What If You Have No Answer?

In my previous blog post, I said you should always have an answer to the question, “What am I doing here?”

But what if you don’t have an answer?

The glory and the misery of being human is that we want to know the answer. We need to know the answer.

Lower animals can’t even ask the question, so it doesn’t bother them.

But we can see connections between our past, present, and future.

If we can’t see the connections — or if the connections all seem unpleasant — then we feel adrift and hopeless.

In past eras, people could turn to organized religion. It offered both a reassuring belief system and a social support network of fellow believers.

And in point of fact, nobody’s disproven religion. It’s just as true as it’s always been. But Western countries’ dominant institutions have taken it away from most people.

So what can you do if you don’t have an answer?

Everyone gets sad or feels adrift at times. That’s normal. But if the feeling lasts a long time, interferes with life, or — worst of all — makes you think there’s no point in living, then you should talk to someone. A therapist is the obvious choice, but a pastor, rabbi, or counselor often works just as well. Simply being heard and being seen by another person can help.

You should also know about yourself. My biological mother suffered from bipolar disorder, with alternating euphoria and depression. To a lesser degree, so do I. But I know it. So when I feel depressed, I realize that there’s no objective reason to be sad; I just need to get a good night’s sleep. And then I feel better.

But if you don’t have a psychological problem and you just need an answer, then how can you find it?

As long as the answer is possible, socially helpful, and fits your abilities, then it almost doesn’t matter what it is.

If you fully commit to it, then your commitment starts pulling you forward in life. It gets you moving again. It gives you an answer.

Will it be the right answer?

If it’s a reasonable answer, then don’t worry about that.

Commit to your answer, and by your actions and attitude, make it the right answer.


Check out my book Why Sane People Believe Crazy Things: How Belief Can Help or Hurt Social Peace. Kirkus Reviews called it an “impressively nuanced analysis.”

About N.S. Palmer

N.S. Palmer is an American mathematician.
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