achieve happiness and this sadness would go.

What a load of crap that was. And now, worse, I’m in debt and have kids and am still sad. I did EVERYTHING that was supposed to give my life meaning and I got NOTHING.

I’m resentful for the lies that I was told. To keep going, to serve others, to try harder. I’ve done yoga. In India, even! I’ve visited an ashram. I’ve done my service. I’ve ridden a motorcycle, climbed a mountain, driven across the country and flown across the world. I have done so many things trying to escape sadness. You cannot imagine, you really can’t, what I’ve done to escape and be happy and learn to fly.

I think my brain just does not have happy in it and if someone would have told me that from the beginning and let me be unhappy and die, the world would be a better place. At least it would be for me.

Linda February 2, 2014 at 11:53 pm

I am still trying to find meaning at 53. Everything I ever thought about life and my purpose in it all crashed and burned at 50 so this is not just an affliction of the young. You just have the advantage of time which I do not. Struggle everyday just to get up in the morning to work as second shift supervisor in a rural community hospital, I feel like a hamster on a wheel. The work I used to love has become bogged down by bureaucratic crap,government restraints and decreasing budgets! Not at all optimistic about the future.

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Alexander Heyne February 3, 2014 at 9:34 am

Hi Linda,

So why not change your future? What’s stopping you from making moves?

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aLAN February 27, 2014 at 12:28 pm

Pointless or not?

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Alexander Heyne February 27, 2014 at 6:31 pm

Alan –

When you think life is pointless, how does it make you feel?

Now if you think life is meaningful, how does it make you feel?

That will give you your answer.

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Joop March 10, 2014 at 11:44 am

I found this site after doing some googling upon realising the reason I feel pretty crap about the world and life is because I’m doing an utterly pointless job that pays well, but is designed to keep people in work and the feeling that no matter how well I do a project or submit a PowerPoint I’m proud of – it makes no difference and doesn’t give me that much joy and that’s seeping into my life. I’ve been in this job for 2 years and last year, I quit drinking and started pursing stuff I liked doing, with this I lost some social circle but inwards felt happier and more content. I live in a small flat and am questioned about why I don’t get somewhere bigger and better. I don’t want a relationship just to get tied down with a mortgage and have kids. I see people in unhappy relationships have kids and pass on the same rules of life to their kids – go to school, get a job, get debt and have kids of your own. I figure ultimately the world is greedy so everything is about profit and keeping the system going. I’ve travelled and always been aware the people with less seem happier, conversely the people with loads seem happier to share (if they are not the insecure showy off rich types) and I see alcohol and drugs and the media hype to be a perfect body – as ways of control, you need a job to pay for the drink or gym that takes your mind off that occasional passing thought of ‘what’s the point’. And you’re right the whole point of life, is to live it. If your worried about the future, the bills, the promotion etc your stuck in a future that’s not happened yet and missing out on today. And you have to find what your take on that is, what makes you happy today, genuinely content and happy – is it to be surrounded by people you love? Or exploring new places or pushing your self to your physical limits. For me I lost my way and hense finding your site. Living for now, and not working to pay the bills that conversely you rack up in order to live somewhere to get a job. The worlds pretty twisted the way we are going – but reading this has made me feel better and I have some thinking to do about my story. Thankyou.

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Jen March 25, 2014 at 10:56 pm

I’ve been driving everyone crazy with the meaning of life questions lately, on some days I am just furious because I cannot take it anymore. I’ve always had this longing for a mentor or just someone I could look up to so they could either give me the answer, or tell me it’s not important and I would just listen because, well, I look up to them.
When I reached my 30’s I realized… I don’t think I will ever get a mentor now, I’m too old, ha ha. I laugh, but… anyway. People don’t understand why it’s so important to me, but I like that metaphor about the chest game. I will tuck that away in a safe place in my mind for now to keep me sane :) Thank you.

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phil conson April 30, 2014 at 3:48 am

I wish this could have helped me, but giving life meaning doesn’t give life any meaning for me. Oh well, good thing it’s not very long.

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Alexander Heyne April 30, 2014 at 6:07 pm

Hi Phil,

“but giving life meaning doesn’t give life any meaning for me”

Clearly that’s not true, because you just made a logical contradiction :D

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**Reason** May 17, 2014 at 9:08 pm

First, I want to thank Alex for taking the time to make this post when he did.

Unfortunately, especially as those who have made it through higher levels of academia know, the Humanities are horribly denigrated and devalued — yet, clearly, remain at the “heart” of what it means to be human.

I cannot help, having read so many responses, to see how relevant Marx’s analysis of the human condition is.

Our labor is at the heart of what constitutes our life. Whether that is creating ideas, infrastructure, managerial oversight, et cetera.

Despite the grander aspirations of those who ask this question ontologically speaking, the reality to me if that one must find oneself in a situation of labor which satisfies the ‘deeper’ yearnings of human existence.

If that is not attained, perpetual dissatisfaction will accompany life — that is: If one is conscious.

We tend to take that for granted. A lot of people are asleep. Truly, asleep.

That is also why Plato stated that Philosophy is dangerous: not everyone is capable of sustaining the rigor.

It will permanently alter you, so play carefully.

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Rick May 18, 2014 at 5:03 pm

Comments/discussion has been going on for 2 years. See the dates on the comments. I fell into this “existential despair” 45 years ago at age 17 and it took me many years to pull out of it. I had it BAD. I couldn’t enjoy anything because I could always perceive the meaninglessness of it. But, I have found complete freedom. ZERO sense of existential despair anymore. You can email me at rickdavis@ccgvp.com if you would like to know my story. If not, I wish you well.

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Alexander Heyne May 19, 2014 at 11:55 am

Hey Rick!

Would love to hear more from you. What were some of the key shifts you made?

– Alex

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Jose Ortiz July 3, 2014 at 10:05 pm

Easy to tell people go do what you love and has purpose. But what about money? After I pay rent and buy very little food ,I have no no funds to try find a purpose. I don’t have a purpose, and don’t know where to start.

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Alexander Heyne July 4, 2014 at 3:05 pm

Jose –

Pay your bills first, earn more money first, and then figure these things out.

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Chicago Land July 18, 2014 at 12:09 am

I’ve spent well over 394,000 hours on this planet just to come to this one moment in time and space.

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Alexander Heyne July 18, 2014 at 9:55 am

Chicago Land – Did it help?

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Anna July 31, 2014 at 9:07 am

At 20 setting goals and living for their purpose is definitely the way to have a meaningful life for the next twenty years. However after 20 years of goal setting and continually finding purpose in the accomplishing of said goals what is the purpose of setting goals for the next twenty years after that if all that does is carry you forward to the following years without any purpose except to continually set goals so you have purpose?
There has to be a unique purpose for each of us just as there must be something more than just existing, setting goals so you can have a purpose so as to justify your existence, then no longer existing, no?

I hope that there is more to life than that .

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Alexander Heyne August 4, 2014 at 1:31 pm

Hi Anna,

I think at some point, we need to start enjoying life without constant goal-setting. In my opinion, this is where meaningful work, and just simple life enjoyment comes into the picture.

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Anna August 5, 2014 at 10:19 am

I’d wager you’re less miserable than most . Expect nothing and when you get nothing you won’t be dissapointed. Expect something and nothing will ever be enough because people who expect something without knowing what that something is will never be satisfied. This is where the opinion of life being good or bad comes into play. People who are afraid of a meaningless existence and expect “something ” without knowing what that is, need to believe that life is good. It has to be good otherwise why are they living it? People who believe that life is bad are afraid of being hurt yet again thus proven right about their belief, which brings them to the same concluding question of why live it?

Society rules run by the iron fist of the ruling system loves, LOVES the individuals who needs to be told how to feel about their life and why their lives should be lived according to good or bad or right or wrong or happy or sad . They love to tell said individuals how to feel and what to think and what they need in order to be happy or successful or even miserable if it keeps the machine going. The machine that is made up of individuals whom in order to be happy or miserable need to tell others how to be happy or miserable.

Everyone’s life is their own. Each aspect of it as individual as the being who’s living it.
I believe there is no good nor bad. No right way or wrong way of living as long as I live according to these rules I’ve adopted for my individual life:

Do no harm. Judge nothing. Live and let live.

Am I happy or miserable? Right or wrong? Who cares? Why label it? Why do human beings have to label and compartmentalize everything? Why can we not just be? Why can we not just live?

Anna August 5, 2014 at 10:37 am

Yes I agree . When it’s finally realized that the whole point to life is the achievement of joy through meaningful work, the whole goal setting purpose is exposed for what it is. That is, that we set goals to help us understand what meaningful work is to us, thus allowing us to live in the natural state of joy we are meant to live in. Sooner or later every individual realizes this. It would be so peaceful and so joyous if we all would catch on at the same time wouldn’t it? I believe people mean well. Everyone would get along so much better though if we all meant well in unison. :)

Anna August 5, 2014 at 10:40 am

Hey Alex,

My apologies the first reply was meant for themostdismal.

Justin Pickering August 19, 2014 at 6:58 pm

Breathe. Just breathe. And be at peace.

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Jordan Reni August 22, 2014 at 3:34 am

Thank you

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Alexander Heyne August 24, 2014 at 2:47 pm

Cheers Jordan!

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justcallme H August 31, 2014 at 7:24 am

I woke up from my nap with my eyes half shut…looking for internet cafe inserting the words “what to do with life”. find the first blog then click enter

my story
I was moving to the capital to work as technician. If I am being honest, I never wanted to ended up in a boring and catatonic state. Actually I was dreaming of starting a new business and hoping I could create passive income to achieve financial freedom. But as days gone, I felt that every inch of hope keep diminishing with me getting older and opportunity keep getting slimmer. Everytime I watch a group of people had a conversations (either to their friends or relatives) I felt as if I am alone and there was no other person who would help me…
Then,
I was putting a fake mask of smile in front of other while the inside fell very miserable. In fact, I even started to cheer people up online while in reality I was the person who need cheer the most.
I don’t know.. I have tried to do anything I can. I learnt, I read, I stop gaming addictions, stop sleeping too late, even start to live more healthier
I just feel that I don’t belong anywhere not in the real world not even in network
Just FYI I am already at my 32, still single, my jobs did not provide a future, maybe I am just feeling afraid and the negativity in my co worker got to me sometimes.
People in my surrounding (my big family) gave me many advice and I done them but I still lack content…
If religion help and make me purposeful, I would not type any of this…
If people words about “being content with life equal happiness” I would not even type this…
Sorry for my ranting… It seems that I need to say what I must say because I don’t want that I am lost in life without purpose.

H
E
L
P

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Alexander Heyne September 7, 2014 at 11:11 am

Hi there – What i’ve often found is that, we spend too much time thinking, and not enough time living. We live in the mind, rather than the body – which produces illness and sickness.

SO first… stop living in your head.

Second – what needs to change? Job? relationship? Friends?

What tiny action can you take today to improve those? Pick just ONE thing per day – and do it.

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Nicholas September 3, 2014 at 4:48 am

This didn’t help at all. Once you ask yourself why you have a purpose then your life becomes meaningless again, because there is no explanation for that purpose. It’s just that it makes you happy. I have a passion, and while it distracts me and makes me happy, It does nothing to give my life any real reason.

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James October 30, 2014 at 5:05 pm

God what a moron….. You obviously have no clue what the hell you’re talking about. Lemme break this down for you.

I have no desires, no wants, or passions, I have no one in my life, I never do anything right, and the mere fact that I live still is a divinely judged sentence for who knows what attrocities I purpotrated.

I want nothing out of life.
I have no goals or plans
I can’t fathome how it’s possible to keep going when the only reason you lived was for a person who now has passed on in a very violent manner.
Depression say, no, there’s no point…this is why. I don’t know what love is. I can’t react to anything with emotion, for example, if soneone hurts themselves or falls, or is bawling their eyes out… Even if they pass out on the floor…guess what? I remain emotionless and unsure how to react so I don’t. 40 damn years and I’ve not done a damn thing. I have nothing to show for anything, and I don’t care about that. I just want silent eternal rest, but I’m denied that even. I can’t get sick. Haven’t been sick in over 20 years now. I can’t go places, do things, because of a lack of money to do anything since all I make barely puts gas in my car and a roof over my head. I find joy in nothing. Everything seems designed to not only knock me down, but also stomp on me while daring me to get up so they can stomp on me again. I have no purpose. I never have, never will. I just exist till Lady Death comes for me to give me one final kiss goodbye then I die. This world is evil and it has sucked the life out of me… or it would have if I had a life, which I never have. What’s it feel like to be happy? To be in love? To have a reason to wake up every day when you so desperately want to sleep forever and never wake up again? I ingest about 20-30 sleeping pills a day and well, that didn’t do anything but make me hyper. I’m not allowed to die till I die of old age. I hate tv and never watch it. I have no real friends… I don’t blame them…or whoever though. I wouldn’t want to be my friend either. I just can’t make myself care about anything. Silence is the most welcoming sound I can think of and when coupled with complete darkness… well, that’s as close as I’ll ever be to this make believe feeling called “Happy”. I am the Universe’s personal cosmic whipping boy…. In a few days I may not even have a job due to my car breaking down, and can’t even get that fixed. I’m not like anyone the world has ever seen before. I get that from the constant funny looks I get from people as they have never seen someone like me before. They can’t relate to me, so I become the butt of all jokes, or ostrisized from everyone. If I step to the left or to the right, I lose everything. Did I mention I spend every waking moment practically in my room when I’m not at work? Nothing has meaning. Everything you know, learn, do, say…memories…. none of that goes with you when you die. Why bother then? I have had a sad look on my face for so many years it’s become permanent. I am nothing. I’ve done nothing, and … uh oh… sorry….becoming super drag your feet despondant slow motion, empty inside hopelessly depressed….sigh…pointless…. Depression will NOT allow you to live. It’s not a choice, it’s like you’re brain has a chastity belt on that keeps all good thoughts from getting out.

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James October 30, 2014 at 5:10 pm

I lack the ability to do any of the pointless assinine things or more to the point no way to do any of those things even if I wanted to. Bucket list? bull crap. No way to do anything that might end up in such a bucket… might as well be a trashcan for all it’s worth.

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James October 30, 2014 at 5:12 pm

I should just crawl in bed and hope to die in my sleep. No one would miss me anyhow. No love, no life, no hopes, no dreams, no desires, no wants, no happiness, no death, nobody…. Nothing.

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gridsleep December 8, 2014 at 11:28 am

Too bad, I come up completely blank on the why. I’ve run out of reasons. Or maybe I’ve run out of lies to hide that I never had a reason. I remember the first time I went to college almost thirty years ago. I stood on the landing of a great stone staircase in the main hall, next to but not in the line for admissions, among hundreds and hundreds of total strangers my age, and a girl I had met earlier stopped and asked me what was the matter, and I said, “I don’t have the slightest idea why I’m here.” And I have never come up with a satisfactory answer to that in all these years. I don’t know why I’m here, I never will, and I am very near to not caring any more.

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Alexander Heyne March 23, 2013 at 1:36 pm

Hey Niki —

Hope it helps! Yeah just start doing things you actually enjoy. Things that actually take your mind off of life. Usually when we’re thinking, we’re unhappy. When we’re happy, we’re engrossed in the activity (in flow) and not thinking too much !

– Alex

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Alexander Heyne May 8, 2013 at 9:39 am

Haha.

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Alexander Heyne June 17, 2013 at 2:49 pm

Hi “themostdismal” –

You say “life is just not a good thing” – unfortunately, that’s not a fact. That’s a thought, a belief about life, you’re own subjective analysis which clearly is making you miserable. You can always change your thoughts.

— Alex

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themostdismal June 20, 2013 at 11:12 am

Mind you, I didn’t say that life is a bad thing. My position is that it is not a good thing. The burden of proof is on those that implicitly (by procreating) or explicitly make the case that it IS a good thing. It seems to me that at best it is a zero sum game.

How do you know someone can change his/her thoughts? WHO or WHAT is even doing the changing?

You say I’m miserable but how do you know that? Many people fear death and “bad surprises” in life. I don’t have any expectations at all and it isn’t clear to me that I’m any more or less miserable than anyone else.

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