“Man must create his own essence. It is in throwing himself into the world, suffering there, struggling there, that he gradually defines himself“– Jean-Paul Sartre
One of the absolute truths of life is the suffering of all beings, which remains constant with time. “Existence is Suffering” is in fact, the First Noble Truth of Buddhism. Whether our search is for an enjoyable life or a meaningful life, suffering is an integral part of it all.
The question is not in finding what’s the point in life; but rather what life wants from us. The challenges of life are unique to everybody, and it is in our hands to cultivate meaning and opportunity within those limitations.
All the answers to the most excruciating questions and dilemmas of man’s life lies in finding himself in these very times of hardship and nothingness.
Without this concept of suffering, there would be no pleasure or gain. Without the fear of death, there would be no urgency and passion for living. The point of life is born from the very emptiness that suffering can cause, giving us the strength to strive for the hope of tomorrow.
Why does God allow Suffering?
Whether the suffering that exists around the globe is caused by our actions or a part of the universe’s/god’s plan, the “response” to this question will always be a choice that is ours to make. While it may not be in our hands to eradicate this suffering as much as we want to, the way we experience it is.
○ Resistance to Change
The only way to truly evolve and rise above the clutches of suffering is by embracing the impermanent nature of this cosmos. Nothing is meant to be the same, and everything will keep changing and transforming through a cycle of existence. This is the law for not just human existence but all of nature.
We will continue to suffer until we accept and embrace this law, seeking growth and opportunity in transition. Seeing the world crumble under the horror brought about by the Covid-19 virus was a time when almost all of us questioned whether there was a point to life at all!
No matter how powerless we felt, the strength and unity of humanity came to the forefront when collective efforts were made to help and give aid in whatever individual capacity possible.
This is the true essence of a meaningful life; the desire to adapt to changing times no matter how painful with a will to take control of the situation. Resisting this unprecedented pandemic would have only made us suffer more; however doing what we could about it was an example of our collective purpose that gave us the strength to fight through it.
○ Seeing Ourselves as Separate
“When everything is connected to everything else, for better or for worse, everything matters”– Bruce Mau.
In tandem with the previous concept of impermanence, the notion that everything is one connected “whole” is a consequential reality. We are born and die to return to the very same earth, which then feeds other life. Everything is interconnected in an intricate network of co-dependency, and that is the beauty of the universe.
Being able to see this sacred connection to one and all is a blessing. When we think of ourselves as separate or disconnected from everything else, we feel lost, lonely, isolated, and forget the point of life.
Right now, the imminent dangers of climate change are making us all suffer and threatening our future existence. Even though one can sit and blame others who are more responsible for this damage done, the duty to rise above this suffering remains universal to all.
Some of the powerful environmentalists and climate change activists like Sir David Attenborough have lived their entire lives championing a cause that is not their individual concern alone. It is because people like him acknowledge that our biggest weapon against collective suffering is recognizing our connection to not just one another, but to all of nature.
○ Choosing Fear Over Love
Despite the endless reservoir of potential and creativity that lies within all of us, we are limited by our fear and perception of a situation. No matter how brutal and destructive the wave that hits us, the ability to at least try and surf the wave will always be a choice.
Instead of being fearful of the inevitable suffering and sorrow that will remain to be a reality, choosing to lead by love and hope can completely transform the way we accept life. Taking a proactive call to create change is an antidote to falling victim to everyday suffering.
Suffering from a place of hiding and simply wishing that things were better is never the answer. Instead of feeling ‘helpless’ and ‘saddened’ by the experience of others, flip your perception to feel ’empowered’. There is great catharsis in action and in knowing that you have the opportunity to improve a lot of lives no matter where you stand in life.
○ Chasing Wrong End Goals
Our society has pushed the belief that happiness is an endless chase and life’s purpose. The truth, however, could not have been further from this.
By human nature, happiness is not a feeling that is meant to last forever, and that is perfectly fine. Making it our end goal and idealizing life is what causes misery and suffering in the first place. Human experience comes with the whole gamut of emotions, not happiness alone.
To seek happiness continually and direct all actions towards its attainment alone is an unrealistic standard we set for ourselves. If we were to seek happiness continually despite the reality of fatal diseases and wars staring us in the face, we would either be selfish or simply disillusioned.
Whatever consolation and ray of hope that we felt during the past two years of this pandemic were when we made a conscious effort to help ourselves and others rise above the suffering we were all facing.
This is the very point of human life, not to chase happiness but meaning. This is a sustainable goal to strive for that allows us to deal with the highs and lows of life with the same equanimity, without losing ourselves in the process.
What is the best way to go Beyond Pain and Suffering?
Suffering will always be present in our lives, whether we like it or not. The question to ponder upon then is not about why life matters when suffering exists but rather what makes suffering worth the pain and struggle that comes with it.
○ Having a very strong “why”
It’s true that regard and appreciation for something good stem from the knowledge of it not lasting forever. If we were to never die and not know what suffering feels like, we would undoubtedly be living a rather monotonous and unpassionate existence.
The fact that we are all here for a limited amount of time and that suffering, sickness, disease, and death are all inevitable, gives us the urgency to live life even more. The “hows” of dealing with all these unwanted challenges are met easily when one has a strong “why” or life’s purpose.
The “why’ we go after should be something that benefits the collective society and not just individual goals. When the goal is only personal, then the suffering is inevitable. The “why” should be so big that, any personal/surround breakdowns should not really matter.
This is how all the great personalities live and stay cold to achieve their goals. It can be spiritual personalities or materialistic personalities, the common thing in both of them is that they have a big “WHY”.
○ Finding Our True Selves
In his book “Man’s Search for Meaning“, Victor Frankl says that one can discover themselves by finding meaning despite or even because of suffering. If suffering can be avoided then it should be, and if it cannot be removed, then one can always choose his or her attitude in that situation.
Despite the “tragic triad” of suffering, guilt, and death, there are 3 ways in which man can discover his essence.
1) Creating something meaningful,
2) experiencing something or encountering someone who has touched you, and
3) transcending and learning something valuable from the inevitable suffering one will face.
Finding our authentic selves always comes down to having a personal sense of purpose. Society makes the mistake of advertising money, fame, and youth to be fulfilling. However, the most worthwhile pursuit is one’s search and attainment of meaning.
Suffering, guilt, and death can make everything feel numb and meaningless, but it doesn’t have to be that same way. One can find deepened courage and the willingness to fight for something much greater through their work, find compassion through connection and humility, and strength through suffering.
Having a “Cause” that Surpasses Individual Limitations
The point of human life is neither to be the best, the happiest, the richest, or the most successful. That may give impetus to your passion; however, your life’s purpose must always be bigger than that.
Your reason to live life and wake up each day must be fueled by something grander than your individual desires. When something that points towards collective brilliance, love, and hope becomes your “why” for doing what you do, suffering ceases to be an obstacle that might make you want to give up.
○ The Vision of a Better Future for All (Elon Musk Case Study)
The richest man in the world, CEO and Chief Engineer at SpaceX, Elon Musk has had his fair share of misfortune in his life. Exactly what drives him every day? His firm belief is that if something is important to you, you do it no matter what, even if the odds are against you.
Neither is he driven by money nor by fame. If these were the reasons for him doing what he does, he wouldn’t have started a space company. Also, Elon believes in the absolute fragility of humans and the fact that in the grand scheme of things, no matter how significant you think you are, your efforts will be subject to oblivion.
He attributes his “vision” as his “why” to pull through the thick and thin, the highs and lows of life, and make it work regardless.
“I think it is important to have a future that is inspiring and appealing. There have to be reasons you want to get up in the morning and want to live. Why do you want to live? What’s the point? What inspires you? What do you love about the future?” – Elon Musk.
Musk’s vision entails not waiting for a better future but rather creating it. He is driven by the endless possibilities of an exciting, futuristic world. No matter what hardships and adversities he faces, he advocates changing the way we question life by first expanding our consciousness.
When we do, we find that collective enlightenment is the only sustainable goal that one can derive meaning from and never give up on.
His company Tesla has made electric cars an exciting alternative for tackling climate change and also made proactive measures to provide aid when the pandemic hit the hardest. Instead of pondering over the tragedies of the world helplessly, Musk is an example of a man with a mission to actually ‘participate’ in that suffering in order to diminish it.
○ Saying Yes to Life Despite the Pain (Victor E. Frankl Case Study)
Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl has talked about his personal experiences and understanding point of life in his renowned book “Man’s Search for Meaning”. Frankl talks about Logotherapy as a form of existential analysis and “tragic optimism” for dealing with life’s unavoidable tragedies.
According to Frankl, the point of life is in presupposing that life is inherently meaningful and sacred under all conditions, even when tragedy hits the deepest.
Being optimistic in the face of tragedy doesn’t mean forcing oneself to seek joy in adversity but in finding an incentive to consciously living life for yourself and others within those circumstances. No matter how dire the situation, we can always choose how we deal with it, even if we cannot choose what happens to us.
Frankl prods us to contemplate that “when everything is taken away from us, what defines us, what keeps us going, and why?” The point of living life is not in finding meaning in the transience of life and its events, but rather in our overall perspective or an ultimate goal that surpasses it all.
The man who can find meaning even at the end of his provisional existence is one who has understood the true life purpose. His understanding of this world exists beyond social constructs and present moment challenges. In other words, “the meaning of life is to give life meaning”.
○ Be the Change You Wish to See (Steve Jobs Case Study)
Not everyone accept life’s meaning as a creation of their own mind and its limitations. People who believe in their ability to change the course of life’s events are those who invent their own future instead of predicting it. These people are not mere puppets in the hands of fate, waiting to suffer, but rather creators of their own destiny using their free will.
A classic example of such people is nobody other than the legendary Steve Jobs. His advice has always been not to create a company simply for the goal of becoming rich, but rather because of your belief in it, and the value it will add to the world.
Once we understand that everything around us has been made by people just like us with the same mental limitations and same challenges, we discover an irrevocable power within. Then, instead of giving into the hands of despair and failure, we see a point in living a life where we are the creators of something that is unimaginable to the human mind today.
This is exactly what drove Steve Job’s desire to create technology that was appealing and accessible to all age groups. His philosophy to persist through all the pain that one must endure at some point or another is to simply trust.
It is only by trusting this life and its events that you can make sense of the larger picture when you recover and never lose sight of hope again.
A Recap on What The Point of Life Really Is
Contemplating the point of life is the most relevant question when life hits rock bottom and we are left feeling lost, confused, and defeated. In such a scenario with the obvious reality of the situation staring us in the face, it helps to rephrase the question we have in mind.
Perhaps life is not found in finding freedom from suffering but rather in finding meaning in suffering.
The first thing to understand is that we are the creators of our life, including our suffering. By denying our authenticity, resisting transition, chasing happiness as our end goal, and seeing ourselves as disconnected from the divine whole, we create sorrow and chaos in our lives.
However, when suffering is an unavoidable reality, even then choosing our attitude in dealing with it is something that still lies within our control. This is the last of human freedom that simply cannot be snatched from our hands. And herein lies our greatest power.
Some of the revolutionary thinkers like Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Victor Frankl, and more are testimony to this mindset. They consistently favored hope and belief in their ability to find meaning despite the odds stacked against them. Their desire to create collective change and impact for a better future gave them an undying purpose to keep pushing forward in life.
When one is empowered by a reason this big; transcending their personal desires and limitations, the result is unshakeable strength and purpose. We give life its meaning because we ourselves are the ones deciding the verdict. No matter the hardships and the losses we face, the ability to create from nothingness is nothing short of divine.