Optimistic Nihilism: an outlook to live a fulfilling life
Updated: Feb 21, 2021
For the last three years, since I graduated, I seemed to be having more and more existential crises. For me it seemed out of the blue, but now it makes more sense. I had always been full steam ahead, a goal in mind. I never stopped to even think of the bigger picture. It was too scary to think about.
But once I graduated I lost the work or goals that I had for a long time. I had no constant or direction. I had never thought about activities or work that would make me happy, and more to the point, my reason for doing them. No one work seemed to work for me. This more quiet time, leaves you feeling more reflective than usual.
Well, this can be a blessing and a curse. If we overthink and get paralysed by our thoughts, it can be stressful and wasteful. But if we can use this time to get curious, and think about these bigger questions, it will help us when we continue on our own path. As we get older, we get more responsibilities, so we must use this time of 'nothing' to be very sure about our own belief system, understanding of life and the universe.
If we delay this, it will just creep up on us later. Instead of leaving it as an underlying anxiety, that we run from, thinking about these bigger philosophical questions will leave us more satisfied in the long-term.
It's important to note, it is not to get definitive answers. By thinking about these questions and exposing ourselves to different views, we will find one that will bring us peace. Then we will naturally outgrow these questions. As humans, concepts like the meaning of life, suffering and death, are readily avoided. They cause us discomfort. But if we can really delve deeper and make it clear to ourselves, we can live this one life to the fullest.
This concept of 'Optimistic Nihilism' was what I had gradually come to after a long period of thinking. I didn't realise it was a 'thing'. When I discovered this through a beautiful video by Kurzgesagt Says (highly recommended!), I was pleasantly surprised. It's always comforting to know, that what we contemplate and the conclusions we come to are so similar to humans from the past and present. It will also continue to be so for humans in the future.
We all worry about the meaning of life. It's a human thing. In my opinion, this is one of the invigorating explanations of life.
Make sure you read till the end! Nihilism by itself cannot give you the outlook to live a positive and fulfilling life...
Our human existence is pretty scary. We are conscious beings in this universe, and we don't really know of what lies out there. We are not at the centre of the world, as we believe when we are younger, we are just there.
The main thing that causes us anxiety is our finite time in the world. We are temporary and small in the endless universe. When our time is complete, we will become part of the Earth again. We will stop being 'us'. Stop being. Even though many of us believe in the soul, it's not something tangible we can measure now. It is the unknown.
Okay, take a breath! This is pretty heavy. But hear me out! As explained in the Kurzgesagt Says video, this is 'less scary than it sounds':
"If you don't remember the 13.75 billion years that went by before you existed, billions of years after will pass in no time. Close your eyes and count to one. That's how long forever feels" (Kurzgesagt Says).
So that is the human experience in summary. The universe keeps changing and everything ends one day. Including ourselves. To top it off we are conscious of it. The only thing that belongs to us, that we can be sure of, is the experience of our life.
Despite our varying beliefs on an overriding order in the chaos, as humans we do not have the capacity or ability to understand the bigger picture. Our experience will feel like there is no rhyme or reason. The fact is, we will never know what the definitive truth is.
The Earth being a spec of dust in the humongous universe, may make us feel small. But why do we try to find our grand purpose or order in this massive, unknown cosmos? We are just a part of it. Like the nebulas or a little ant.
This lack of meaning (as far as we know!), means we are free to do what we feel is right. Free to give meaning to the life in our own way. Answer the human problems and questions on Earth, at this moment.
There is so much for us to do! Before we, the world or the universe ends, we can explore everything. That is the beauty of human existence. Experience all those feelings, the food, the art, the music, the knowledge, the places on Earth, and... each other. After all, isn't it unbelievable that we are even conscious?
What is the point of doing anything?
Well, what would be the point of doing nothing?
Yes, our time is limited. But we make the purpose. There are so many problems to solve and so many things to experience. Why not live it to the full?
There is no reason not to have fun, not to feel good, not to help others, and leave the Earth a little better because you were here. What you do is entirely up to you.
Check out the video that inspired this post, below!