In every person’s life, there needs to be an Ultimate Virtue. A foundation of aspiration that exists at the end of every chain of motivation.
You find your foundation by asking yourself the deeper why behind every action. Do you work hard? Assuming the answer is “yes,” then there are only three possible reasons why you do so:
- Working hard for the sake of working hard is your Ultimate Virtue. You derive no deeper reward from it and it serves no further end; your personal philosophy is that hard work is the end-all be-all to a fulfilling life. I don’t think many people are in this category, but it’s certainly possible.
- You have a chain of motivation that runs deeper than the work itself, and ends somewhere else at your Ultimate Virtue. For instance, you might work hard in order to get money, and you get money in order to put it into savings for your kids, because you believe that providing as big a head start as possible for one’s children is the Ultimate Virtue. Or you could work hard because you want the status of your job, because you want to leverage that into an even higher-status job, and so on and so on until you command vast legions because you believe power over society is the Ultimate Virtue. Or one of a million others – but you have a foundational motivation that lies far underneath your daily toil.
- You don’t know; you’re an automaton who isn’t happy and isn’t getting any happier; you have no fulfillment and you work hard mostly because that’s the channel that society’s institutions mostly funnel you towards if you don’t have any other aspirations. You default.
Personally, I respect the position of a drug addict more than the position of #3. Why? Because in a certain sense, a drug addict’s position is understandable. Imagine this was your Ultimate Virtue: “All life is temporary and meaningless, and the only worthwhile thing you can get out of it is pleasure in the moment; maximizing your happiness in the next 10 seconds is my foundational aspiration.” If that was what you truly believed, doing a ton of drugs would make sense. But the person in #3 doesn’t even have that.
Why do anything? You can’t just stumble through life on default, taking the path of least resistance and then dying and hoping it all works out. If you don’t believe that life has greater possibilities than that, then why not just live a life of drug-fueled hedonism and die young? The number of people who seem to believe “life is miserable, so I’d better make mine last as long as possible” is staggering.
I think the meaning of life is simple: pick a thing you truly believe in, and then act as if you truly believed in it. If you align these things, your life may get much more difficult, but at least it will be worth the difficulty. I’d rather do a lot of work for a lot of gain than do a little bit of work for nothing.