What’s the point? Why do most of us spend twelve years in a classroom to learn things we might not even retain, and spend another four years spending thousands of dollars in money to learn more things, all for the sake of earning a degree for the sake of a job and thousands of more dollars that aren’t even guaranteed? It’s a pretty rubbish zero-sum game we’re playing if you ask me. I mean seriously, it’s 2016; how is it that we’ve perfected face swapping camera filters and but not genetically modified money trees by now? Ridiculous.
But still; why? Why do we put ourselves through so much stress? What does it all add up to in the end? Why does it matter? Does anything on this Earth matter, or are we all little dust specks in the grand scope of the universe? Well, as the Adult Swim series Rick & Morty put it : “nobody exists on purpose, nobody belongs anywhere, everyone’s gonna die, come watch TV?”
Yeah, that isn’t exactly the most upbeat quote to kick off a post, and cartoons are a pretty far cry from gospel or philosophy, but I still think there’s a lot of validity to that quote. Why are we here, all piloting our weird fleshy skeletons around this weird floating little rock? Why am I asking all these dumb questions on this blog? I don’t know, and I don’t know if you know, but there’s a word for for this kind of meaninglessness: nihilism. What is nihilism? Well, it was a word first coined by German philosopher Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi (try saying that five times fast), and it’s defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “the belief that traditional morals, ideas, beliefs, etc., have no worth or value.”
You hear that? Unless you have a really intense case of synesthesia you heard nothing since these are just written words, and that’s exactly how much worth nihilistic philosophy says ideas has. NOTHING. No cartoons, no blog articles, not even the idea of worthlessness has worth apparently. How can anything have worth when we live in a world where such horrors exist like Arby’s food, Batman Vs. Superman, and the aural lobotomy that is “Work” by Rihanna? Personally though, at least for high school or college students, I think maybe their might be an inherent worth in following the precedent of no worth? So to illustrate that point, here’s a worthless listicle, free of worth, chock full of pontificating and amateur philosophy and sociology and psychology mumbo jumbo.
1. Existentialist Expectations
Let me be clear in that I’m not endorsing full blown nihilism here. Sure, nothing ultimately matters and the world is bound to be done in one day by either global warming, the sun morphing into a red giant and consuming us, or via our potential future president Trump making America great again, but any reasonable person’s gotta kinda sorta care about stuff. No matter how much school or work sucks, no matter how apathetic and nihilistic your case of senioritis is making you, and no matter how pointless it all seems, it’s always worth it to have friends or family or some cool exotic pets around so you can keep each other sane amidst it all. So what’s the philosophy you could compromise by here? Existentialism!
It’s hard to directly pinpoint what exactly existentialism is about. The scholars over on Wikipedia have said there has “never been general agreement on the definition of existentialism” , but from what I can gather, while nihilism believes in a totally meaningless world, existentialism follows the philosophy that the world is only inherently meaningless. Existentialist philosophy was allegedly catalyzed in the year 3016 and bought back to the year 1843 by time traveler and philosopher Soren Kierkegaard [another citation needed.] With his iconic series of essays from “Fear and Trembling” to “Either/Or”, Kierkegaard made a couple things clear. The majority of his writings focused on the struggle of how a person could live as a “single individual” and how three focal things could often get in the way of that: boredom, anxiety, and despair.
You might be thinking “no kidding Sherlock, of course those’ll make your life suck.” But Kierkegaard also proposed three ideas, three “Stages On Life’s Way” to counteract these negatives and finding your true self: the aesthetic, the ethical, and the religious. The aesthetic is your basic, superficial self-serving pleasures, things like junk food, video games, and Netflix. Feeding your own aesthetic can go a long way to combatting the boredom and stress that comes with tedious schoolwork, but the temporary enjoyment can only last for so long. If the boredom and pointlessness still creeps in then, that’s where all the ethical mumbo jumbo comes in. Ethics of course are the rules that govern your actions, at least should govern them. The ethics are obviously there for coexisting with people without going bonkers, but according to Kierkegaard those ethics should also coexist with your aesthetics like bread and butter.
But rather than personal enjoyments or someone else’s enjoyments, Kierkegaard saw faith as the highest form of fulfillment. Most of his writings on faith specifically centered on Christianity, but a lot of those ideas could be applied to life no matter what you believe or don’t believe in. He saw welcoming faith in “God” as making life worthwhile, but also saw welcoming faith in the absurd in general as making life worthwhile, and I think that’s definitely applicable to adolescence. You can’t know with definite certainty how something like your new job/internship could play out or if that tough new course on your schedule is going to matter in the long run, but why not go along for the ride? Admittedly I could probably take this advice more often myself, but don’t sweat it. Even if life’s got no meaning to it, you can bring it meaning. I know it’s a long-winded cliche by now, but it’s true. Find that purpose. Do something productive. Take chances. Brag and shill about it no matter how it goes because at least you tried. Refer to my previous article about killing boredom for ideas on what you could do. And whatever you do, don’t forget to…
2. Carpe Diem
This phrase is probably familiar to you if you’ve ever seen the movie “Dead Poets Society”. The whole movie is rife with poignant quotes, but one of the most iconic and powerful is the speech that prep school teacher John Keating (played by Robin Williams) gives his students as they look at some of the alumni pictures. He remarks how the students on the wall are all just like them, saying how they believe “they’re destined for great things, like many of you, their eyes full of hope, just like you,” and poses this question: “Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because, you see gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils.”
Look, saying that we’ll all turn into dirt one day isn’t exactly a super life-affirming thing to tell your students, but in the beginning of that speech he also poses another question: the meaning of Carpe Diem, which a Latin phrase translating to “Seize The Day”, which are three simple, but three immensely powerful words when put together. You can spend an eternity ruminating or reflecting on what happened or what could happen, but the only thing that’s truly palpable is the present moment, so why not try to make the best of it? You can’t totally seize the day or live life 100% in the moment, I’d wager that most people can’t (I definitely can’t), but at least try. Try to ace the test, try to nail that job, try to do whatever you think is right. And no matter how horrible or awkward it is in the moment, just remember that all things pass. Some of your most embarrassing or cringe worthy failures can make pretty insightful or funny stories in retrospect.
It’s one of things that’s ten times easier to preach than practice, but when it’s all said and done, don’t you want to at least know you practiced and worked toward something? A lot of obstacles that are largely beyond our control can get in the way: depression, anxiety, overwhelming schoolwork, overwhelming work-work, difficult people, and difficult animals. Especially spiders. Hate those things. The point is some parts on life’s ride suck immensely, but it’s not hopeless. There’s plenty of people and resources you could go toward on the way to finding that light at the end of the tunnel. Most colleges offer free counseling services, and there are plenty of search engines to help you find any nearby, out if face-to-face help to sorting to life out seems out of reach, seek it out online. You could practice CBT with MoodGym, vent or get motivated anonymously on a forum like Reddit, or hell, look no further than your Snapchat feed. That obscure @DJKhaled305 guy is a pretty underrated motivational speaker. Seize all these resources, seize the day, and make your life and ethics and aesthetics and all that other Kierkegaardian stuff extraordinary.
3. Conclusion (or The Part Where I Ran Out Of Time to Research More Philosophical Ideas But Nothing Matters Anyways So Who Cares)
I’ll end this by reiterating that I am NOT an expert who’s got philosophy or existentialism or whether or not life has any intrinsic meanings figured out. I mean the meaning of life totally is 42  according to some book, but whatever. As some dumb senior from the middle of nowhere it’d be, well, frankly pretty dumb to pretend that I 100% ascribe to this stuff daily. But I try to, and I hope you will too. I hope that no matter how bogged down or pointless life’s annoyances are making you feel, that you’ll be inspired to seek out and make that point, whether it be through friends, websites, Robin Williams movies, philosophers with ridiculously hard-to-pronounce names, or some other sort of outlet. And if you have some other good ideas or interesting Kierkegaard-ian analysis I wouldn’t know about, feel free to seize the opportunity and let me know in the comments section.
(Try to) Have a good, meaningful day in this cold, meaningless world, Carpe Diem, and enjoy Arby’s. Or don’t. It doesn’t matter.