Look at the whole
Every day, you make thousands of little evaluations. The morning coffee at eight, pure satisfaction. The meeting at ten, full distraction.
These evaluations help you navigate the world — approaching the things you like, while avoiding the things you hate. Without them, all would be equal; and it wouldn’t have mattered to you whether you stepped in dog-poop or got a free ice-cream.
If life was just about navigating, these evaluations would have done their job. But as we all know, it’s not. Life is about so much more; and these evaluations have another, more inside-type of job as well.
When I was ten, I started orienteering. It’s a sport where you, by a map, navigate a course with several checkpoints before you get to the finish line.
The goal is to do this in the fastest way possible. I was very active throughout my teenage years, and I eventually got pretty good. I could navigate towards the checkpoints and hit them with reasonable accuracy.
When I ended my career, however, I discovered I knew little about navigating life outside its context. I got lost, and eventually decayed into meaninglessness.
Since this experience, I’ve been eager to understand meaning and its related concepts. And I’ve learned that, in modern meaning-theory, for something to feel meaningful, it has to be evaluated as positive.
It has to be liked, or valued, in other words. But valuing something — one single thing — is different from valuing life as a whole.
When you navigate the world, the things you say have value are often external. The chocolate-bar after working out, the Lamborghini you dream of having one day, or, what most people see as the most valuable thing in life, the people closest to you.
Although these things certainly add to a meaningful life, they won’t do so unless you have another, more fundamental thing in place. You have to value yourself. That’s the second job of evaluations. That means, while evaluations help you navigate the world, they help you feel good about it as well.
In my experience, it often seems people forget the part they play in meaningful living. They look outside, expecting something external to make their life meaningful.
And though valuable people, valuable things and valuable aims, surely add to a meaningful life, life won’t feel very meaningful unless you value yourself. Meaningful living begins with you.
The opposite is true as well. Only valuing yourself won’t make a meaningful life. It has to be valued as a whole. This doesn’t mean you have to value everything about it, but it means you have to value enough things to judge it worth living. As Albert Camus, the absurdist philosopher, exclaimed:
“Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest — whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories — comes afterwards. These are games; one must first answer.”
The nihilist answer would be no. They deem the world meaningless; and see existence itself — all action, suffering, and feeling — as senseless and empty. But they forget about something. They forget about who makes meaning in the first place.
Existence doesn’t have the ability; we do. And so whether or not we believe that life is worth living, we’re right. Meaningful living begins with us.
Yes, there will be things you hate; pain and suffering. But there will also be things you like; and love. And by the end of the day, it’s your fundamental evaluation of life that makes it worth living or not. The question is life; the answer is living it. As the philosopher Alan Watts put it:
“The meaning of life is just to be alive. It is so plain and so obvious and so simple… The meaning and purpose of dancing is the dance.”
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