Ever feel like your life has little to no meaning? That your existence is very likely non-essential, and the world probably wouldn't be much different if you weren't around?
Well, you're probably right!
Each and every one of us, even our celebrities and world leaders, are infinitesimal motes of life living on a speck of dust (relatively speaking) in a galaxy that itself is merely one of about 176 billion. Our ~100-year lifespans are practically nothing compared to the universe. Makes you feel pretty insignificant, doesn't it?
Even our greatest scientific minds – perhaps especially them – understand this fact very well. Here's an excerpt from Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot, in my opinion one of the greatest pieces of philosophy ever written:
“The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.
Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.
Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.”
Now, you could stop reading right here and start developing a sort of apathy, this feeling that everything you've ever done, or will ever do, are essentially pointless actsin the larger scheme of things. It all sounds pretty cold and hopeless, doesn't it? But therein lies the beauty. It's all about using these feelings of apathy for good, if that makes any sense.
At the end of his Pale Blue Dot piece, Sagan beautifully illustrates what I'm getting at:
“To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.”
I wish I could go back in time and hug this man. He nailed it. There are so many things humans fight each other over. We struggle so hard all our lives to wrestle anything and everything from one another – whether it's food, wealth, power, fame, civil rights, education, or even a spot in traffic – and for what?
There are so many great things our species could be accomplishing right now, if only we weren't so hung up on who's marrying who (no matter their gender), what one of our ancestors did or said to another's ancestor, the brands/companies other people choose to purchase from...I mean, I could go on all day.
If only more people realized how insignificant these arguments were, and decided to focus instead on the problems that might actually make a difference for us in the long run – say, global warming or healthcare or space travel – we might start making real progress towards...whatever it is that we're going to do throughout the next billion years.
Realizing your own insignificance is also helpful to letting all sorts of little annoyances just roll off you instead of allowing them to hang over you like a cloud.
Some guy cut you off in traffic. The waiter got your order wrong. Your boss is nagging you excessively about being two minutes late. Your kid spilled their drink all over the floor. You forgot to pay a bill.
These things can certainly be irritating, but why waste your precious little time in this world being upset about them? Just take a deep breath and try to move on with your life. Focus only on what adds happiness to your life. Forget negativity wherever possible.
This also applies to anyone who feels stuck in a dead-end job, spending their days wishing they could be doing something, anything else. Steve Jobs said it best, really:
“Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
And if you start telling yourself, "but what if the thing I love doing doesn't pay enough money?", listen to Alan Watts:
“When we finally got down to something, which the individual says he really wants to do, I will say to him, you do that and forget the money, because, if you say that getting the money is the most important thing, you will spend your life completely wasting your time. You'll be doing things you don't like doing in order to go on living, that is to go on doing things you don't like doing, which is stupid. Better to have a short life that is full of what you like doing than a long life spent in a miserable way.”
Am I making sense with all of this? Am I just rambling? I don't know. I guess what I'm trying to say is, you've got to find your own meaning in this world. Thankfully, it doesn't really matter what you choose, so long as it makes you happy and hurts no one else. The only thing that can stop you from trying is yourself. That's the magic of being insignificant :)
I really hope this helps someone in some way, and I will be referencing this post myself in upcoming months as I finally get off my butt and try to escape my own crummy desk job. Have a great rest of the week, everyone!