The Meaning of Life: The Yolo Complex

An investigation into the pursuit of happiness in our everyday lives

BY Almeera Hasham
Jumeirah College, Dubai

Everyone at some point in his or her life has sat down and asked: “Why am I here? What is my purpose in this world?” A question that has been broken down, deciphered and explored by every human being throughout the ages, and one that has been scrutinized by many philosophers. The questions that I always ask are: “Is the purpose of life to be happy? Is it to get married and have children? Is it to find a job and live comfortably financially?” Through my research, I have found that there are many schools of thought as to what the meaning of life truly is and many different interpretations of what a “full life” consists of.

The doctrine of existentialism suggests every person creates the essence of their life and existence and in turn creating their own individual meaning of life and believing that life is not impacted by supernatural gods or beings. Alongside this, existentialism states that we exist and that we define the world and ourselves in our own subjectivity of our existence. The idea is quite consistent with a quote from Joseph Campbell: “Life has no meaning. Each of us has meaning and we bring it to life.” The entire doctrine holds a very self-deterministic belief that we are in complete control of our existence and that our purpose is defined by subjectivity and individual perceptions.

Nihilism is a philosophical concept that adopts the lack of belief in one or more reputedly meaningful aspects of life. Moral nihilists suggest that the entire concept of morality is one that has been abstractly contrived, and that there is no moral standard that we should feel obligated to conform to. Existential nihilists find that there is neither an intrinsic purpose to our existence, nor a value or meaning to life as we know it. The entire concept is true to the idea that individual human life, and the entire human species are significant and that there is little value in establishing a purpose of life.

A psychological perspective on the concept of living a happy life would find many different factors, which contribute to living a holistic and happy life. Researchers in the field of positive psychology have conducted experimental research into concepts that allow full life satisfaction; it has been concluded that factors like full engagement in activities (Mihaly-1990), investing in something larger than the self (Seligman-2002) and appreciating basic pleasures, amongst other things can contribute to the pursuit of a ‘full’ and happy life.

A famous psychologist, Mihaly Csikzntmihalyi (1990), suggests that happiness can be a measurable phenomenon, as displayed through his study (known as the Experience Sampling study). He gave a group of teenagers beepers that went off at random points throughout the day; they were told to write down their thoughts and feelings each time the beep went off. The majority of entries from the teenagers implied unhappiness in their lives. He found that those teenagers, who immersed themselves in tasks, rather than focusing on the mundane reality, were happier and more optimistic in their entries. The central thesis of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (1990), is that happiness is not a fixed state, but can be developed as we learn to achieve the psychological concept of flow in our lives.

To answer my previous question about the meaning of life, I say this: we will never know. Life may be a test of our morality, our ability or our devotion, or it may simply be a futile 80 years that we spend trying to figure out the very reason for our existence and presence on earth. Even if we do have a very distinct purpose on this planet that we call our home, it is unlikely that the higher powers are going to give us any indication of this purpose; life will forever remain an enigma that philosophers will dedicate their lives trying to decipher without ever discovering a distinct answer.

Considering this, I’d like to make a suggestion, one that may seem obvious and unavailing for me to point out, yet it is a concept that is often overlooked: Don’t spend all of your time wondering why have all been put here and whether this life is all that we will ever have, don’t spend your time wondering if reincarnation is possible or if there is a real God; think about how to experience this life that you have been given to the maximum, and think of as many ways as possible to achieve the happiness you desire in the limited time you have here. After all, there is only one motto to always abide by: YOLO (you only live once).

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