Meaning and Mortality

I am noticing a recurring theme in the books I am reading and even some of the shows I stream. All of these explore very directly our human mortality. In other words, they all deal with the fact that we will all die. Not a cheery topic and one most of us spend a lot of time trying to avoid. But oddly, all of these authors have managed to turn this morbid focus into something that is actually uplifting.

In Four Thousand Weeks, Oliver Burkeman uses our mortality as a basis for time management. Instead of pretending like we can get everything done in our lives, we should use the finite nature of our existence to give ourselves permission to bring some sanity to our task lists. Since we only have about four thousand weeks in our lives, we should be much more discerning about how we spend them and what we do. And somehow this is very freeing. I no longer feel that I need to “do it all”. In fact, I know I can’t. So instead of trying, I focus on the things that are most meaningful to me.

I am currently reading The Power of Fun by Catherine Price. For a book about how to learn to have more fun, it starts off in a somewhat dark manner. She also points out that we are all going to die. And because of that fact, we all need to learn to prioritize adding to our lives some True Fun. The author defines True Fun as the confluence of playfulness, connection, and flow. Rather than spending all our time on serious pursuits and putting off fun until later, we need to mix it up and find a place for True Fun in our lives while we still can.

The third and final season of After Life came out on Netflix this month. The series stars Ricky Gervais (who also wrote it) as a man who is struggling to find a reason to live after losing his wife to cancer. Doesn’t sound very funny, though it is a comedy and quite funny. The main character feels like his life is meaningless without the love of his life and in season one he seeks to end it. By the end of season three (spoiler alert!), he decides to live despite the fact that life has no meaning. But he finds that uplifting as it means he is free to give his life any meaning he chooses.

So due to each of these exposures, I am finding myself happy to consider my own mortality and the fact that life has no inherent meaning. And I no longer find these thoughts morbid or depressing. Rather, I find them freeing. I get to choose my own meaning and what I will do with the precious little time I have, that we all have.

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