Fear Not: A Meaningless Life is a Positive Life

Nihilism is not pessimistic; rather, its values can be optimistic.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

When you’re up at 3:00 in the morning chugging coffee and crying over homework, besides stressing about your average, you may realize that your efforts are meaningless. You’re not going to finish this assignment. In fact, you know what? This homework assignment will not matter in five years. You might even go as far as to question whether or not losing sleep over this is worth it. And needless to say, you’re right. It is meaningless. And that’s the best part about it.  

The world around us heavily encourages us to view barriers in a positive light by aiming to surpass them. This societal perspective contrasts greatly with the values of nihilism, a philosophical school of thought that believes in the meaningless aspect of life. This philosophy states that the truth is meaningless because it simply does not exist, our opinions are baseless, and our lives are devoid of any purpose. Though this definition leads many to argue that nihilism is more closely related to pessimism because of their shared negative values, in fact, it is quite the opposite. Rather, optimistic nihilism proves that nihilism is more closely related to optimism than pessimism. 

The movement was first popularized by German philosopher Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi. In a time when scholars preached the importance of understanding the complexities of life through rationalism, Jacobi believed that rationalism would instead lead to the detriment of the human sense of self. He argued that eventually, all rational thought would become meaningless, or as we now come to know it, nihilistic. 

Pessimism is “emphasizing or thinking of the bad part of a situation rather than the good part.” Rather than being a school of thought, it is considered more of a personality trait; it delves into negativity by portraying it with one’s actions. This is where we can draw a stark contrast between pessimism and nihilism. Though both may seem similar because they dwell in seemingly negative thoughts, it is the intention of the thought that distinguishes the two. Pessimism dwells on the idea that there is bad in everything, while nihilism avoids the bad by describing it as simply “meaningless.” 

Noting the difference between pessimism and nihilism helps to understand the concept of optimistic nihilism, which is when one takes the idea that nothing matters and turns it into something positive for oneself. By believing that “nothing matters,” one doesn’t need to focus on the negative anymore. As philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said, “Every belief, every considering something true, is necessarily false because there is simply no true world.” Though this may seem daunting and pessimistic, all the quote is doing is describing nothingness because a “true world” is undefinable. Thus, because the idea of a “true world” has no inherent meaning, Nietzsche described every idea as “necessarily false” rather than placing a negative label on it instead. Therefore, if there is “no true world,” then there are no reasons to feel pessimistic about anything. This can serve to alleviate the feelings of many who may be afraid to step out of their boundaries and attempt a new experience. Thus, nihilism should not be ostracized as a negative way of thinking. Instead, it allows people to categorize their thoughts by what deserves to be thought of and what can be forgotten. Furthermore, nihilistic values are beneficial not just in the long term, but also in the short term. For instance, part of letting go of that one embarrassing incident of the past is to deem it as unimportant. By doing this, forgetting that it even happened becomes much easier. In accordance, when one understands that there is no one to judge them about that seemingly cringeworthy incident, it seems all the more insignificant. This is the benefit that nihilism provides—the freedom to live and think without being bound to your worries, as they simply don’t matter. 

  Essentially, if something has no meaning, then it does not exist. If it does not exist, it does not matter. And if it does not matter, you don’t have to worry about it. Within the walls of Stuyvesant itself, philosophies such as nihilism can prove to be useful. Philosophy, in general, allows us the ability to analyze our lives and interpret what is important to us.  Understanding philosophy serves as a means for interpreting the vast world, all while being able to explore the importance of life and understand questions that other fields may not delve into. Furthermore, branches of philosophy such as nihilism are effective because of their utility in environments such as Stuyvesant. Within such a stressful environment, “not caring” definitely does not come as something easy to do. However, nihilism can be used to support the clause that not every small assignment, quiz, or test is worth grieving over. By deeming the result as simply “meaningless” to a larger scale of things, students can free themselves from the burden of overbearing stress, hence incorporating optimistic nihilism in small portions. It can be acknowledged that simply saying that your exam is “meaningless” may be detrimental; however, we cannot forget that we, as humans, are distinguished from animals because of our ability to think critically. Nihilism is not black and white; rather, it is meant to be modified for one’s needs. Incorporating nihilism in everyday Stuyvesant life is not saying to neglect one’s education because it doesn’t matter, but rather that there is no need to be extremely distressed about a grade because, after all, it will eventually cease to matter in the grand scheme of life.

 On this note, I can assure you that you can wipe your week-old tears and go to bed. The perspective society holds about the negativity of nihilism can be changed once we recognize the positive factors. Even beyond academic life, mastering the art of “not caring” for your benefit will alleviate you of unnecessary burdens. Thus, the next time you find yourself worrying about something, evaluate whether or not it really matters. Once you are at peace with the fact that you are just a stone in the ocean, you will be able to appreciate the serenity of the tide.