It is hard to come by a person who has not experienced moments when they are swallowed up by a vacuum within themselves and in their lives.
For many, these moments are fleeting.
But some of us have a sense of meaninglessness deeply entrenched in our lives. The questions What am I doing here?, What is the purpose of my life? or Why am I doing what I’m doing? seem to hang over our heads like the sword of Damocles. There seems to be no convincing reason for existence. This feeling often sets in during young adulthood, when the comfort of childhood is replaced with the weight of responsibilities, but individuals of all ages may experience it sometime during their lives.
This pervasive feeling of purposelessness, when sustained over time, makes you rather unhappy. It also drains you of the motivation to get out there and enjoy life. In short, life becomes a chore, a path to trudge across simply because there is no other visible option.
So What does One Do When One finds Life Meaningless?
Let us first look at how this feeling evolves within the each of us.
We each have a number of things that bring meaning to our lives. It may be a romantic partner, or the aim of landing a dream job, a career we want to build, children we wish to raise well, or a passion for music and art. These things are fleeting, their significance in our lives temporary. Partners can be broken up with, jobs can be lost or grow monotonous, and art can get repetitive. When life is stripped bare of its sole source of meaning, all sense of purpose is in question.
Robin Sharma very articulately stated, “The mind abhors a vacuum”. When deprived of a concrete end or goal that may seem to lend meaning to life, the human mind grows restless, eventually arriving at the bothersome existential question of life’s meaning. It is this very question that could either propel one forward in life, or decrease the very motivation to live. Either way, it is important to acknowledge that the tendency to question meaning and purpose is inherent in the human mind. And like all other emotional or psychological states, it can be overcome!
Here’s what you can do about it.
Don’t make ‘Searching for an Abstract Meaning to Life’ an Intellectual Pursuit
Many people get preoccupied with the fact that death renders all of their actions debatable. They then begin to search for a higher, metaphysical meaning to life. If internalized and felt experientially, this can lead to spiritual and emotional growth. However, often, it may solely remain an intellectual pursuit, a preoccupation where we keep coming up with theories to support a higher meaning to life. Then, we feel that these theories don’t relieve us of anxiety, and search for better theories. Eventually, this increases the feeling of emotional overwhelm and we are perpetually distressed.
The existential question of whether or not life has any meaning to begin with is a valid one. However, it can lead you to keep thinking and remain disconnected with your emotions. To ease this out, the idea is to not get caught in answering the question but in handling the associated emotions, and to be more mindful and present to life. As a mystic once said, “Life is a purpose unto itself”. You may not be able to know whether your life is meant to serve a purpose in the grander scheme of things. However, now that you are indeed alive, be more mindful and present to life, as it is.
Do Activities that You Enjoy, for the Activity itself and Not for the Result.
What are some activities that you truly enjoy? Could be interaction, could be exercise, writing.. activities are many! Do what you love, it fills you with positive energy. However, do it just for the sake of engaging in it, simply because you enjoy yourself, not necessarily for a result. One usually reaches a state of flow when partaking in their favourite activities and hobbies. Research has repeatedly shown that adults who spend more time in flow are happier overall, and tend to feel more cheerful and creative. So whip out that old guitar or paint brush and lose yourself in something you love!
Stop Living in the Past and in the Future
Hankering after past joy, or dreading possible future difficulties are a shortcut to misery. It is misery and suffering that often begets a questioning of the significance of life. This questioning, when left unchecked, breeds a loss of meaning. Do you find your mind constantly wandering to the past or future? If so, make yourself aware of your thoughts and consciously bring them back to the present. Practising meditative techniques also helps greatly in grounding the mind in the present.
Cultivate a Beginner’s Mind
Have you noticed the way a child reacts to such simple things as soap bubbles or a butterfly? Growing up takes away from the most of us the perpetual wonder that children display towards all things. “Shoshin” is a concept in Zen Buddhism which refers to a beginner’s mind; the state of being open and eager when learning something, just like a beginner. Cultivating a beginner’s mind in your daily life would mean being observant about you, and appreciating everyday things such as a tree or the clear blue sky, as if seeing them for the very first time. Do this, and you will be surprised at how you can find beauty in things you earlier thought of as mundane. Life ceases to seem meaningless when you see beauty all around you – whether in a simple flower or a sleeping stray dog.
It is a very human desire to want to make a difference. Involve yourself in small activities of social service. Be it helping a little extra with the household chores, buying a homeless person food, or volunteering regularly with an NGO, small acts of service go a long way in bringing meaning into one’s life. We often become so preoccupied with our own emotional turmoil, that we forget to be sensitive to the needs of the people around us. Making a difference to life around you has a direct impact on how purposeful you feel in general.
Ultimately, life is all about the meaning you give it. This may seem scary to begin with, as it seems to imply that life does not, in fact, have any inherent meaning. But it also means that you are free to make your own meaning in life, and live by it. You are absolutely free. And that is the most beautiful thing of all 🙂
Post Contributed By: Suneha Sethi, with a few inputs by Sadia Saeed. Suneha is a student of Psychology and interned with us in April-May 2017. Sadia is the Founder & Chief Psychologist of Inner Space.