The purpose/ meaning to life

2/26/17

I was reading The Eerie Silence by Paul Davies, but then I came across something which made me think for a bit.

“Humans have a basic need to perceive themselves as part of a grand scheme, of a natural order that has a deeper significance and greater endurance than the petty affairs of daily life.”

I remember, actually, that in my psychology class, I learned that people who have a religion tend to be happier. Maybe because that need is fulfilled. They feel there is deeper meaning and they don’t stop and question the why so much; they don’t feel that life doesn’t have purpose, like I do sometimes. Like I did today, and that’s always painful, because I feel numb, down, and lonely, and nothing has a point.

I go after beauty when that happens, because beauty gives life much of its meaning. But still, I wonder what the point of my work is. Why I read and learn if I’m not… doing anything for anyone else…

It makes me feel so empty.

The book is about SETI, which stands for Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence, and it’s not a bunch of baloney—it’s scientific and important, I think, because how cocky does someone have to be to know the vastness of the universe and think that life doesn’t exist elsewhere?

I mean, come on… it probably does. I wish I knew.

May be that’s why I find space so enchanting and beautiful—maybe that’s why it fills me with awe and wonder and makes me want to go there—because the vastness and mystery of space makes my heart leap to the possibility that there is meaning to be found out there, that there is a purpose bigger than myself of which I am a part, one which can give my life true meaning.

Today I was forced to go to church again, but I was actually listening this time, and I remember the desire I felt to believe the Christian belief was true. I wanted God to be real, and for him to really have a plan for us, and for there to be life after this one, and for there to be someone great and all-knowing to whom I could always turn when I was confused, lonely, and all that. I wanted the assurance that everything would be okay. I wanted to be able to believe in him and take the hand which I see extended. But I couldn’t just believe. I wanted to ask him for proof, true proof which would make me never doubt him, but I didn’t believe that any “proof” he could give me, were he real, would convince me—there would be a scientific explanation for that “proof”. I felt the depression of my internal battle. I want to have faith but I don’t, and I never truly have, because it’s so unlikely.

“The incongruous mismatch between the futility of the human condition and the brooding majesty of the cosmos compels people to seek a transcendent meaning to underpin their fragile existence. For thousands of years this broader context was provided by tribal mythology and storytelling. The transporting qualities of those narratives gave human beings a crucial spiritual anchor. All cultures lay claim to haunting myths of other­worldliness: from the dreaming of the Australian Aborigines or the Chronicles of Narnia, from the nirvana of Buddhism to the Christian Kingdom of Heaven. Over time, the humble campfire stories morphed into the splendour and ritual of organised religion and the great works of drama and literature. Even in our secular age, where many societies have evolved to a post­religious phase, people still have unfulfilled spiritual yearnings.”

Maybe that’s why I want to write a story so badly, especially when I feel like this. I want to feel that I’m a part of something that has meaning.

I’ve always found comfort in quest-like, mission-like stories. I understand that when I’m feeling down, I have to bring myself back up for my own health because I don’t want to see myself crash. I don’t want to see how depressed I can get and what I can do when the feeling that life has no meaning is augmented. I might hurt myself, you see.

.

That’s why I wanted to work at NASA. I wanted to be a part of a large organization so I felt my work would matter—because right now it doesn’t feel that way and I feel so down and I don’t know how to find meaning—not only to my organization but also for the meaning of the work—for space exploration!

If I hold on for some more years, maybe that’s what I can have in my future. Maybe I won’t have to feel that I’m not a part of something important again. And no, I can’t just accept religion, I can’t just believe in something my mind tells me is a lie. And that sort of sucks, in a way.

There is hope now. I’m so glad.

.

I guess the reason I don’t want to become a part of SETI is because I feel that yes, the work of searching would be important, but I don’t have faith that we’ll encounter evidence for alien life in my lifetime, let alone intelligent alien life, because of the unlikelihood of that. I’m on page 194 of the book, and everything I’ve read has not changed that opinion. So I feel like I wouldn’t have faith in my cause, you know? I don’t accept religion for the same reason—God might be real, but I feel the likelihood is too low for me to really believe in the importance of my dedication and whatnot.

Whereas with NASA—all I want to do is push the known boundaries, is explore, is go further than we have gone before. I want to help a cause I believe in, but it’s not just for the advancement of humanity, it’s so that one day we’ll be able to go far beyond and really understand our universe better (it’s about what could lie beyond, too. Otherwise I might do something focusing solely on human life now, you know?). I don’t know if working there would make me feel like my work has meaning or not, but…

It’s worth a shot.

I feel like my dad may be going through the same thing. I actually read that this happens to people as they get older—I read that in psychology class—this feeling of “what is my life about, what is my life’s purpose, how can I do something meaningful?”. My mom’s interested in educating the public about society’s wrongs, and I just freaking realized that her current interest is fulfilling that need for her. She says she wasn’t always this way, and I think that’s because she’s at that stage.

.

Okay, I searched through my psychology papers from semester 1, and I found 2 relevant ones and another with something I want to tell you because I think it may help you even though it’s totally unrelated.

The unrelated is a formula for stress reduction which you should think about if you find yourself stressed sometimes. Negative stress (an example of positive stress is excitement) isn’t good for you.

Stress reduction = perceived control + perceived predictability

Psychologists said that, not me. I used this formula to make my life less stressful and I’m sure it can help you too.

Anyway, the relevant papers said that psychologist Erik Erikson thought the challenge of middle adulthood was “generativity vs. stagnation,” for that’s the time in which an “adult feels the drive to contribute to the world.”

My dad chose electronics because of his interest in them, I told you. He’s been an electrical engineer his whole life, yet I became aware some time ago that he wasn’t satisfied with his job and though he seemed confused and not entirely certain why, he said something that I’m glad I didn’t forget, and that was that he wanted to do something with a bigger purpose, something with greater meaning.

I understand. I feel like I need to tell him—since it seems mom already has found a way to fulfill that need—that he has to find a meaning, a purpose, because… because I know how much it sucks to feel that maybe there’s no purpose.

My mom’s religious, she drags me to church. But my dad’s agnostic like me, and that doesn’t help because he feels even more isolated as a result from a reason why.

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