There is no answer.
I have to repeat it to myself like Dorothy did in The Wizard of Oz.
There is no answer.
Sometimes, I trick myself into thinking that if I just sat in thought for a couple more hours, I would unlock it all. I would find Enlightenment in Happy-Go-Lucky Land. I would backstroke in gold coins like Scrooge McDuck and make George Clooney jealous of my jet-set escapades. The cheery on top would be the Dalai Lama begging for my autograph.
But there is no answer.
And I'm not saying this to you or myself to be a downer. Quite the opposite. When you remember that there is no answer, then you know you're not doing anything wrong. It is your life to live because, as Viktor Frankl said, "Man is ultimately self-determining."
Few know this better than Frankl himself. He survived the horrors of the Holocaust by giving his suffering meaning in his own mind. He believed his time in Auschwitz was a test of his inner-strength and resolve for his own brand of psychotherapy called Logotherapy.
Frankl wrote the book Man's Search for Meaning to explain his idea that the meaning of life is not some ultimate resolution for all, instead life is defined through the meaning each individual assigns to it.
The pressure is on you. No one will deliver meaning to your life completely. You need to hunt it down for yourself because, as Frankl warns, "The existential vacuum manifests itself mainly in a state of boredom." When your life has no meaning to you, it is not worth living. When you're doing nothing, you are nothing.
It doesn't mean we should all take second jobs or brain-crushing hobbies to stay mindlessly busy. Frankl would warn against that, calling it "Sunday neurosis" - "that kind of depression which afflicts people when the rush of the busy week is over and the void within themselves becomes manifest."
You need something to do that excites you. The meaning of life is something internal and individual.
In the FX show Louie, the standup comedian's daughter asks him why he is ignoring her whining that she is bored. Louie responds with what sounds like his own personal philosophy: “Because I’m bored is a useless thing to say. I mean, you live in a great, big, vast world that you’ve seen none percent of. Even the inside of your own mind is endless; it goes on forever, inwardly, do you understand? The fact that you’re alive is amazing. So you don’t get to be bored.”
Viktor Frankl and Louie are on the same page here. As human beings on this planet, we possess an enormous amount of agency to do whatever we'd like with our lives. Okay, maybe not everything. But some incredible, unpredictable things. And if we're bored, we're not doing any of it. What's our problem?
This American Life might have a clue. In the second act of the episode "It Says So Right Here", Kelly decides to record her journey through being tested for Huntington's disease. Besides being a nerve disorder that spirals downward into hallucinations, uncontrolled bodily movements, and dementia, Huntington's disease is a genetic defect so it could be passed down through your own family. Kelly's mother has the disease.
Huntington's disease is even more an existential mindfuck because even if you're presently healthy, knowing the results of the test means you could eventually descend into a very unhealthy and possibly helpless state. The hard question before being tested remains: do you have science seal your fate or test whether or not ignorance truly is bliss?
Before getting the results, Kelly weighs her options with her sister, Cathy, who is now showing symptoms of the disease herself. Kelly says, "For me, it's I don't know if I'll be liberated if they tell me I have it, because like you said, you think about it every day. And if you know you have it, like you said, I'm going to live balls to the wall. I'm going to do everything. I'm going to make a list and do everything I want to do."
We're not all that different from Kelly. If your lifespan was cut short by a terrible disease bound to turn your brain into mush, you'd better believe every minute of healthy sanity would mean that much more. You'd want to make a bucket list right away and get to work.
But why not do that right now? Why not get excited to get living when you're sitting there doing nothing? What's holding you back?
You don't get to be bored. You don't get to be ignorant. You know all of this so what are you waiting for? Make it meaningful.
I'm not quite sure first-person is the way to go for a blog like this but I just thought I'd add a tidbit here of what I'm up to since writing this.
I'm giving myself something incredibly hard to do. Because I want it and I'm sick of thinking that nothing is possible or tomorrow will deliver it without me making some moves and jumping over some hurdles.
I'm making plans to see the Northern Lights this coming March. It still seems somewhat unrealistic, mostly because of the money, but, hell, it's been a dream for too long. Gear and food aside, I'm already looking at a $1650 package Jess found for us to go to Alaska not including airfare. It's no chump change for such a short period of time. And that's the beautiful, terrifying challenge.