Will Gadd: The Meaning of Life and this Amazing Universe

Yes, that’s the meaning of life, give or take a hot fudge sundae with a kid on a summer afternoon

GADD_CP_HUNLEN_160209_3440The meaning of life is really simple: to live, breathe, be alive. But it’s how to express our biology that is endlessly interesting. I think that many people who ask after the meaning of life are really searching for direction, guidelines, a key to something bigger than themselves. This is why there are so many religions bawling for out attention; “Live this way and all will be solved!” No it won’t, anymore than the latest diet book is going to work. The answers are within us, not outside of us.

People and other animals who are fighting for every breath do not ask what the purpose of life is, they just fight to live another minute, day, week, month, year. It is only with free time and a longer life expectancy that questions of meaning start to clutter up this living business. So, the meaning of life after basic survival is to express life in the way you feel has the deepest meaning to you. That’s what we all do really, do what we think is important, meaningful, or will lead to things we think are meaningful.

Answering the question of what do with life is a life-long process, and there are no absolute right or wrong answers. Only on our deathbeds do we know how we answered the question of living, and even then the grading is ambiguous and prone to serious personal bias errors.

So, what do you want to be? What would a great life look like to you? For me I value my small family, hot fudge sundaes, community, mountains, wild spaces, adventure, spicy food, sex, sunsets, and as a friend put it so eloquently, “Just watching this amazing universe unfold in nature.” Yes, the universe is damn amazing, and we’re part of something amazing.

For me this is enough. I know there is no God, no soul, no heaven, no hell, no “spiritual” plane despite the copious deluded blather. If there is an absolutely powerful God or presence or whatever then he or she or it is a sadist of the very, very worst kind, and I will not bow to such evil. The evidence is much more plentiful for all the good and bad in our human existence coming from within us, which is a tremendously frightening and also liberating viewpoint. We are responsible for our own lives as individuals, and for collectively for the path of our species. You. Me. Everyone. Hitler, Ghandi, the ice cream guy and the jerk tailgating in traffic.

The universe does not take any more notice of our passing than a screen door does of the efforts of a gnat, and in sum we have far less impact than the gnat. But we notice and experience the universe and each other in the truly wondrous forms of friends, sunsets, family, mountains. If we are looking to powers outside of humanity for validation then I think we’re truly missing the beauty and meaning of the vast life all around us, and ducking the big question of what to be and do individually and as Homo Sapiens. Only by noting and examing our reactions to the universe, and not the other way around, do we begin to really feel the joy — and pain — of our own existence. If we truly take responsibility for who we are as fragile humans then we can express our best answer to the question of how to live life.

I think that’s how it works anyhow, but I’ll need to go for a long run at sunset to be sure, feel the wind and the air, and hug my kids to be sure of it. Yep, I’m sure of it. To live is to breathe, the question is what to do with the breaths we have in this amazing universe of opportunity. Now. Today. For as long as we live. To come up with answers to life that feel strong, real, and let us sleep like rocks at night because, to paraphrase Socrates, we have examined our lives and tried to give good answers to the big question of what to do while alive. Yes, that’s the meaning of life give or take a hot fudge sundae with a kid on a summer afternoon.


~Will Gadd, athlete, speaker, prominent ice climber and paraglider pilot. He formerly held the paragliding world distance record.

Copyright © 2015 Excellence Reporter

Categories: Excellence, Sport

Tagged as: , ,

3 replies »

  1. Here is the response from a “Christian”. I would not usually take the time, but this article was sent to me by a close friend of mine, a brother that I think about often. It will be a short response, and I am not angry or critical. in fact, I feel the weight of Gadd’s argument, and I have been close enough to “ultimate meaninglessness” to relate. If I could abandon my faith, I would have probably done it by now. I just happen to think that there are no good alternatives to explain reality.

    My response is pretty simple. I respect this point of view. We live in a plural society, and I enjoy the fact that you can think or believe whatever you want. I am usually more alive with my Buddhist, or agnostic friends than I am with the echo chamber of the church. We rub up against each other, and a little bit of life gets transferred along the way. A hike or a ski, and a good conversation over beer, and I am pretty good. If I am a respecter of persons, I do not invade your spiritual space with my “blather”.

    The opposite is true for you. If you respect people, other humans, ME, then you will let me go on my journey towards God, towards wholeness, towards, peace, or whatever you want to call it. If we are both honest with each other, we might admit that we need the insights, the experiences, the wisdom that people of other traditions bring (unless you are content, Will Gadd, to sit in your own echo chamber with people who think exactly like you do).

    I fear this.

    It is the great killer of dialogue. We build walls between ourselves and other people who don’t “think like we do”. It is increasingly important to be able to build bridges with people who are different from us, not to wall ourselves off. I am not sure how you read this article, but it sounds like Gadd is building a wall between himself and the BILLIONS of people who live with their faith. He doesn’t respect them, or their way of life. If he did, he would not call it blather. How about the Buddhists in Nepal, or the Muslims on video, digging their children out of the rubble? Does he call their faith “blather”? I call it xenophobia, and for all the enlightenment of the scientism thinkers, they are still unable to “love their enemies”, as I am taught to do. I read your article, WIll Gadd, and it doesn’t sound like love to me. It sounds like bitterness, frustration, and resentment. Are you man enough to love others, even when they are different? Trust me, I know who the straw men are that you are thinking about, and they are same people that Jesus raged against, and called a “brood of vipers”. They are self-righteous, hypocritical, and unloving. These are not the people I am talking about. I am talking about the salt-of-the-earth people that took me into their homes while I was traveling central america. They are the Catholics, Protestants, Presbyterians, and Lutherans that donate huge sums of money to relief efforts.

    “If you worship a God who can’t disagree with you, then you might be worshiping an idealized version of yourself” -Tim Keller


  2. As all climbers know, meaning (sense, goal) of life is to go up.
    To have more power, wealth, fame, beauty, authority, recognition, domination, etc.; to fare better than others, to get ahead, do not fall behind – to succeed. (“Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of Evolution”).

    I like this:
    “The meaning of life is life itself, which is an activity, an Art to be learned.” http://people.tribe.net/realize2actualize
    “To realise himself … to express and activate all the capacities of the organism” (Carl Rogers)
    “The meaning of life is not simply to exist, to survive, but to move ahead, to go up, to achieve, to conquer.” (Arnold Schwarzenegger)
    “We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone – we find it with another.” (Thomas Merton)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.