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Nathanael Garrett Novosel, March 11 2020

How Death Affects Meaning

Many people will ponder death and immediately wonder why we're born at all if we just are going to die.

The truth is, that's a tempting but incorrect way to look at life: we are born to live, not to die.

I get it—the idea that we're just going to die and it's all pointless seems profound when you first think it.  It seems like you've just seen that the emperor has no clothes and that no one else notices. But it’s wrong.  You just need one analogy to prove it:

Let’s say you wanted to go on vacation.  You want to go see Los Cabos, spend some time on the beach, and then come home and get back to work and your normal life.  You pack.  You plan.  You’re ready to go.  Then, on the day before you leave, you look at your travel partner and go, “Wait a second.  We’re just going to go there and come back, right?  Then why are we going?  We’re just going to come back here!  This is pointless!  The whole trip is putting off our real life, and we’re meant to be here!  Travel is dumb—we’re guaranteed to come back!”

Your travel partner would, understandably, think you had lost your mind.  You don’t go on vacation to come back. You go to enjoy the experience.  And you’re glad that your vacation isn’t forever because you have other things to do.

That’s the point of life: to grow through life experience.  Goals aren’t just imaginary/imagined—they’re realized.

Here’s one more analogy for you to show you why death makes life better and meaningful, not worse and pointless:

You’re in school and given an assignment on day one that’s due at the end of the semester but takes as long as you want as long as you do it.  You have another class with the same assignment, but you’re given it two weeks before the end of the semester.  When does each assignment get started and get done?

The answer?  For most people, it’s right before they’re due and when they’re due.  People often don’t do things until they have to.  Life is short, so you’ve better get started on living it.  It helps you make the most of your life.  Many people will accomplish as much or more in their limited time on Earth than they would with three times the lifespan due to the motivation that urgency provides.

So, people who think that life is pointless are just missing the point.  The meaning of life is growth through experience.  Death being the end doesn't discount the value/significance/importance of the journey, and the limited lifespan encourages you to make the most of the time you have since it is, in fact, going to end at one point.

If the idea of death scares you into wanting to find your purpose as quickly as possible, I do recommend checking out the full book, The Meaning of Life: A guide to finding your life’s purpose.  It's good for the cynics out there because it explains everything logically and scientifically, and it has questions and exercises to help you figure out your meaning to the point where you'll have your whole life direction on a page by the end.

If you're still wondering why anyone bothers to live when you die at the end, try testing your belief by inverting the logic:

If you’re stuck here for 70+ years whether you live life happily and to the fullest or just waste it being miserable and ornery, why would anyone bother wasting it?  Why would anyone just sit around waiting to die?  Why choose to be miserable when you can choose to be happy?

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Nathanael Garrett Novosel

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