You are Insignificant (part 2)

When reading part 1 of why You are Insignificant you may rightfully determine it to be a little nihilistic. Life is meaningless, so why try? While I do admit that, by itself, it does end a bit glumly, it only tells half the story. The other half is filled with much more of what some may consider "feel good non-sense". However, I feel it's actually "feel good sense", as it's quite sensical, and I've applied it to great effect in my own life.

Life isn't meaningless, but it does only have the meaning we give it. We get only one life, and we spend so much of it being concerned with trivial decisions. We spend so much more of it being concerned with what others think about us and the trivial decisions we make. The truth is, even the teeny fraction of our daily decisions that matter only matter to a tiny number of people, and often only to ourselves.

Everything I've written so far is to illustrate just how meaningless life is when lived only for others. If nothing you do really matters, what should you do with your life? Be happy. Given everything covered in part 1, life lived for any other purpose would truly have no meaning, and that would be an astounding tragedy.

Now, we all need to contribute to society so we don't revert to poop-chucking monkeys, but we don't need to do so exclusively. You don't need to be the best. You don't need to be a rocket surgeon. You don't need to spend all your waking hours helping society prosper. You're allowed to live for yourself. I'm not saying you shouldn't give charitably or volunteer your time. I'm saying you should do what brings you happiness (if that happens to be your job, excellent!). Volunteering and charitable giving are a great way to find fulfillment, not to mention the great dopamine hit they provide, but you should do them because you want to, not because you feel obligated to.

However, achieving true fulfillment or happiness is a monumental task, and it'd be hubris to think we can do it alone. Happiness may be generated from within, but we can't find the maximum amount of it without others. Honestly, an individual can't do much of anything on their own. I can't even write this article on my own. I didn't design or manufacturer the components in my computer. I didn't construct my apartment building. I didn't build the electric utility system providing power to my apartment. I didn't do any number of things that directly allow me to get this article in front of your eye balls. Which, by the way, I'm doing for my own benefit. It brings me fulfillment and happiness to try and help others who are struggling through something.

It's also important to note that it's not selfish to put your happiness first. At least not when you use a long term view. In part 1 I mentioned that people don't remember the individual decisions you make, or your singular mistakes, which is true. What people do remember is who you are. You are not a single bad decision, or a single mistake. You are, literally speaking, the combination of all the decisions you've ever made. If you generally decide to do the thing that benefits you at the expense of others, that's who you are, and people will react accordingly. If you generally decide to help others at the expense of yourself, that's who you are, and people will react accordingly.

However, I feel it's important to emphatically state that life is not a zero sum game. We don't have to lose for others to win. No one needs to miss out for another to gain. We can all win. We can all benefit from an action. For example, something as simple as calling customer service when your internet is on the fritz. You could act like an ass and scream at the person on the other end just to make yourself feel a little better. They'll probably even still fix your issue. But they'll also fix your issue if you treat them with kindness, and they'll do it with much more happiness. Kindness costs you literally nothing in this scenario, no time and no money, and it has a measurable impact on the happiness of the customer service agent. You and the agent both gain.

Stated simply, putting your long term happiness first means putting the long term happiness of those you interact with first. It's not zero sum; you can put everyone's happiness first. I don't believe in situations where someone has to lose as much as someone else gains. I don't believe in no-win scenarios (as a Star Trek fan, I like to throw out the Kobayashi Maru example). If I don't see a way for me to win without someone else losing, I change the rules or I change the problem. It may be the logical programmer in me, but figuring out how to get the most for everyone out of every situation brings me fulfillment and happiness.

As an example to illustrate the (perhaps) esoteric explanation given above, let's say we have just one candy bar, and you and I both want it. The first solution one might come up with is to split it, and that's a fine idea. Due to the law of diminishing returns, I don't lose nearly as much giving up the second half of that candy bar as you gain from having it. However, what if the problem wasn't that we had only one candy bar, but that we had only candy bar in the house? We can drive to the store and get more candy bars while enjoying each other's company. What if we didn't both want the same candy bar? Turns out there's frozen custard in the freezer and I'd much rather have that. Seriously, ask my wife. I freakin' love frozen custard.

So, as a recap, we have part 1 of this article which explained why people care shockingly little about the decisions and small mistakes you make in life, and we have part 2 (this part) that posits that the only reason to live is to experience happiness and fulfillment, and to help others do the same (which will lead them to, in turn, help you). Given that no one cares about what you do beyond how it affects them, and that you should strive to enjoy life as much as possible, what's the natural thing to do? Take chances.

Now I'm not saying you should go out and skydive without a parachute. That's just a bad decision. I'm saying you should take chances. If no one really gives two shakes of a lamb's tail about what you do, what's the harm? If you apply for that dream job, the worst realistic scenario is that you don't get the job. However, even in the attempt, it's all but guaranteed that you learn something about yourself, as well as what you believe to be your dream job. You're one of dozens, maybe hundreds to apply for that job. The only one who cares that you weren't selected for that job is you, and you're okay with not being selected because you know that your happiness isn't tied to that one chance, that you learned something valuable in exchange for your time invested, and that you have plenty of other chances to take. But what if you are selected for that dream job? Well that'd sure change things, wouldn't it?

I hope these carefully directed ramblings have been helpful to you, and I'll see you next time.