I need some input and some help with this.
I am an atheist so this is not a troll question. I would appreciate honest, practical input.
I know the general Atheist argument, or one of them, is that because we are atheists and don't believe in an afterlife that we appreciate the life we have more and cherish it even more than people who think there is something more.
I also wonder in comparison to believers how we see a "bigger meaning" to life that makes it all worth while?
Some context and explanation.
I am a man in my early 50's. I was widowed a few years ago when my wife of over 20 years died after a long illness. About a year ago now I started up a 'casual' relationship with a younger, very beautiful woman that turned into a much more intense relationship than either of us expected. That relationship ended about a month ago at her insistence. She ended it partially because she wasn't ready for as intense a relationship as we had. Also partly because she has a more positive, optimistic attitude towards life and is spiritual. I am a bit more negative, low self confidence, and as I said before an Atheist.
I am in a job I hate, and cannot at this point find one or even imagine one I won't hate. Or one that will pay me enough to live on.
At this point I have nothing positive or good in my life. Just loneliness and a job I hate.
It makes me wonder why I bother. Why deal with the anger, the stress, and the futility of getting through everyday life of working a job I hate and coming home to emptiness just to do it all over again tomorrow.
I do have a teenage son and at this point he is the only motivation to stick around for a few more years until he is through college and hopefully on with his life. But really there are times that even that doesn't feel like enough.
This is my first breakup. My wife was my first relationship and that ended in her death and I could cope with that. The breakup seems to be much harder because the love seemed deeper and more passionate. She was younger and so much more beautiful than anyone I had any business being with. She insists the feeling are still there. That she still loves me and misses me daily. Which makes it harder for me to understand why we are not together.
I know that these threads are often more intellectual and abstract but I would like some input on how Atheists give their lives meaning and purpose.
To me now there is just such a degree of futility and pointlessness. That it is just suffering and toil and all to no end, for no purpose. I know I am in pain now and they say time will make it better but I also know that these ideas of life have always been with me, just easier to tamp down when I wasn't in so much pain.
Any input appreciated. Please be kind.
You seem to have what is commonly called "Depression".
Christians, etc, also get depressed, so, its not that you need a supernatural reason to enjoy your life.
You should consider seeing a therapist for example.
You lost your wife to death, and are losing your current GF BECAUSE you are STILL TOO NEGATIVE.
Its no fun being around a guy who's a downer. She's TELLING YOU that she loves you but you are too negative, and SHE doesn't want you dragging her down with you.
The dynamics of the relationship, as you describe them, indicate that except for your depression, she WOULD be with you.
So, if you can drag yourself to some help, you can fix what's wrong, and, MAKE your life better for you, AND your GF, AND your kid...and, probably, everyone else you deal with.
When depression is cured or reduced ENOUGH, relationships start to work, jobs are not so bad, etc.
So, that's my recommendation, DON'T go down w/o a fight. If she is worth it to you, fix your broken heart, so it works for the living too.
I agree with TJ. It sounds like you are depressed. Get yourself to your GP and tell them about it, they might want to refer you to a psychologist or psychiatrist for counseling or they might want to counsel you themselves. Either way, they can help. In the meantime, they might suggest you try anti-depressants (most likely Lexapro)... they're helping me right now.
In addition to going to the doctor: get into a hobby or community service role. It's important to have something you enjoy doing, especially if you don't have a job you enjoy. If money is an issue, hiking might be good (physical exercise is good for treating depression, plus you can see some beautiful sights), or maybe gardening if you have an interest in it. Remember that the world is an amazing place, regardless of how it came to be, and you can explore it in so many different ways. In any case, I'd advise you to pick a hobby you can do at least once a week, preferably daily. It helps to distract you from the depression. Feel free to bounce ideas around here or pm me, I'm happy to chat.
First of all...it's horrible that you are suffering so much Mike. That's beyond awful. I...and I'm sure most people who have read this...sympathise.
I think all atheists should remember that all we have in common is not beleiving in God. There is no short number of those who lack belief in God who still think there is a clear purpose in life and beleive in an afterlife. But you probably mean something close to secular humanism. (theres a test to see how close you are to being one...many surprised to find out they share the same principles). The overwealming majority reject claims about an afterlife (though not all completely reject the possibility of it) and any inherant meaning or purpose woven into the fabric of spacetime or existence or being. There is no purpose or meaning out there we can discover or test. This is almost certainly the case.
It's important to distinguish inherant-meaning (or purpose) with personal-meaning/shared-meaning (purpose). Most of us here will reject inherant-meaning as something that the religious and/or the spiritualists make up (and some atheists). As the existentialist philosophers repeated again and again...you have to create find/create your own meaning. Some find it empowering, some find that it's a burden). That meaning can come anywhere and everywhere: from the shared-principles of your culture, from family, peers, coleagues, groups of any kind. No one can validate your meaning, give it a check or an x. They can only give their opinion. Your purpose is yours and it's not theirs to manipulate or force onto you (unless you are content to have your meaning spoon fed to you).
I think for many people...when they seem chronically unable to fulfill their own purpose or meaning, or when they see meaning of life as something dark and painful and futile...they ask themselves "what is the point" as you seem to be doing now. One response is to search for a different meaning or expand that meaning or realise you don't need to havy any meaning if it suits you. This requires effort and that doesn't necesarily mean that effort must be like swimming against a strong current...just time and effort. Part of it means you to be a little bold, to do things and explore things you have not done before, to leave your comfort zone even just a little and deal with initial disapointments and even rejection but press on. Just as online communities have made the world seem like a much bigger alienating place (bombarded with social media images and give you the totally unrealistic idea of your friends living it up everyday in amazing jelousy inspiring bliss while you aren't) and isolated from real personal contact...the inter-web also helps you connect even more. meetup.com, local sporting hobby groups, volunteer groups, couchsurfing.com, airbnb hosting and visiting, groups posted on local town/city pages, ways to engage in the arts (picking up an exotic musical instruiment, taking better pictures, going with groups to the opera or a jazz concert and talking about it later) are all way easier today than it ever was. Again...you have to be a little bold to do it as some times it doesn't work out, wasn't what you were interested in, you don't connect with them...but it often does and it can change your world. All of these can be but one part of finding meaning in your life (or at the very least helping you enjoy your life that you are happy to have no meaning at all) and it also has the secondary benefit of being around people and even meeting certain people you wouldn't otherwise get a chance to meet. I think you can also expand/define-more-clearly self-purpose by doing things on your own, reading things you've never read, challenging yourself with shows and films and documentaries you never had before, taking up a hobby that requires some real effort, deeply exploring a political/social/historical/scientific/philosophical topic through literature, non-fiction books, youtube lectures, image magazines etc. It's one way to deal with a difficult time in your life and no...it doesn't have to be like a super happy Hollywood film where a "I can do it" attitude solves everything. It's a good start though.
As for our own meaning of life, I have my own...I don't think it's relevant to most other people though little parts of it like empathy, improving myself at things I care about, learning things that are difficult to understand and forging strong trustful relationships are an important part of it though I'd hazzard to guess most people who read this post would agree.
As you have described your state-of-being now, it seems like you could greatly benefit with cognitive behavioural therapy. It's not the same as psychoanalysis or psychotherapy. It is something all of us could go through (all of us). It's not limited to those suffering despression (though I'd venture to guess you are suffering depression to some degree). The therapist will help you find out which kinds of thought patterns, unconstructive thoughts, skewed views of how you think others see you, inaccurate thoughts and behavioural patterns result in difficulties (especially repetitive difficulties) and how to reshape your thought patterns and behavioural patterns to overcome these difficulties. As I said...we can all benefit from it as all of us have some toxic thought patterns/behavioural patterns to some extent that we could overcome as cognitive behavioural therapy is not limited to (though is certainly useful for) those with depression. I can help you look into it (perhaps it is covered by your insurance or social insurance) for possibilities in Rochester.
I think that looking for other meaning (or transforming a personal-purpose gloom and doom into something less limiting) or in some cases transcending the need to have meaning, engaging in new things, being a little bold, trying to meet new people again (even if it's slowly) and behavioural cognitive therapy can certainly help people who are in quite a difficult place. I think occupying youself with this can help you answer whether time does heal all wounds and whether you need a clearl purpose in your life and what it is.
A very big bear-hug for what it's worth.
I agree with peoples.
"anger, the stress, and the futility"
- sounds like depression. I would add, get out of your comfort zone and take small steps to make things better.
"futility and pointlessness. That it is just suffering and toil and all to no end, for no purpose. I know I am in pain now and they say time will make it better but I also know that these ideas of life have always been with me, just easier to tamp down when I wasn't in so much pain."
- while you're alive there's possibility of change. You've got the love of a good woman. The A1 gold prize of life. It's been said that present pain can bring back old trauma.
"I know that these threads are often more intellectual and abstract but I would like some input on how Atheists give their lives meaning and purpose."
@Mike, I can recommend a book called Man's Search For Meaning by Victor Frankl. It addresses these very issues and requires no spiritual or religious inclination to appreciate.
I would add a classic memoir written by one of America's best writers on his personal battle with depression. It's Darkness Visible: A Memoir Of Madness by William Styron, author of many fine books including Sophie's Choice. If you are seriously thinking of suicide, you might follow his lead and check yourself into a clinic for a few weeks.
Please listen to of the book.
Thank you all for your input. Thank you Strega for your kind words.
I am the kind of guy that hates doing dishes because I know that no sooner am I done that dirty dishes start to pile up again.
When in basic training I always heard the stories of when contraband was found by the drill sgts. They would take the violator out have them dig a hole to bury the contraband. Once the hole is dug and the item placed in it the hole is filled up again. Then when all covered and the whole filled, they are told to dig it up. Just work for the sake of work. Futile , pointless, just work to be busy and accomplish nothing.
That is what life in general feels like. If I am gone then what difference does it make to the world? Except for my son, and even that for only a few more years maybe, who would care. Nobody I work with. I have no friends and no interests. I would be gone for weeks before anyone noticed. If not months.
That is why I feel I am looking for a purpose. For some reason why it makes sense to get up and go through the same bs every damn morning. Except at this time I don't even have the love of a wonderful woman to get me through. As a reason to be here and some joy or pleasure to look forward to.
I know I am a more negative person. There were other reasons our relationship ended. The age difference of 15 years, the spirituality difference. But yes, the negativity was the trigger. It was meant to be short term but feelings developed.
If she can think as much of me as she says she does and I still lost her how am I ever going to keep anyone? I know it is my fault it ended. I know I am me so how does this not happen over and over if I am even lucky enough to find someone else again?
She told you what you need to do to get her back....but you are focusing on the loss, and, especially as you lost your wife, this is like a post traumatic shock...the mourning and sadness when your wife died is now being relived, and its doubled effect can be devastating.
I am not convinced that you WERE done mourning your wife actually, as I know many who are over the initial mourning process, but put away the painful remaining feelings, and move on too soon.
Think of it this way, up UNTIL the GF said, essentially, that your depression was a problem, you DID consider waking up every day a reasonable option...you had HOPE.
AFTER she dropped the bomb, THEN your life, with one deletion, was overwhelming.
As she dropped the bomb BECAUSE you were depressed, treating the depression will allow at least two - three options:
You to potentially get her back
You potentially gain mental health/lose depression
You potentially have the mental energy and outlook needed to change jobs/modify your position/improve your lot
When depressed, it is hard to remember what it was like to not be depressed. I know a LOT of people who are or were depressed.
For the "were" depressed, if discussing prospects when they were depressed, etc, its was like talking to Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh. They could not see the potential for anything, no lights at the end of the tunnels unless they were oncoming trains.
When the depression lifted, due to counseling, therapy, or other treatment (Everyone responds to something individual to them, and, you MIGHT need to try a few to find what works, for you), they were THEN able to say things like, hmmm, I think I COULD earn that promotion or change jobs or, even see the old job in a new light, etc.
A girl who just meets a depressed guy might be turned off, or, as with some addicts or alcoholics, etc, they are attracted to them because of their kindness or intellect, chemistry, etc, but then the burden of the man's depression/alcoholism, etc, sets in, and they run for daylight, or, stay and get angry, or whatever THEY EVENTUALLY respond like.
So, even if GF #1 finds someone else while you wallow in your misery, GF#2 , #3 etc, might be waiting to meet you, and, if you don't seem too mopey, she might cue up to date you, etc.
A supervisor/client might notice you seem more upbeat, and start thinking of your assets, potential, and so forth.
Food for thought.
Mike, I am in the same predicament you are. And after a lifetime of anti-depressants and "therapy" of all different stripes, I have concluded that therapy is a pseudo science mostly practiced by those who do not measure their success with patients in any scientific way. With no religion, no family and no community, I joined an atheist community in my area. Still no help. So I have come to the following conclusions...
I am happiest when I do creative things. learn, and when I find others who's creativity strikes a cord with me. Yes, I am lonely. Yes I have to stick around for my son who has aspergers (autism). And I cannot be a helpful parent when I am drowning myself. So, I somehow continue to seek a friend or someone who can reflect back to me, the best parts of who I am, especially when I struggle. But, like you I am continuing to look for meaning and connectedness. I will not find them in therapy or religion so I am going to stop looking there. (Finally!) But there must be tons of other places to look. Meet-ups, comedy shows, walks with a pet. meditation. Your list is probably completely different. I will give myself many years to do this search. No it doesn't feel wonderful most of the time. But, maybe it will slowly get better.
After my kids connected me with the right mental health and other organizations, anti-depressants and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) brought me back to life from a decade (if not two) of depression.
I always felt a need to fulfill some "purpose", but noticed that other people used some various if not strange religion as a blinder for joining and focusing on having certainty and confidence in a group purpose. I later realized many cultural inventions do the same kind of thing for us, fulfilling tribal needs to fit into societal niches in some kind of purported personal/unique way, hopefully positive for the group(s) belonged to, sometimes serious but sometimes just to have fun together. Plus, one's supposedly "chosen" faith (after intense and supposedly "personal" soul-seeking) just happened to usually coincide with whatever is the local community's tradition!?
Rather than deny there's such a thing as a definable purpose (as many atheists do) I embraced the ideas that 1) modern culture is so different from our prehistoric evolutionary roots of living with and for our band or tribe and 2) most people don't even question or think of our true origins except when it's embellished as a culturally familiar fairy tale... which lead me to an insight.
Bottom line, our challenge as individuals living among a bunch of strangers in addition to chosen friends is to find our own "purpose", sans the more natural day-to-day survival mode we experienced while evolving as pack animal families and apical predators.
No wonder most people are duped, feeling their best "personal" choice is to stop suppressing their gullibility, and just go with the flow of the traditional culture that reared them.
Back in the mid-1990's I went through a two-year clinical depression, and while it was deep, I never really seriously considered suicide, though I contemplated it. By that, I mean that I finally understood how depression can drive one to slap life in the face and simply leave.
One of the main reasons for talking to professionals is that many and maybe most people who've never experienced a clinical-level depression is that they simply equate depression being really really sad, which you clearly can see it isn't.
Another common myth is that depression has a specific cause and removing that cause will end the depression. Bad events may trigger a depression, but if the removal of those causes lifts the depression, then it isn't a clinical depression. A clinically-depressed person would remain depressed if he married the love of his life and won a billion dollars in a lottery. (Look at the many celebs who have committed or attempted suicide despite their success.)
While it has several main manifestations, they all blend in to some degree or another. There is a sense of general meaninglessness, hopelessness, time slowing down so that each day seems endless, a feeling of being in control of forces larger than oneself (you're just a leaf floating on a creek that must go wherever the water takes you). You feel worthless and a burden on others. Your self-esteem is near zero.
Are you with me? Any of that seem familiar?
One day I came up with an analogy that works for me. Maybe it'll be relevant for you. I describe being deeply and clinically depressed as like being lost in a forest. When you finally beat depression, it's like wandering out of the forest into an open field with a blue sky above and a friendly-looking village not so far off.
I used to ride city buses for hours on end. It was one of the few things that soothed me. I liked getting out. Many other depressives can't leave home. So it can manifest itself in many different ways.
If you want some advice, I'll tell you what worked for me. It will sound crazy, but it might be worth a try. I turned my depression into a person and talked back to it. Whenever a negative idea intruded into my head, I'd tell it to go away. I'd say in my head "Go away, don't bother me." If I was alone, I might even reject it out loud. Within a few months, I was normal again A person who gets depressed only when there's a good reason for it.