I often recall the opening scene of Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories when I talk about existentialism and so-called “morbid pessimism”, which is, in totality, ironic. You have these two trains: one filled with what can only be described as less fortunate people and the other with perhaps more fortunate people. When the journey ends they both find themselves at the very same garbage landfill wandering around bemused, with nothing occurring prior to this having any difference now. It’s as though they have stepped out of Allen’s Greenwich Village and straight into an Ingmar Bergman film.
I find life to be just like such, with the accumulation of wealth, grandeur, experiences, lovers, losses, achievements and all the ornaments of life – be they good or awful – irrelevant once an individual dies. The rich man dies just the same as the poor man, the virtuous and the dishonest just the same, and the lives they lead only determine the numbers at their funeral and the luxury of their coffin.
We are born without our own consent, living while occupying ourselves with our own tailor-made meaning, living dependent upon the notion that life means a great deal. Unlike birth, death is something we may have an intervention in; it is just a question of how and when. We absorb culture, drink wine, fall in love, start families, create ideas, dream and write things, and the sum total of all these things are the lives we hold so dear. We create this illusion of meaning in our lives, as articulated by Jean-Paul Sartre in his seminal work Existentialism and Humanism with his statement:
“…man first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world – and defines himself afterwards. If man as the existentialist sees him is not definable, it is because to begin with he is nothing. He will not be anything until later, and then he will be what he makes of himself”.
We base our success off how much money we make and our personal lives are defined by the quality or quantity of lovers we have had. Currency rusts and love fades just like all things under the sun. The question is: if one is to believe we have no intrinsic raison d’être, then is it possible to enjoy our lives against a Kafka-esque backdrop?
The answer is probably no. As it happens, though, one can accept the frivolous state of existence and still enjoy life, but yet being conscious of this is the first step in being what many might call “happy”. So long as one may pertain to there being meaning and an intrinsic importance to life, they waste their hours shaping this meaning and toiling over lovers come and gone along with the randomness of suffering.
This philosophy is not to be confused with pessimism or a staunch negativity that is both nauseating and counter-productive. It is a rejection of life containing a meaning or explanation and instead embracing existence not upon the merit of God or determinism, but on the premise of life being a short period of time of which is fraught with suffering and inevitable death. If you’re wondering why you aren’t happy in your life, it is probably because you have spent a substantial amount of time trying to infer meaning and thus attain happiness. If you look for meaning when there is essentially none, then you shall be severely disappointed. All that is before you is the meaning you create. But for goodness’ sake, that isn’t the be all and end all. You can still thrive in your social life, make friends, attend loads of parties and make a lot of mistakes and still be happy. It’s just a question of whether or not you suppress what’s clawing its way from under. With all this considered I’m sure there will be another party and another trend to catch onto in the not too distant future and I’m sure we will revel in it, naturally.