in Musings

Why Do Anything If We’re All Going to Die?

I was watching a TED talk on YouTube when I scrolled too far down and ventured into the comments cesspool, coming across the following heavily upvoted comment.

“To be honest, we’re all dead anyway, it doesn’t matter what you achieve in life at all, the second you die you’ll instantly become unaware you ever achieved it or that you ever existed and lived your life in the first place, so stop taking it so seriously, ultimately you’ll forget it ever happened, in just six decades most of the people this talk is directed towards will be gone, their achievements might remain, but they won’t be aware of them remaining so why should they care?”

This commenter was trying to convince us why we shouldn’t bother striving for success. Why bother doing anything if in the end we’re all going to die and no one will remember us? Life is meaningless, so why exert effort into achieving anything?

I’m sure most of us have entertained similar existential thoughts at some point in our lives, however briefly. The problem is, if you hold this belief and and truly believe it, you’re almost guaranteeing a life of mediocrity and complacency.

If you don’t believe something matters in life, you’re pushing it out of your life. If you don’t believe flossing matters, your dental hygiene routine won’t include flossing. If you said to your girlfriend, I don’t think you’re important, you won’t have a girlfriend for long after. So when you say, it doesn’t matter what you achieve in life at all, you’re essentially distancing yourself from achieving anything in life. You see this in practice when people say, I don’t think money is important. Chances are, the person saying that has a lack of money and always will.

If nothing matters in this world, if no one will remember you eventually, in a sense, does that not provide you with the reins to do anything you want? If nothing is worth doing, then something is just as easily worth doing as well. And if something is worth doing, then you might as well make that something extraordinary.

Perhaps Chuck Palahniuk said it best when he said, “We all die. The goal isn’t to live forever, it’s to create something that will.” An honorable goal would be to leave the world in a better place than you found it. Sure, maybe you won’t actually ever achieve historical greatness in your life. Few people do. But to give up without trying and asking why bother guarantees your insignificance.

Finally, consider this analogy: if you were given a piece of cake and told you could eat it, would you question the purpose of eating the cake if it would run out eventually? Of course not. Scarcity doesn’t make it any less enjoyable – in fact, it may even add to the pleasure. And so it is with life.