You have probably thought about this before. The world is not a beautiful place; it is a scary place, dreadful even.
Those are the kinds of ideas you get when you are alone late at night and thinking about the meaning of your existence. And you find none. All you can think of are the shitty times you screwed up your life and the suffering that is everywhere around you.
Your idea of finding a meaning for your life doesn’t seem to fit in this cruel world where your ideas, ambitions, and desires are crushed.
To put it mildly, even if you found what you consider as your life meaning, the world would not accept it and would screw both of you up while devilishly laughing at you for thinking you can ever be that happy.
And ‘happiness’ is the keyword here. You want to be happy, and about happiness your life meaning revolves. However, the fact that the world is not a beautiful place is in contrast with the idea that this ‘happiness’ can exist.
This struggle creates existential catastrophes. It makes you wonder why the hell you exist, for there is no reason you can think of that can justify this suffering. And were you to be given a choice to exist or not, you would ‘happily’ choose the latter. Well, to be given a choice means that you already exist, doesn’t it? So, probably those are suicidal thoughts, which is not something you should take lightly.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop here. With these thoughts and conflicts, you are more likely to screw up even more.
You will become resentful, which is one of the most destructive feelings ever because god only knows how it will manifest itself in your life. Anger and contempt and disgust cannot be bottled up forever. They will, sooner or later, come to the surface. And from there, it all depends on how moral you are and how crazy you are; we might have a real-life joker here.
Nihilism is one of the consequences, too. Nihilism, in my opinion, is the psychological nuclear bomb that can level the entire planet. With enough nihilists, I believe we can accelerate our demise. If nothing you do matters, why bother? You can just follow your impulsive desires and seek pleasure and it won’t matter at all. Not to mention that at the heart of nihilism is the refusal to accept responsibility for one’s self and life and actions. It is the easy way out of the burden of the responsibility, which we will discuss below.
These ways of thinking contribute to creating ‘the victim mentality’. If you believe that you are a victim, you are giving away your power. That, to some people, is a huge relief because it means you don’t have to do anything because, well, you can’t! No responsibility! Again, nihilism is hugely contributing here. And to compound everything, the victim mentality, to many of us, is the result of the way we were raised. A spoiled child, or an oppressed one, is more likely to believe they are victims and go through life victims, too. And then it hits them the fact that the world is not a beautiful place. That makes them dwell more on what they already know: being a victim.
Oh shit! We are screwed, aren’t we?
Maybe. Let’s have a conversation about this. Maybe we can, at least, learn how to fight those demons and see how things would look like if we had them slayed.
I Am Not Talking about Happiness, Neither Do I Care about It
I was inspired to write this article by pondering for a while on the work of Jordan Peterson. And whether you like him or not, he has some profound thoughts on the idea of finding a meaning for your life (hence, his book The Maps of Meaning).
One of his quotes that really made me ponder for a while was this:
“It is a luxury to pursue what makes you happy; it is your moral obligation to pursue what is meaningful.”
Note that he talks about what makes you happy and what is meaningful as two different things. Many of us assess if something is meaningful or not based on their ability to make us happy. All that while being vague about our definition of happiness. We will hit on these ideas, but they can be discussed more thoroughly in another article.
We will talk about the second part of what is meaningful below. For now, here are a few ideas on the first part about happiness.
First of all, he is talking about the pursuit. I am not sure why. Maybe it is because there are no guarantees, which stresses the point that the world is not a beautiful place.
And being this ugly place, happiness is not one of its prominent features. It is a luxury. It is not one of the basics. And a lot is being said about this idea lately.
It is not only the contrast between the idea of happiness and the idea of the world being a shitty place, but also it is the nature of happiness itself. It is one of the things that are vaguely defined; it is confused with other concepts such as pleasure, fulfillment, and comfort. It is considered as the antidote to suffering and pain and meaninglessness, which is highly, highly debatable. And it is one of the things that will allude you should you pursue it as a life goal or, worse, as a meaning of life.
Because the way we define it is in direct contrast with the fact that the world is a shitty place. That pain and suffering exist. And we often go the extra mile and define it as what will make the world less shitty. Like, it will defy suffering and pain. Like, we can and should defy suffering and pain. Or, hell, like it is what will make the world a beautiful place.
The world is not a beautiful place. And, as you have probably experienced yourself, it can be an utterly scary place. A place where pain and suffering are constants. So, your own idea of the meaning of your life should never include the picture of living in a beautiful place. It should not eliminate pain and suffering. It should include something that makes you find this scary, uncaring world less dreadful and that it is worth the struggle.
Your job is to find, amid this suffering, what is meaningful and do it; you don’t do it to make yourself happy; you do it because it is your moral obligation.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with pursuing what makes you happy. Just make sure you define happiness right. And make sure that you understand that It is just a luxury in the midst of suffering through these existential catastrophes.
Responsibility Is The Way Out, Not Happiness
Let’s talk about responsibility.
Jordan Peterson says that the antidote to suffering is meaning. And where meaning to be found is in responsibility.
Responsibility doesn’t only mean that you stop blaming others. It also means that you decide that you are not a helpless victim that has nothing to do; you can do something, and you should if you want to live and survive in this cruel world.
Looking at my own life, I can see that this can actually be true. During the times I held myself responsible, good things happened. Suffering seemed like it was worth it. And I had a sense of meaning that guided my life, which was this idea of me being honest about how I made things worse and what I should do to make them better in the future. I stopped blaming people/things/situations altogether and started noticing what I can do and how to make the situation better.
Based on that, I saw that I was wrong here and there. And that I needed to work here and there to get out of this shithole. I saw my own contribution to my own suffering and misery without hating myself. Why? Because I understood that if I can reverse or stop my own contribution to my suffering, then I can turn things around, make my suffering less, and be in a better place. I saw it as an opportunity. As the only thing I could control. And since I can control one of the things that can influence the way things go, then I may have a chance of making things go differently, for the better..
And whenever I was suffering, there was something that I was avoiding. Some meaningful stuff I was not doing. And I was not doing it because either I was afraid or wasn’t willing to accept that it was on me to do it.
In this case, I would find the smallest thing I am responsible for and do it. Then move from there to claim and do bigger things. But the decision to admit that you are responsible for this small thing is not easy. Why? Because it is comfortable and relieving to have no responsibility, even if you will suffer physically, emotionally, and even existentially.
It sucks to be responsible because it means you have to do something. It means that you were probably wrong. It means that the situation won’t change unless you do something. Who wants that? Unfortunately, avoiding ‘that’ is what brings the meaninglessness and emptiness to our lives. We try to solve that by twisting the concept of happiness and offering it as the antidote, as we discussed above.
Let’s Make This More Practical
If you look at your life, you will find that many things are not going well. You know, things you are not ‘happy’ with. Or, to put it in a better way, things that you are not proud of. Those things are making your life worse. And you hate them.
Be honest with yourself. Those things do exist in your life. They will always do. Why? Because the world is not a beautiful place.
Some of them might be the result of your own stupidity and carelessness. The rest of them are the results of the stupidity and carelessness of others. We might argue that it was your own stupidity and carelessness that made you deal with those people in the first place, but enough with self-loathing.
You have to understand that fixing those things is your responsibility. Even if they were not your fault. You cannot blame anyone or anything anymore. And this doesn’t mean that you start blaming yourself. Blaming yourself and holding yourself accountable for your shit aren’t the same thing. One is demoralizing; the other is a sign of maturity.
Thinking this way will challenge the victim mentality, which is not a comfortable thing to do. You might come up with excuses and rationalize how things are really not your fault and how much of a victim you are. Admitting that you are responsible is a lot heavier than blaming and becoming responsibility-free. But it will make everything worse.
Fight that. Resist it.
Find the smallest thing that you are responsible for. The smallest thing that you can do to make things better. The smallest, for god’s sake! Something so easy and small that you cannot believe that you hadn’t done it yet. And do it! Hold yourself responsible for doing it.
Come again, I can’t hear you? You cannot find anything that you can do? Well, here you found it. It is your inability to find things you are directly responsible for and things that you can do. Your self-awareness, to be exact. Work there. And start small. You don’t have to figure out how your entire inner world is working, neither will you, or anyone, ever do that.
When it is done, find something else. Hold yourself responsible for fixing something else. And it has to be something that you actually can fix. If you can’t talk to a stranger, then don’t aim at public speaking yet. If you can’t study for 8 hours, then go for just 1 hour or less. It has to be small. It can even seem trivial. But you do it. And you search for something bigger and do it. This time, you will be stronger and more capable of accepting more responsibility.
There you go. Keep that snowball rolling.
You train yourself to see these small things that you claim aren’t your responsibility and hold yourself accountable for doing them. This will challenge the ideas of the helplessness and victimhood, which are the enemies of accepting responsibility. Then, you will reach a point where you no longer think of yourself as a victim who doesn’t have a choice.
From there, you don’t need me, or anyone, to tell you what to do. The world won’t turn beautiful all of a sudden. But you will grow stronger. And you will be more capable of facing it. That is what accepting the fact that the world is a shitty place is all about. It took me like 2000 words to reach this conclusion. But you really cannot accept something if you feel you don’t have your own power.
Will the world become more beautiful? I don’t know. But maybe picking up your own garbage will reduce the garbage in the world. And if enough people did this, who knows what type of world would we live in? Anyhow, it won’t matter because you accept it either way; you are busy evolving. Responsibility will breed evolving and growing. And I guess that is what it is all about.