Say that an experience felt meaningful. Might you nevertheless denounce it as fraudulent? Yes, you might. It is completely possible to experience something as meaningful and then announce that it was not meaningful.
We regularly refuse to allow experiences to feel meaningful and we regularly reject as meaningful experiences that felt meaningful. Why do we pull the pin on meaning even as we say that we crave it and would do anything to secure it?
We do this because we’ve evaluated life as a cheat. We believe that life has somehow failed us and so we stop believing in the possibility of meaning. We may not be aware that we have done this but it’s quite likely that we have.
Why might we not credit an experience as meaningful, even if we experienced it as such? The culprit is our evaluation of life. We’ve evaluated life as meaningless and a cheat. That evaluation forces us to label all experiences as meaningless.
Despairingly, we do just that, even if we experienced the moment as meaningful. This tragic artifact of consciousness, that we are conscious of life not being just or measuring up, strikes even as we sit in the sunshine, having a good moment.
What could be more insidious? You chat with your child. It is enjoyable. It is more than that. It moves you. Then, as you leave the room, you mutter, “Well, that was nothing special.” By habitually calling everything nothing, you make them nothing.
No experience can be credited as meaningful, even it if felt meaningful, to someone who has decided that life is meaningless. Every upcoming experience is already rendered meaningless to someone who has evaluated life as a cheat.
You ruin your chances for meaning by looking around and sighing, “Is this all there is? Really?” Or maybe you say, “Life is ridiculous and pathetic, and, to top it off, supremely hard. What a stupid game!” More meaning ruined.
How we evaluate life matters. We experience life against the backdrop of our evaluation of life. If that evaluation is negative, nothing has much of a chance of feeling positive. Isn’t depression just a persistent negative evaluation of life?
It is easy and maybe even inevitable to evaluate life as a cheat, maybe easier and more likely than evaluating it as worth the candle. But how many unfortunate consequences flow from that decision and from that negative evaluation!
What other evaluation is possible? Even if you’ve appraised life correctly, that is only the beginning of the conversation, not the end. Millions take it as the end of the story when it is only the beginning. Only the beginning!
Such a negative evaluation is only a bit of bedrock reality upon which you build your intentional life. Maybe you’ve appraised life correctly and there will be pain and there will be death and you’ll only get 6% of what you want. Maybe that’s true.
But, by taking that as the starting point and not as the endpoint, you pave the way to personal meaning. You say, with amazing modesty and with deep philosophical calm, “I have my serious work to get done as a principled human being.”
To be modest in this way doesn’t mean to settle. Not at all! There is no reason why the project of your life shouldn’t include ambition, desire, and everything else that nature has programmed you to crave. No settling needed!
First, you pull back the curtain to see if you’ve evaluated life negatively. This can feel like ripping off a bandage. It can hurt terribly to learn that you feel this way. Maybe you’ll want to scream, “Life has cheated me! I didn’t know I felt that way!”
Then you say, “Okay, so much for that! Now I will live my life purposes. Here I go!” Life can only feel meaningful if you allow it to. That is your job—your number one job, really. You live your life purposes, whether or not life has cheated you, and by doing so, you make the meaning you so dearly need.
Eric Maisel is the author of 50+ books. You can learn more about him at www.ericmaisel.com, subscribe to all of his blog posts at https://authory.com/ericmaisel, learn more about kirism here, and write him at [email protected]