A close friend once confided in me about his plans to end his life. There wasn’t any sad orchestral music playing in the background, nor was he drowning in his own tears while bursting into dramatic monologue. In fact, he was so nonchalant in his delivery, I struggled to believe he was being serious at all.  As the conversation wore on, I quickly realised, with great alarm, that my buddy of eight years wasn’t kidding. That brings me to what I think is the biggest misconception people have when it comes to depression – that there are always obvious red flags to look out for. He didn’t isolate himself or joke about suicide, neither did he display any of the stereotypical signs associated with severe mental imbalance – absolutely none.

While he’s fine now, thanks to professional help – help that he was advised to seek by someone who definitely isn’t a professional in this field, me – his words have stuck with me. Midway through our exchange, he posed me a series of questions. What fills the dreamless nights between the time when you fall asleep and open your eyes? Where were you before you were born? Before I could finish my reply, he cut me off, and with eyes that burned with the desperate glow of a fading star, he said, “Nothing and nowhere, Cedric, as I should be. Existence isn’t a blessing, it’s a curse. There’s no meaning in life, none at all.”

I too have spent much of my life searching for meaning, hoping to have some great epiphany after which everything would make sense. I’ve wrote at length about what I think is the key to happiness or a meaningful life, only to realise the irony in being unable to practice what I preach. Few realise that there’s no great ideal to be assembled, or a perfect mindset that can be achieved – hence many spend their entire lives trying to solve a puzzle that doesn’t exist. Suffering isn’t a byproduct of the way we live – it’s an inherent part of living. Of course my friend found it easier not to exist, any of us would. He was overwhelmed by the difficulties he was facing at the time, and that can be resolved simply by acknowledging that problems are inevitable and all one can do is try their best to solve them. Finding meaning in life, however, is an entirely different issue.

“But of course it had hurt. It had hurt before, in the worst, rupturing way, knowing that with or without you, the universe would roll on just the same, unharmed and unhampered.”

This quote exemplifies my point – in the grand scheme of things, we’re nothing. Our existence has effectively no effect on the universe. A “meaningful life” as defined by us is in no way meaningful when one looks at the big picture. Meaning is something we define ourselves, a mere construct of our own flawed beliefs. That’s why I take great offense at the notion that some lives were better lived or were more meaningful than others. More meaningful? To who? Friends and family? Society? Humanity? Looking again at the vastness of space and time, how irrelevant these bases for comparison seem. Life is the single greatest gift one can be bestowed with, for it’s the only one. To live is to live, nothing more and nothing less.

If this life is all we’ve got, if a coincidental collision of atoms really was the only reason for our creation, then it really doesn’t make sense for us to fret too much. We shouldn’t let others define what a meaningful life is. We alone should define our self-worth, our goals, and our way forward. If happiness is all you seek, then let it be your meaning. If material wealth is all you desire, then let the lust for it consume you like a fire. If contributing to the progress of the human race is what floats your boat, then float on! There’s no universal scale upon which to weigh the meaningfulness of one’s life. As shallow as it sounds, perhaps it’s wise to narrow one’s perspective to the extent that we only see ourselves – because the only thing that we can have a meaningful impact on in our short lives is, funnily enough, ourselves.

After all, once we realise that we’re in fact, nothing, suddenly we’re everything.