The point of life, apparently, is to be happy. Unfortunate, then, is it not, that we are bestowed with knowledge that hinders us from achieving this very goal?
For when it comes down to it, the life of a bird and the life of a man are the one and the same: both organisms live and eat and breathe and procreate, then end up dead, in the dirt, a mass of decaying protein. And so the cycle continues, indefinitely, century upon century upon century, dinosaurs flourishing one moment then sinking back into swamps as fossils, a thousand species appearing and changing and evolving, a never-ending, always-changing strand of life, with each twist showing new colours and concealing others.
One day, perhaps another organism will excavate the bones of a Homo Sapien, analyse them with curiosity as to our habits, our primitive thinking. One day, according to the scientists, the sun will expand and engulf the Earth, and if we have not by then migrated to some distant planetary abode, then all of life will be for naught. Galaxies exist in the universe numerous as the grains of sands on Earth’s beaches. In the full scheme of things, it is hard not to feel like you are nothing very important, a speck, a brief wink of light in the darkness – and that is a void all the spirituality in the world cannot fill.
The balm to this cosmic despair has been, throughout history, for humans to remind themselves to stay in the present moment. All is transitory, including ourselves, therefore there is little point in trying to hold onto anything. To flow with the river of life, without pain and without resistance, to accept the briefness of all that exists and revel in the beauty of everything even if it does not last, and perhaps to fill your life with fulfilling activities – that has been the sum of what philosophers have concluded, after gazing for hours into the abyss themselves. People throw around platitudes, like “Do you not eat the cake just because eventually the cake will devoured, gone? No! The point of eating the cake is to enjoy it. The same principle applies to life.” Others, communicating the same idea, pronounce life to be like a dance, like enjoying music; you do not listen to music to get to the end of the song, you listen because you like the sound of it; you dance for the sake of dancing, not to come to the end of the dance.
On a theoretical level, all that rings true. It makes sense. After digesting it, you can even put it into practice – for a while. Because eventually theory hits reality, and try as you might to tell yourself to enjoy the music, treat every action and sight as part of the dance, eventually, your efforts fall short. The dissatisfaction and despair return. For even music and dance, done for the pure, unadulterated sake of doing them, has higher purposes: to provide enjoyment to others, to evoke certain moods, to cheer up souls, to attain status and prestige through mastery of a disciple. There is something beyond just the notes and the steps.
But in life, we do not have that. We are dancing, and playing music, to an empty audience, like the last man standing on earth sitting down to play a tune into the silence on a piano or a ballerina locked away for the rest of her life dancing alone in the darkness of her prison. It would like a writer putting down words she knows no-one will ever read but herself. Sure, the enjoyment of the act itself is still there – but without the greater purposes, the connection you make with other humans through what you are doing, one’s enjoyment is liable to tempered by a great deal of misery.
And that is the position such a philosophy puts us in regards to life. It’s a dance, O, they cry, it’s music – but musicians and dancers don’t just play or dance for their own sake, they dance and play to be seen and heard by others. Unfortunately, when it comes to life, there are no “others” – at least, none that we are aware of. As far as we know, our act of living is not providing a higher purpose to something else. Of course, it is possible that some higher being benefits from our existence, as we benefit from the existence of honeybees – but because we do not know who they are, and will, in all likelihood never know, the misery is not mitigated.
It is the awareness that what one is doing is impacting or will impact others that makes the musician play, the dancer dance, the writer write. If, somehow, you deluded the musician into thinking the audience was invisible, that he was only playing for himself even as a crowd listened on, his enjoyment of the music would still be greatly tempered by the knowledge that his efforts were not being appreciated by anyone else. Thus, in life, even if there is something benefiting from our existence, because we are not aware of them, it is as good as them not existing at all.
None of this matters, though, because time and life will pass regardless of whether you are sad or happy, gripped by existential despair or blithely unaware of the abyss. So perhaps the philosophers were right in one regard: the best thing a person can do is focus on the present moment, and do work that he or she enjoys, and create their own meaning – because what else can you do? Philosophy is not so much about finding answers on how to live one’s life as to discovering compromises to make life more bearable.
Therefore, it is then perhaps erroneous to say the point to it all is to live a happy life, as broadcasted by self-help gurus and books and quasi-philosophers all around the world, but to live a tolerable one, where waking up each day does not give you the urge to hang yourself and you can smile without feeling like your lips are being stretched like taffy.