Tears streamed down my cheeks as I witnessed the on-screen magic of Disney-Pixar’s “Soul” (2020). “I’m just afraid that if I died today my life would have amounted to nothing,” said Joe, the protagonist.
Joe believed his life had no meaning unless he’d achieved an arbitrary goal to quit teaching music and become a professional jazz pianist. To me, this felt like a real punch in the face, as I found myself relating too intimately with his “ticking the boxes” mentality.
We’re often taught to chase achievements, to “make something” of ourselves, and to maximise our productive time on Earth. But the thought plagued me: was I doing it for my own satisfaction, or was the end goal to have lived a worthy life in the eyes of others? Some days, all I could do was exist. But peaceful idleness still felt like wasted time. I’d lost so much mental energy on “building” something fulfilling that I forgot where to find contentment in the first place.
We live in a capitalist society that values output, productivity, and efficiency. Arts and culture are deemed non-essential to the economy (unless a celebrity is involved). And if some of us are incapable of working in any sense, we’re dismissed as a leech on humanity. But our entire existence shouldn’t be treated like a resume. Our lives have intrinsic value alone.
Life is inherently meaningless anyway, so why not have as much fun as we can in the process? This idea is called “optimistic nihilism”, coined by the YouTube channel Kurzgesagt. It’s the concept of creating meaning in our own lives, rather than searching for it extrinsically.
Many of us battle with existential dread and the fear of aging too quickly. Despite this, I’ve lived several lives during my 27 years around the sun. Plus, I’m excited to uncover the chapters I’ll experience as I get older. There are so many hobbies to try, books to read, and adventures to be had.
We should be allowed to take up space and not feel awful about it. We should normalise the separation of work from our identity. We should prioritise our mental health and find stillness within the joyful moments of our day. No one knows exactly how much time they have before they kick the bucket. But it’s too damn short to be lived on anyone else’s terms.
Whoever has said, ‘I have lived’ receives a windfall every day he gets up in the morning.Seneca