Nihilism just doesn’t have a good rep these days thanks in part to films like ‘The Big Lebowski’ in which the nihilists were portrayed as hedonistic, tribalist, simpletons who professed themselves to be ‘believers in nothing’.

The Big Lebowski nihilists were presented as black clad, German accented neo Goths with low IQ’s and high levels of stupidity whose gang leader liked nothing better than floating about on a lounger in a pool close by to a beautiful woman who was willing to have sex with him.

They came across as hedonistic, miserable people who wanted instant gratification, being willing to do any absurd thing to get it in a darkly comic way.

I appreciate that ‘The Big Lebowski’ was a comedy and that the characters portrayed in the film were all very one dimensional, whether it was the reluctant hero and accidental private investigator come bowling king pin known only as ‘The Dude’ played by Jeff Bridges or his aggressive, vietnam veteran best friend ‘Walter Sobchak’ played by John Goodman, who with every sentence expressed his characters deep inner pain.

Nihilism however is a worthy mental discipline and philosophy that I’m rather fond of as a thinker, simply because Nihilism represents and intellectual path to true freedom.

The mistaken charge that Nihilists believe in nothing is as far from the truth as any statement can be.  Nihilists do believe in something.  That something is called reality.
Nihilists take reality at face value.  It is, what it is, nothing more.  They don’t expect anything special from it and they certainly don’t expect it to make sense or gift them with meaning.

You see, if you think upon the nature of material reality for long enough you will come to a rather disturbing conclusion and that is that there is no meaning to life.
If you look for it, it can’t be found.

The premise is simple, if there was a meaning to life it would be compulsory and we’d all know about it.  It would be stunningly obvious.  The simple fact that meaning cannot be found tells you that there is none to be found.

There is no meaning to life…

If you follow this further down the rabbit hole you will soon see that the greater universe is also devoid of meaning and that your individual existence has no bearing on the cosmos, you are not special or chosen, and what you do or how you do it is utterly unimportant when compared to the vast and never ending expanse that we call the universe.

What you are, and who you will be will ultimately disappear without a trace when measured against eternity.  At best you are just a flash of light between two gulfs of never ending blackness, so you might as well party because this life is all that you’ve got.

This is the point at which our ancient forebears created religion, because they needed meaning despite the fact that there wasn’t any to be found.

They needed to explain creation and the wonders of the universe from the constellations in the night sky to the mightiest mountains and far off foreign lands, the rising sun and the positions of the moon.  Searching for meaning in a meaningless universe is a natural human response to that which cannot be explained because it has no meaning.

Think about, come up with any explanation that you can to serve as a meaning to life and i’ll shoot it down in an instant.

Is it to have children?  Well that’s not as easy as it sounds, and it’s not compulsory you can choose not to have kids?

Is it to believe in God and follow a religion?  Well, before you do that, you need to prove convincingly that this God exists.  Nihilists understand that the proof is missing, which leads most Nihilists to become atheists.

I say most, because some like myself are also dualists who see the divide in reality as being mind versus matter.  I won’t get into this today as it’s too distracting and it doesn’t really change anything.  We’re all going to die, none of us will be coming back, but between now and then we all need to find something to do, which brings us onto personal meaning.

Nihilists understand that the only way to have meaning in your life is to create one yourself.  If you want to believe that the meaning of your life is to have kids and keep on propagating those genes then go for it, but don’t apply that to everyone.

What you see as meaningful, may well be abhorrent to someone else.

If you want to be the best at your line of work, or find fulfillment in your hobby then by all means, enjoy yourself, strive to be the best.

You might want to be a politician and change society for the better and whilst this might be a good thing at the human level, as far as the rest of the universe is concerned it’s unimportant.

It’s just a short lived flash of light amongst the blackness of eternity.  The only truth to existence is the eternal darkness and your particular flash of light, which is one of many, deterministically firing against the void.

These flashes might form part of a larger pattern, and studying this pattern may well be interesting but it still won’t reveal any meaning.  At a fundamental level we’re all just a pattern in the cosmos, a cloud of atoms that is ever changing.  A skin encapsulated ego, as ephemeral as the may fly.

This might sound depressing, but I’m going to turn this on it’s head, because nihilism does something incredible that other philosophies fail to do or only partially address.  Nihilism sets you free.

It says to you, that you might as well do what you want, because there is no man in the sky to judge you, Like stoicism it tells you that virtue is its own reward and that the consequences of your actions are your own doing.  A good or a bad life is up to you.

Meaning is what you define it to be, so choose your meaning carefully and don’t be afraid to change it if it doesn’t work out for you.

There is no pressure to behave in a certain way, you are not required to do anything other than be the person that you want to be.

The one thing that was compulsory, that had to happen was your birth.  It was the one event in your life that you had no control over, after that everything is optional.  You are not even required to take your next breath.  You can kill yourself if you want to, though I don’t see the point as one day you’ll die anyway so you might as well wait.

Nihilism tells you that your birth is important, that your life is important, so take the pressure of and make the best of it, you are now free to be happy.  There is no need to serve God, or humanity or work for medical science or the betterment of mankind, you can be ordinary and happy.

External pressures to do well simply represent other people’s aspirations and goals for you that might be well intentioned but are not any more intrinsically meaningful than anything you can come up for yourself, such as being an astronaut, opening a cat sanctuary or working in a dead end job and partying on the weekend.

The search for meaning is one of mankind’s greatest follies and can never lead to happiness.  Meaning is simply a way of aggrandising the ego and the ego can never truly be satisfied.

Nihilism tells you that happiness does not come from without, it points to happiness coming from within, because anything beyond your skin is devoid of meaning anyway, so you won’t find happiness out there.  At best the fulfillment of any worthy goal will bring you a temporary high, that won’t last so if achieving goals makes you happy, you’d be well advised to get another goal, a bigger and better goal and go at it to chase the pain away.

Nihilism recognises that life is painful.  It’s painful because we spend our time looking for things that do not exist, such as meaning, so if you accept that there is none, you can immediately cancel out this pain and start enjoying yourself in any way that you find to be good.

Relax, we’re all going to die.

I see meaning as being a bit like a man cast adrift in an open boat, he’s in a vast ocean, there’s no land in sight, he can point the boat in any direction he likes and row or sail along with it.  He might convince himself that there’s an island out there somewhere and that he’ll eventually find it if he rows hard enough and for long enough.

He might actually enjoy the rowing or he might not.

He might meet other boats that are crewed by other people, they might row along together for a while all headed for the same island, shared purpose can be fun.
Together they might meet another flotilla heading in a different direction, they might get along for a time, respecting of each other’s differing views or they might even go to war and try to sink each other’s boats, even though none of them have actually seen an island and can’t agree on whether there are many islands out there or just one, or even what the conditions on land are like when they finally get there.

The nihilist understands that the rowing is actually unimportant, because there are no islands, there is only the ocean.  He might as well turn the boat into a lounger and float along in it, basking in the sun.  It’s the only game in town.

This brings us back to the Big Lebowski, which like it or not is a nihilist movie, the main characters are just drifting through life, apathetic and full of the unrealised pain of life and it’s associated problems whilst the purposeful characters are keenly chasing goals of their own making.

The film’s main character ‘The Dude’ is accidentally successful and seems to solve the mystery of the film without any clear plan whilst the film itself lacks a clear plot, being made up of the meandering actions of the other characters whilst resolving into a pattern ‘plot’ that itself is utterly meaningless and without morality.  Just like life.

The wise man asks, ‘why are we here?’

The fool replies, ‘why should there be a why?’

The wiseman looks with contempt upon the fool.

The fool knows that the wise man, is not wise…

17 thoughts on “Happy Nihilism”

  1. “…so you might as well partly because this life is all that you’ve got”

    Did you mean party. I assume this is what you meant.

    Other than that I consider myself nihilistic and much of this is how I feel, although cobbled together in a much better way than I may have managed to communicate.

  2. A funny question but can you an optimistic nihilist? Or do the two contradict each other? I’m asking this question in terms of academia, theology, etc. vs. personal belief systems. I know there is not set handbook as how to be a nihilist because the whole point of it is that there is no set rules. However, despite the fact that creating a future or building a legacy is essentially meaningless in the long run, can one still hold onto the belief of optimism? Great article, very intriguing and am excited to read further into this narrative.

  3. This is how I feel. But this is not nihilism, friend. You follow a bunch of philosophical things or ways of seeing life, so you mixed them up in your head to write this–which I applaud the content. I have talked to nihilists, I have entered their minds and felt how they feel. They are more dark and absurd, and I can feel their suffering and their negative views of the world. The true nihilist is not seeing reality, but creating reality out of his own suffering. And the true nihilist is not fond of other philosophical studies like you. And the true nihilist is not spiritual like us… I came to this page to study nihilism further, but I happily encountered a mixture of philosophical open-mindedness. Congratulations. Great article. But, having said that, this is not true nihilism, as I know true nihilistic people in my life.

  4. I think your critiques are pretty fair, from my point of view I’ve done much more learning since originally writing this article back in the day. The more we learn the better we get. Thanks for taking the time out to comment, have a great day.

  5. I often pondered on this subject ‘what is the meaning of life?’ and couldn’t come up with any convincing answer.
    Your post is sure convincing and encouraging.

    1. I don’t understand how it is encouraging. If nothing matters and there is no purpose in life, does it matter how this impacts you? If you truly believe in nihilism, there is no point in reading this article, none in replying, and no point in living. Why do you bother? Why not just kill yourself (*please don’t) instead of being a something with no meaning which is truly a nothing with no meaning.
      Because you are alive, there is a point and there is a meaning. You exist, as does the universe. Nothing exists without having a purpose or a cause.
      If you really see no meaning in your life, look further, and don’t limit yourself to the explanation which best explains what you think you see in your life and the world. Everyone has a need to be needed and have a purpose. Keep looking. Ask questions, and search for the answer. Your greatest mistake will be giving up before you have found it.

      1. Hi John, thanks for taking the time out to comment, I’d like to point you in the direction of this article – falling-in-love-with-the-absurd as it seems relevant to your comment. Albert Camus came to many of the same conclusions as you, recognising that it was human nature to seek meaning even though none could be reliably found, his stance was ‘that we should keep on looking,’ and that the meaning of life is whatever it is that you do that stops you from killing yourself. Thanks for commenting and I hope you have a great day.

    1. The article describes how to be happy as a nihilist, because with meaning, you can pretend you’re doing something important, but without it, you could get depressed.

  6. One question I always have for people who claim to be Nihilists is whether they believe that the Nazis were wrong or bad. It’s a good indicator of intellectual integrity. It’s also a good way to weed out the inherent flaws in this philosophy. Everyone can try to deny it, but Nihilism ignores the all important moral law (or the law of nature) which fits the mold of the compulsory and universally adopted moral standard which has been present throughout all of mankind’s existence and is remarkably similar across cultures and geographical boundries. For example, people have argued about whether it is better to have one wife or several, but all cultures throughout history have generally agreed that you cannot simply have sex with anyone you please (without commitment of some sort) from a moral standpoint. You would also never find a culture that values or encourages cowardice or lies. At the end of the day, we all accept and embrace this internal moral standard which we neither created, or follow very well.

    The person who claims there is no moral standard is the same person who quickly cries “unfair” when passed over for a promotion, or when something is stolen out of their pack.

    We love to discuss the meaninglessness of life, but only as a method to justify our own actions and selfishness. We simultaneously demand the adherence to the moral law from others however which only serves to solidify its hold over our own lives. True nihilists can look at the holocaust and conclude that Hitler was simply living his truth and embracing his portion of the small flash of light within the void. As soon as your outrage forces you to argue with this point, you have conceded and embraced the moral law you abhor. There is no happiness in nihilism, only blissful and willfull ignorance of the moral law which allows us to act selfishly while still insisting that others do not live this way.

    1. Very interesting point Ryan, I do have a lot more to say on this subject, will have to leave it for a future article on this site as the comment box isn’t big enough. Your post does touch upon evolutionary psychology and moral relativism both of which are topics that I am interested in. I’d love to have written a worthy riposte and continued the conversation further but I need to organise my thoughts first. Anyhow, thank you for posting and I wish you a very happy and meaningful new year!

  7. As responses show, there is a great deal of misconception on what is reality and why not understanding nihilism from the perspective of Comicus Muo makes it nearly impossible for those folks to see “happy” nihilism .

    I hate quoting scripture ( of course) but the truth WILL set you free but as Nietzsche and Stirner showed, most are sheep who need their comforting social fictions and who MUST avoid what are for them, unacceptable truth.

    Max Stirner said that you can’t save the herd and trying to show them the truth is a waste of your time.
    And for the believers, check out Matthew 7:6

    1. “Don’t give that which is holy to the dogs, neither throw, your pearls before the pigs, lest perhaps they trample, them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” – Mathew 7:6

      Thanks for the comment John 🙂

  8. this may sound stupid but i believe the way we look at nihilism is the emotional response we get for me (Not a nihilist but a believer in freedom) i felt a lifted weight as if their is no possible purpose and we are just a flash we are just alive and this philosophy i took from this is that as we are nothing the way we feel my be unimportant but we feel and logically we cannot deny that feelings are important maybe not to the universe but to us. Your outline of the “we create our own life” i feel that a lot of people maybe saying that nihilism is nothing but an organism that has sentience my question is can a true nihilist actually have feelings or does the choice to feel put them in a different philosophical category, is this due to modern physiology? i may have stumbled to the conclusion of the meaning of being alive is to reproduce and we cant deny that sexual actions bring a sense of pleasure as proof that it is rewarded to procreate is this more of a urge to survive and not and actual meaning, it would make sense since we chose to create products to make the risk of pregnancy less severe but is it really a choice to have a child? some may to the best they can to stop the reproduction process but still have a child, is this just a consequence? these questions may sound like its from the view point of trying to demean this article but i am just curious and i would be gracious if someone were to answer me and excuse my naivety. it may mean nothing to you but if life is meaningless than why not answer my questions? Thank you for your time 🙂

    1. Hi Alexander O, thanks for your comment.

      Nihilism isn’t above denying your feelings, it’s wonderful to be alive, now at this time in history more than any other.

      Nihilism is the simple recognition that our examinations of the universe have led us to the understanding that there doesn’t appear to be any end goal or ‘telos’ within the universe. At best the meaning of life is simply to keep on living, but even this cannot be sustained indefinitely. This brings me on to your other point that sex certainly is fun, and does produce a sense of reward and is advantageous for the species but reproduction is in and of itself equally meaningless as one day the universe will die taking all life with it. Also for life to have a meaning it has to be compulsory, universal, obvious and unquestionably true (once pointed out). Reproduction whilst nice isn’t compulsory, many people choose to be celibate or just don’t make it into the gene pool despite their best efforts, it’s called ‘natural selection,’ for a reason, so the meaning of life isn’t to have children as not all people are able to do this. It’s not universal or compulsory which is why it fails the test for meaning. On the plus side Nihilism is great because it’s liberating. All of the effects of your bad deeds will disappear with time as will all of your good ones. Whether your actions are good or bad will make no difference to the inevitable heat death of the universe so it’s best to be happy now. Everything you do matters now, if not to others it certainly matters to yourself, so in that fashion I would just say be happy and do what makes you feel really good for the long term. It’s up to you to determine what exactly a good life is for you personally, just don’t make the mistake of thinking that there’s any point to it all. Nihilists come in all shapes and sizes from all over the world, many are atheists, some are believers, others are mystics. What unites nihilists everywhere is an understanding that the absence of a meaning to life both personally or within the greater universe is the one thing that is undeniably true. God himself is also a purposeless being, just like us…

      Nihilism is also the beginning of all philosophy, the ancients couldn’t find a purpose to living so instead they asked the question ‘What makes life good?.’ Philosophy is an attempt to answer that very question.

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