What’s the point of life? Woah woah, such a deep question and so early in the article! But really though, it’s an interesting thing to ponder.
You see, if you asked a modern human what the point of life was, he or she would say something like “self-actualizing,” or “becoming a millionaire,” or maybe even “progressing in my career.” Sound familiar?
But, if you were able to ask human physiology what the point of life was, it would say something like “procreating,” or “reducing risk,” or perhaps “extending the longevity of life.” Although, the extension of life would happen through a reduction in risk so that we could procreate and ensure the survival of our species. So, I guess the point of life then, according to our animalistic human nature, is safety and survival. All other things come as a byproduct.
But of course, it’s not too hard to survive in today’s world, and if you live in a developed country, safety isn’t too hard to achieve either. So, with our basic needs fulfilled, we look to other things to give our life meaning. Fat paychecks, fast cars, shiny watches, and attractive people are just a few of the common material things we think gives our life purpose. It’s our modern definition.
And if you’re a little more altruistic, the things that give your life meaning could be social impact, technological advancement, quality connections, or political influence (although that’s not exclusively good – but I believe in your altruism!).
However, if you’re jumping ahead, you’ve already figured it out. The things that give our life meaning in the modern world, in many ways, directly contradict our animalistic meaning of life. That is, to achieve the modern success we want, we have to actively put ourselves in uncomfortable and risky situations. We essentially force ourselves out of our comfort zone when all our human nature wants to do is remain comfortably within that zone.
It’s a war of the minds: our monkey desires versus our modern definition of success. And unfortunately, to achieve one, we have to give up part of the other.
A Battle of Human Nature
At our most basic level, our sole drive is to propagate our species. That is, continue to procreate so we ensure our collective survival. According to our physiology, that is success. And to do so, we have to remain as safe as possible. Think about it this way: a squirrel isn’t going to unnecessarily run out from cover just to see how far she can get. She’s going to remain safely in her tree, waiting for ovulation, and then act on the impulse of procreation once it’s time.
The male squirrel, concurrently, isn’t going to risk his life to collect the most nuts out of all his friends so he can brag about how many acorns he has. He’s going to forage for just enough food to keep him alive, and then stay in safety and wait for the opportunity to breed and procreate.
Now think about the actions of a lion. A male lion spends the entire day lounging and conserving energy, so he can go out and hunt when it’s necessary to provide for his pride. He doesn’t try to hoard as much meat as possible so his lion friends think he’s successful. No, he acts in exact accordance with his nature. Eat, sleep, protect, and procreate.
Ok now back to the human animal. People physiologically desire to do the same things as the mammals above: eat, sleep, protect, and procreate. But of course, we have a unique level of consciousness that makes us wonder if there’s more out there. We ponder the infinite mystery of the universe and believe that there is greater meaning to life than to just be. We’ve come to understand this elevated desire as “success.” Our modern understanding of meaning has morphed its way into the pursuit of specific things that make us feel successful, and our life is given greater meaning the closer we get to that unique definition of success.
Our “higher mind,” as I’ve come to call it, wants us to pursue things in life that make us successful. It implores us to take risks, work hard, think about the future, and ultimately, compare our lives to the success of others.
But of course, all these modern things that drive us are in direct conflict with our monkey mind, the impulses that tell us to reduce risk, increase longevity, and find a mate. So in effect, each step we take toward our modern definition of success take us one step further from our human nature.
The Juxtaposition of Success
Ok back to other mammals. I always laugh when I think about an anecdotal story told by Ryan Holiday, author of The Obstacle is the Way, on the Tim Ferriss podcast. Holiday has a small farm on the outskirts of Austin, Texas, and one day he was feeling a large amount of anxiety. Sound familiar? Anyway, Holiday took a break from his work to ponder and noticed his goats standing in their pen, doing, well, nothing. They weren’t eating, they weren’t sleeping, and they weren’t even fucking. No, they were just standing there. And then something dawned on Holiday. His goats were being goats. They were doing exactly what they were supposed to – they were in a pure state of being.
But translate that to humans and we get a very different picture. Anyone seen standing around on a weekday is considered lazy. They must have no ambition, we say to ourselves as we begrudgingly commute to a job we hate. Secretly, however, we kind of wish we could be that person, standing on the street corner doing nothing while we plug into a computer to file insurance claims.
You see, deep down we know that humans have a state of being. We just are, for lack of a better word, existing because we exist. And yet, all our modern definitions of success actively force us outside of that state, making us worry about the future and how much better our friends are doing than we are. Kinda funny when you think about it, right? I mean, what’s the point of life? If you asked our physiology, the meaning of life is to be alive, and nothing else.
So then, shouldn’t our number one goal be to “be alive”? But then, even as I type that I feel like I’m not trying hard, like I’m not doing enough in the moment to get me where I want to go. But where do I want to go? Does it even matter?
Of course it does! I’m not going to sit here and tell you that your definitions of meaning and success are wrong just because we’re animals that need to procreate. What I am saying, however, is that we need to find a balance between progressing in our purpose, and at the same time, nourishing our monkey mind by living in a state of being.
A Simple Anecdote
Let me give you a little anecdote. One of the main drivers in my life is women. Shocker. But it’s a constant contradiction in that when I don’t have a woman in my life, it drives me to become more successful so I can find one. And then, as soon as I meet one, my desire to become successful subsides. My physiology tells me I’ve made it! I’ve found a potential mate. Now all I need to do is reduce risk, work a 9-5 so I have enough to provide for her and my eventual family, and then procreate.
Think about it: How often do we see people lose a grip on their physical health when they start dating their significant other? There’s no need to maintain it anymore, they’ve found a spouse they connect with. And then, as soon as the relationship ends, that same person is hitting the gym tough so he or she can attract another person.
To some of us, this actually sounds quite nice. Find a girl or guy so you can stop looking, and then all you need to do is work a steady job and eat ice cream on the couch while watching Netflix. But if you’re a reader of this blog, then you know in your heart-of-hearts that this isn’t true success. But it is a component, to an extent. It highlights the equilibrium we need between our monkey mind and our modern desire for success.
The point is balance. We all want future success, whatever that means to us, and we also want to be content and happy in the moment. We have a monkey mind and a higher mind, and we can’t ignore either.
And unfortunately, those two minds are often at odds. So, how can we reconcile? For me, my new number one goal is to “be alive.” And then, I have all the other material goals below that. I still tend to each and every goal in my life, and I still want modern versions of success, but I also know that at the end of the day, the entire point of life is to just be.
So work hard, look to the future, and try to achieve your loftiest modern goals. Just understand that none of it means anything if you aren’t content in the moment. And conversely, don’t fall into the trap of following the path of least resistance, just because your human physiology is telling you to do so.