Today, as I sat down at my desk, beginning my work, I got a WhatsApp message from my 10 year old son. The message was a question: ‘Is life worth it?’
I sat back in my chair, and took a deep breath. My son, all of ten years, was going through existential angst. I texted back to him, “Yes, it is.” Then I added, “Love is what makes life worth it’. He texted me back, ‘I love you’.
As I reflected back on this little exchange between my son and myself this morning, I wondered if he knew the significance – the sheer weight- of this question. I am sure my son does not know that this is a question than mankind has asked itself over and over, over the millennia, and will keep asking long into the future as long as it inhabits this universe. The professed task of religion and philosophy has always been to answer this question.
Monotheistic religions answer this question by saying that God has a plan for all human beings, and that life on earth is worth it because it is the fulfilment of God’s plan. According to this view, if a person failed to do what God wanted her to do in this life, her life would be worthless and meaningless. There are some schools of thought that believe that each human being has a soul that is immortal, and life is worth it if she lives her life in a way that expresses the beauty of this soul, though noble actions. Most religions advocate a combination of these two views.
There are also philosophers and thinkers who do not bother much about God or soul. According to them, each human being finds meaning in life differently, and it is up to each one to find her own meaning. A few of these thinkers believe that one’s life is worth it if she manages to do or achieve what is really important to her. Another school of thought holds that life is worth it to the extent to which a person feels love and care for something or someone. In this view, life is worth it because through life, one is able to experience love.
And then there are the nihilists who believe that life is simply not worth it, that it has no meaning at all.
However, since I am not a nihilist, and I am now reading ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ by Victor Frankl, I had a ready answer for my son’s question. Love is what makes life worth it. It could be love for other human beings, or some purpose higher than ourselves. It is this love that makes you achieve ‘flow’ and gives you optimal experiences, as the Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi would say.
Life is definitely worth it.