The meaning of life (yet again)

I am in the fortunate position of having friends that always seem to more depressed than myself. This is probably part of the reason that I am still sane, because the topic of depression comes up a lot. Oftentimes though, the underlying reason is the same: we all don't know what to do with our lives.

This article, which is worth reading (and so is the article it refers to), talks about two kinds of motivation: intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation. We are taught extrinsic motivation in school and by our parents. They force us to do things we don't like, and after a while we get good at it and we are rewarded. We grow to like those rewards, and as such we grow to like that which we are good at. Extrinsic motivation is easy. Find something to do, find an appropriate reward, and you're set for life.

Extrinsic motivation is easy in that you just have to do what other people tell you, and you can feel that you are satisfied by doing that. But if ever your extrinsic motivation fails you, then you will have to look inside yourself for motivation. And that might not be the easiest thing if your main experience is with extrinsic motivation. You will need to learn to reward yourself for whatever it is that you do, and that seems a bit fake to me.

Intrinsic motivation is what separates the machines from the humans, the garbage workers from the philosophers, the masses from the enlightened. I would go so far as to say that if you don't have intrinsic motivation, your life is not worth living. If everything you do is to get praise from others, then what value is there in your life?

Obviously I wouldn't say this if I was very extrinsically motivated. But the truth is, although I am very intrinsically motivated, I do not have any strong intrinsic convictions or goals. I've got a whole list of things that I don't care about in life, but I haven't quite found what I do want to accomplish. I'm searching, of course. I quit my job in London because I realized it was not motivating me at all, and I decided that having no job or working for myself for a while is a better match with my intrinsic goals. I still don't know what those goals are! For the moment I've put in two placeholders: travelling and learning.

Why travelling? Because new experiences will open your mind to new ideas, new concepts, that you would never get if you stayed at home. The Travel Channel on your TV is not a substitute, you actually have to go somewhere to experience it. Travelling is not an end goal for me, but I believe I will get a better understanding of the world by travelling, and as such it should help me to figure out what I want to eventually do with my life.

Why learning? Learning is rather generic. Very practically speaking, when I think about learning, I am thinking about learning new programming languages, new frameworks, new techniques. It is the niche that I am quite comfortable in and in which I can learn new things the fastest and with the least amount of frustration. The other side of learning is actually trying out new things that I know nothing about, like scuba diving, starting a company or investing in stocks. (Note that I generally hate money, but I do think there is value in absorbing information about it).

Some people I know are very extrinsically motivated. The article I cited earlier mentions that being very extrinsically motivated harms creativity. Based on the people I know I can confirm that. But most people I know do have some level of intrinsic motivation. And most of them don't know what it is that motivates them either. I wonder if people who are both truly intrinsically motivated and know what it is that drives them, are happier than people who are completely extrinsically motivated. Or one might rephrase that as: are stupid people happier than smart people? Probably they are.

I haven't posted my thoughts on this blog for a while, but reading about extrinsic and intrinsic motivations made me realize something. Lately I tend to be careful with my wording on this blog, especially when I was still searching for a job. I didn't want potential employers to read something they didn't agree with. A very cowardly move, in my opinion, especially considering the kind of craziness I would put up on this blog a couple of years ago when I was living the (not-so) wild life in Japan. Right now though, I am committed to my way of life, and writing whatever the hell I want on the internet is part of my way of life. Abstaining from doing something might gain you one thing, but doing it might gain you something else.

Oh, and the meaning of life? 42, of course.

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