What makes you feel like your life is worthwhile?

I’m sitting here turning 40 in a few months and my life is not shaping up the way I had hoped. Instead of being full of optimism for the future I’m looking at incurable cancer, money problems, and a rapidly failing marriage. Its starting to feel like the best-case scenario is starting over from scratch.

So I’m wondering: what makes a life worthwhile? What is a reasonable yardstick against which to measure success or failure? I have a job I enjoy when I’m motivated to do it. I have two beautiful kids. I’ve had some fun here and there over the years. But I’m not rich, I’m not famous, I don’t do many good works. At best it could be said that the world is a slightly more pleasant place because I’m in it.

Of course, this is true of many of us. So what does it for you? What makes you think that you haven’t wasted your life? Or have you? When did you realize it, and what did you do about it?

Bingo. I once saw a poster which included the following quote:

“Years from now, no one will care what kind of car you drove, what kind of house you lived in, or how much money you made. What will matter most is that you took the time to make a difference in the life of a child.”

Cheesy as it may be, that quote made me think long and hard about what is really important in my life.

Yeah, but I’m likely to lose them in the divorce, and while I trust their mom to do her best to raise them, we will probably end up pretty far apart, location-wise, when all is said and done. Thats another thing that scares me: having these kids is a commitment and an obligation and I’m afraid I’m reneging on my part of the bargain.


Seriously though, I’m a start, witty, semi-attractive kid with a bright future and a loving heart. I love making new friends everyday, and I cant wait to see what adventure tomorrow holds.

For others though, it really depends on the stage of life one is in, which can be roughly divided in decades. A 70,60,50,40 etc etc year old are each going to feel different about what makes life worthwhile.

70 - legacy
60 - self-worth
50 - success or failure
40 - family health, job matters
30 - procreation
20 - fun, social integration
10 - personality development
0 - food, shelter

I am probably off a bit, but that’s what I remember from my textbook.

IMHO, you are a good person and you are trying your best. Keep it up and your life will turn out just fine.

The amount of pain and suffering I have avoided causing. By that yardstick, of course, my life is complete and I can die when the amount of suffering caused by my death is less than the amount of suffering caused by my continued life. Of course, I may need to think this through a bit, since extending it would mean that I should increase the pain I cause while alive, so my life can be worthwhile earlier. Hmm.

However, while that is my “emotional” answer to the question, my logical answer is different. Life is without meaning, or the sole meaning of life is to exist. Therfore, there are no events which could make me consider life, mine or anyone else’s, to be wasted or meaningful, since there is no purpose or meaning for it to fulfill.

70 - legacy
60 - self-worth
50 - success or failure
40 - family health, job matters
30 - procreation
20 - fun, social integration
10 - personality development
0 - food, shelter

Yep, that sounds like a textbook answer. Very rarely do you find a textbook answer to be applicable to any individual, and this one even mentions specific ages. Sure, you can say that the ages don’t mean much of anything; but then why include them?

Hey, that sounds like a good start to me. :slight_smile: You never know what kind of positive influence you might have on others just by trying to be a decent and pleasant person to others. There have been days when I’ve been feeling really bad, until a stranger said something nice to me, or made some small but kind gesture towards me, and it totally brightened my outlook.

I can understand how going through the health probelms and marriage problems you’re facing is making you feel bad. It might be worthwhile to seek out a counselor to help with all these difficult transitions you’re facing.

As for my own life, I guess I really don’t have much to show for my life. I have no kids yet, and am still in school so haven’t accomplished anything much professionally either. But I’m trying to find some fun and humor in day to day life, and so far that seems to be enough. :slight_smile:

I’m very sorry to hear you have so many challenges facing you - this most of all.
I can’t imagine a judge with any sort of heart would let her move the kids very far away but even if it happens, you can still give them much. In this day of webcams and the internet, you never have to feel far away.

My ex had kids who didn’t live with us and he build a website just for them - he’d make up games for them and take photos for them; it was great. And you can still leave them a legacy - write letters, make a video diary. Tell them about what you’ve learned in life so they can learn from you.

What makes life worthwhile? A person very dear to me once wrote one of my favourite sayings: "Life is a very brief encounter with a golden moment of consciousness which you get to use in any way you desire. "
Be kind when you can - it can mean much to a stranger.

And don’t be thinking you’ve done nothing of worth. You’re two somebodies’ daddy, which is pretty darned great.

Well, except for the whole “dying” thing, I sound a little like you.

Recently, I’ve started being a “volunteer” at my kid’s school. I keep an eye on him, and help out other kids that behave just like him. I impart fatherly wisdom and occasionally (figurativly) kick a little ass. The kids all seem to respond favorably and the teacher tells me she is *really happy * I’m there.

I actually come home feeling a little better most days. I’ve seen some real improvement in both my kid and some of the others.

*My kid was homeschooled for a few years, but didn’t have any interaction with other kids. No kid in the neighborhood. We live in the middle of nowhere. No kids, period! Therefor, when we decided to integrate him into the school system, he was a WildMan. Now, he is totally inline with the program, and my wife and I continue to “volunteer” to keep the rest of the class in line.

I’m truly sorry for the future you are facing. I wish you the best in dealing with it. I thought I’d answer your questions, because I have a story. I’ll try to keep it short.

I was abused by my parents, had a crappy time at school, left home at 15, struggled to become a musician, had my equipment stolen and went on the skids. For a decade. I was homeless, lived at the Salvation Army Hostel in Toronto and places like it, ate with the poor people, did menial day jobs for cash, did a lot of (soft) drugs. I got off the street in 1990, and was living in an illegal basement apartment, on welfare.

It was during this time that I traded tapes by mail with a network of collectors. An ad in a collectors’ publication led a woman from the southeastern US to write to me. We developed a friendship in 1996 that led to my emigration to the US in 1998, and our marriage shortly after I arrived. It’ll be nine years in May, and I am doing a million percent better. My marriage is great. I live in a pretty decent house in the suburbs. I happened into my dream job five years ago, where I got promoted to job-for-life in December. I have friends who like me for who I am. I have toys. I have cats. I have The Straight Dope. I have a large record collection. I own a lawn mower. I used to sleep with bums and I own a freakin’ circular saw now! I’m a regular guy. Thanks to my wife, who wanted some of my tapes.

That’s what makes my life worthwhile.

OK, but… have you been enough of a father that even if they end up in the other end of the country and hearing what a louse you were (which I hope your ex doesn’t do, it would hurt both the kids and herself a lot), you will still have left a positive mark in their lives?

I’m not a Mom, but I was coming in to say that what keeps me going is the knowledge of many times when I’ve had a positive impact on people’s lives. Sometimes it’s been a pretty spectacular impact (convincing the parents to let the kid choose the major he wanted), sometimes it’s something they’re not even conscious of (seeing a bug everybody else had missed and getting it fixed before release).

And for rich and famous… who gives a flyin’ fuck? Even when I wanted to be like Marie Curie, I saw the two Nobels more as an incidental than as the core. I wanted to travel (got it), to have a full family life (this I’m missing on) and to learn about how the world works (I’m on it). I’m a lot richer, financially, than I’ve been at other points, but the bigger difference is in paying for my internet gaming (WoW instead of a text-based, free game) and the size of my piggybank. I still like books, I still like going for walks, I still like a movie now and then. The newest piece of clothing I’m wearing is my bra! The oldest: woolen “pantyhose” bought in 6th grade.

Perhaps this sounds selfish, and it most likely is, but don’t bother living for others, just live for yourself. Set your own yardstick, and don’t bother with what others think.

You brought two wonderful lives into the world, and they may or may not accomplish anything, but in the end, it doesn’t matter either. You gave two people a chance to live, to laugh, to cry and to experience all that life has to offer. Just as you have had that chance.

Reflection upon yourself can be healthy, but it can be self-defeating as well. When we reflect upon our lives, we often find we have regrets we cannot change. Why torture yourself with that?

When I was younger (even just 4-5 years ago), I thought I could accomplish anything and that I had no limitations. Everybody that didn’t accomplish as much as I planned on accomplishing I saw as inferior. I based my self-worth on what I produced or succeeded at. I’ve learned many of my limitations and nearly lost myself in grief over what I knew I could never be. Not anymore. I plan on just being me, living and dying an average person in intellect and deeds, fulfilling my personal dreams no matter how minor they may be, raising my kids well, and dying (though hopefully that will be when I am 120+).

If all you accomplish in life is surviving until you die with great kids, a brain full of memories, some happy, some sad, a book in one hand and a smile on your face, you are better off than many. Don’t think because your life isn’t a storybook of success and happiness that it isn’t a life worth living. Cause it is.

Trouble comes in thinking that there is some goal that you are supposed to be accomplishing, or some mark you’re supposed to reach in your allotted time. If there is no measure of failure vs. success, you can not fail.

I find it freeing to realize that my life does not have to be measured by the reaching of any arbitrary goal. I do not believe I was not put here for some specific reason. While I am religious, I believe that the univese itself is largely random, and therefore so is my place in it. I try to do what good I can to lead a life that satisfies and better me and those I care about. My life is not wasted so long as I obtain some goodness out of it and spread some goodness to others. Searching for any meaning beyond that is frustrating.