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Against Snowflake Meaningfulness

Not all lives are potentially meaningful. Are you less special than you think?

Pamela J. Hobart
Pamela J. Hobart
2 min read
Against Snowflake Meaningfulness

If life feels meaningless to you, there are at least 2 explanations. Life might feel meaningless because it really is meaningless. But you might also just be barking up the wrong tree.

Last time, I argued that meaning in life is completely subjective. It comes from a kind of fit between what a person sincerely believes to be meaningful and her enjoyment from participating in those things.

Still, a fair number of people - by their own accounts! - fail to find meaning in life. Not all lives are actually (or even potentially) meaningful.

Hold the phone: how is it possible to fail at finding meaning in life, if meaning is totally subjective?

Why can't you just unilaterally decide that your life is meaningful?

Although it is logically possible to find meaning in anything, some lives are more meaning apt than others. This is basically what we learn from positive psychology, common sense, and good fiction.

People thrive when they belong to functional social groups. They benefit from exercising skills and entering a state of flow fairly frequently. Choices sort of make people happy, but maybe not endlessly (paradox of choice, blah blah). Money helps, at least to a point, but it also matters how you spend it. People want to participate in something they experience as "bigger" than themselves.

Now, you may not be exactly like the average member of the human species. Your personality, interests, experiences, proclivities, etc can certainly affect what kind of life is best or good for you.

You're special, but probably not THAT special. So the safest baseline assumption is that findings about ordinary humans will apply to you.

For every person who genuinely benefits from being a full-fledged loner, for instance, there are probably 10 more who say that out of rationalization but for whom it just ain't true. There are many different ways of socializing, and to different degrees. But you'd have to be an extreme outlier not to need friends. It's just not that likely.

Going from weird to "normal" may create some temporary cognitive dissonance. But being special in a small, human-scale way is not so bad. Maybe desperately clinging to uniqueness is an attempt to find meaning in life in the first place. But it isn't necessarily a successful method.

Don't give up on finding meaningfulness in life just because it's temporarily uncomfortable. If you've been trying to brute force a life that isn't so rewarding, it's not too late to try something else. And if you've been trying something weird, maybe it's time to try something more ordinary.

Pamela J. Hobart

Philosophical Life Coaching in Austin, TX. Also mother of 3, Miata driver, and DIY manicure aficionado.