Religious folk have it easy when it comes to the meaning of life: we are here to please God, and in return we get to go on the heavenly welfare system, take up the harp, and master denser-than-air flotation techniques. End of story, no more thought or speculation required. But for the atheist, the question of why we are here is far more complicated.
Let’s first get past the obvious fact that, given our generally materialist outlook, we are not exactly here for anything. We are here solely because of past events, and not because there is any reason for us to affect future events. And therefore we have no objective purpose.
While this line of thinking is both depressing and philosophically unsatisfying, it does at least lead to the conclusion that, because of the mind-boggling futility of a human life irrespective of how it is spent, that it really does not matter if we decide to just go ahead and think up our own reasons for living. So that’s exactly what we do. We take stock, decide what is important and what we can influence, and what not, and eventually come to some conclusion as to what our most grand purpose is, preferably in the most general terms possible.
A resoundingly popular response is that we are here to maximize happiness. This is a clever answer, and mostly so because it ties in with morality, and our responsibilities towards each other. But it assumes a homogeneously, rational society. What makes a sociopath happy, for example, is not nesesarily ideal for the rest in his ward.
Several famous books and movies warn us not to chase the “shallow stuff” … money, sex, fame, looks, better girlfriends. The movies will have us believe that an unsuccessful pursuit of such things will cause heartbreak, and a successful pursuit will cause a craving for more. A loose-loose situation. Guess it makes sense … who am I to argue?
But then: if we strive towards happiness, paradoxically, it may cause misery. If an unsuccessful pursuit of happiness can leave us unfulfilled, perhaps an even higher purpose to life would be to have no need for happiness. To transcend and forego happiness. Not to pursue anything.