Ask HN: What are we even chasing?

92 points by undopamine 10 months ago

Our entire lives get spent pursuing outcomes.

We keep grinding, hoping we'll achieve X and then we'll be content forever, only to find merely emptiness on the other side.

The new shiny badge of honor barely takes days to get normalized and the void kicks in again.

What exactly are we going after? Is there even an end to this?

Waterluvian 10 months ago

My answer was found by having kids. For me, one of the absolute best things about having kids was that it eliminated all doubt: I now had a 100% crystal clear main quest that trivially answers, "what should I be doing right now?" if I'm ever not sure. Everything else in life, especially my career, is just a side quest now.

Why am I working? Before kids I foolishly thought it had something to do with being part of a team that is going to really change the world somehow. Now I do it to make money. And by not fooling myself about the "change the world" nonsense, it's now very easy to not work past 5pm, not have Slack on my phone, and be wholly present with my family most of my week. It helps me pick working less over getting raises or being promoted to a position that will demand I'm always reachable. It helps me decide, "do I want to be doing this hobby, or do I want to play with my kids?" It helps me make hobbies more interesting by involving my kids. It helps me never feel like I'm wasting my time here. If I go months without working on some project or developing some set of skills, no problem!

  • jl6 10 months ago

    The value of family is one of those things that's a huge blind spot for "intellectual-types", but completely obvious to most normal people over the age of 25. It's too easy to think you're above it all, that your intelligence means you must have a higher calling, or that you're Not Like Other People. But it's not true. It takes humility to acknowledge that you're behind the curve in figuring this out, but better to learn it the hard way than before it's too late.

    • SirMaster 10 months ago

      Hmm. I don't think I am above anything or that I have any sort of higher calling.

      But I have 0 desire to start a family.

      I just do what I like to do and have fun doing it and that all seems to work out pretty great for me.

      • Waterluvian 10 months ago

        You absolutely don’t have to or should never feel like that’s the only true option for fulfilment. That’s not the only higher calling there is. It’s just a popular one.

    • dinosaurdynasty 10 months ago

      Oh, I've definitely figured it out. My family holds relatively little importance to me and I absolutely loathe the mere idea of raising children, and no amount of additional life experience is going to change that (to the point that "having children" is easily one of the worst "realistic/reasonable" things I can imagine happening to me).

      Not all of us want to be good little replicators.

    • trabant00 10 months ago

      You are guilty of "thinking you are above" by thinking people who don't have children are "behind the curve". I don't think you should rank people lower because of a personal decision.

  • qwerpy 10 months ago

    I also didn’t know what the answer was for a long time. I count myself lucky that I lucked into the path that led to the best outcome for me once I did figure it out. Relentlessly pursued money for the first decade and a half of my career. Worked at boring FAANGs and job hopped the moment my compensation flat-lined. Then started a family, realized the answer for me was “family time” and am pivoting to optimizing for predictable work hours and free time. Now I’m running out the clock at my current employer. My next one, if I choose to have one, will be one that can guarantee copious free time.

    If I had been more idealistic in my young adult years, I would have most likely grinded hard at some “change the world” startup that fizzled out and now I’d be frantically scrambling to afford a house.

  • agent008t 10 months ago

    Have you not described just another goal to pursue, but in this case one that is very long-term and leaves you so busy you have no time to contemplate anything else? Also, is it that it really eliminated all doubt, or is it that you had no other realistic choice once the children were born?

    What happens once your children grow up and leave? You are back in the original situation, except worse - the relationship with your spouse has now likely deteriorated, and you have now likely neglected your hobbies and interests (and often even your health) to the point you don't even know how to live by yourself anymore. Most parents do not seem to deal with that well, trying to hold on, pushing for grandchildren etc.

    It does not seem like a solution at all, just a more extreme version of 'we keep grinding, hoping we'll achieve X and then we'll be content forever, only to find merely emptiness on the other side' where you voluntarily choose to intensify your grind dramatically and leave yourself no alternatives.

    In fact, just substituting 'by having kids' with another such activity that dramatically intensifies your grind and leaves you no alternatives seems to work just as well. "My answer was found by [going on a trek through the Sinai desert/giving everything to charity and going to live on a homestead away from civilization/circumnavigating the world on a small boat]. For me, one of the absolute best things about it was that it eliminated all doubt: I now had a 100% crystal clear main quest that trivially answers, 'what should I be doing right now?' if I'm ever not sure. Everything else in life is just a side quest"

  • bumby 10 months ago

    I've long thought that having kids galvanized a person's purpose in life and that is why people reflect back on how it was some of the best times of their life. This is in spite of the research that shows parents consistently more unhappy while actually raising kids. I think there is are other analogous dichotomies: people in the military, high level athletes, the way people refer to the bombing of England in WW2 as the "good ol' days"[1], etc.

    The point is people need a purpose they can rally their life around. They need to feel needed by their society for fulfillment.

    [1] See Sebastian Junger's book Tribe

  • jnsaff2 10 months ago

    I mean, we are hugely complicated gene-replication/improvement machines. So you have come to the ultimate conclusion without actually spelling it out.

    If you really go to the basics then ones life is about attracting the best other-side of the genes to replicate with (this is the part where you try to impress with brains/humor/sportscar that you have the best available genes) and make sure they survive + get a nice boost in their part of attracting best genes.

    I'd say there is an extra dimension now to make sure the environment where generations down genes of yourself have a good chance of surviving, but this is not yet programmed into genes.

    • iExploder 10 months ago

      you have described only the biological component of existence, but being alive is more complicated than that

      • jnsaff2 10 months ago

        What would that be?

        • 9999px 10 months ago

          The spiritual component.

  • navane 10 months ago

    What would you tell your kids, if they ever ask you what they should be chasing?

    • Waterluvian 10 months ago

      I’ll let you know when I figure that out. But the general idea I have in mind is: figure it out by chasing a lot of things a little bit and see what drives you the most. (and appreciate that it can change and that’s okay!)

dyingkneepad 10 months ago

You're supposed to enjoy the journey, not hyper focus on the destination. If the journey is not fun, the destination is not worth it, especially since you may never even get there in the first place.

  • trabant00 10 months ago

    The journey is always hard and unpleasant because it's full of risks and uncertainties. If it's not then you are not really journeying but staying at home.

  • returnInfinity 10 months ago

    Yeah I believe this as well, enjoy the journey. Celebrate small wins, celebrate with your friends, family and children.

  • agent008t 10 months ago

    Who says you are supposed to enjoy the journey? As a trivial example, 'the journey' of studying for an important exam is hard work, and you would enjoy playing video games instead a lot more. But by focusing on the destination and enduring hardship, you ace your exam, which has a massive effect on the rest of your life. Was the destination not worth it?

    • hn92726819 10 months ago

      The journey is all of your life. I believe you should aim for an enjoyable journey [of life], not to be confused with short term journeys and destinations.

      In your example, if studying and acing your exam gives you more happiness in the long run (despite less happiness in the short term), it's worth it to suffer a bit now and study. If acing your exam doesn't give you more happiness in the long run, then compare it against the happiness you get if you don't ace it, and make a decision.

throwaway31339 10 months ago

Unprofitable startup I'm working for told me we're changing the world. I am all in. My health is getting deteriorated, I'm getting some extra weight. But it's well worth it, because my performance is 106%. I am also thinking about my team, because we're the family. I like small little things in life, like enjoying my $15 lunch credit (it's just a plain rice, plus GrubHub delivery and service fee).

One day I will get my promotion, so I can make even bigger impact. But for the next 5 years I should focus on self-education. We have unlimited access to Udemy courses, and my manager says it's a good starting point.

Balgair 10 months ago

A semi-controversial take for OP and other commenters like OP: Try religion out.

These kids of questions and angsts are very normal and very old. Religion has been there to help with this for a very very long time. If not a daily/weekly practice, then the religious texts that you prefer may help.

For jews/christians, the Book of Job is a good starting place : (MEV lacks the ... poetry of NIV, of course, but is an easier starting place for laypeople, I think)

For hindus, the Bhagavad Gita is is another great starting place :

Other recommendations are welcome!

  • agent008t 10 months ago

    Surely pursuing philosophy would be a better advice than pursuing religion? Religions do tend to include some philosophy but with a lot of mysticism and other stuff thrown in, and the philosophy itself is often not very well thought through. Why not just go for the philosophy itself? Stoicism could be a great start with Seneca's "Letters from a stoic".

    • Balgair 10 months ago

      Great reccomendation

  • uptownfunk 10 months ago

    For Hinduism I actually think a great book is Srimad Bhagavatam. But every hindu you ask may end up telling something different.

    • Balgair 10 months ago

      thanks for the reccomendation

tengbretson 10 months ago

We are trying to create value for key stakeholders.

When does it end? It's always ending. And yet it is also always beginning anew each fortnight.

  • kelseyfrog 10 months ago

    Anyone not experiencing the sublime joy of unification and oneness with the market is really missing out. The process of transcending material constraint by commodifying their labor so that it can rise to the platonic ideal of profit hasn't truly lived. Nothing else comes close.

    • UtopiaPunk 10 months ago

      Lol, I'm like 90% sure you're joking, but sometimes the stuff that shows up in HN comments is this depressing

      • kelseyfrog 10 months ago

        I offer 1-on-1 sessions in Transcendental Capitalism. DM for pricing.

    • DougN7 10 months ago

      That’s some wicked humor :)

  • dntrkv 10 months ago

    OP if you watch this, don’t take it too seriously (it is a joke, but with kernel of truth). But generally if you’re feeling that way it might be time to step back and focus on other parts of your life (family, friends, hobbies, mental and physical health, travel, etc).

    • p1esk 10 months ago

      You might have misunderstood the OP: key stakeholders are people you care about - for most it’s themselves and/or family. That’s who you create value for.

      • metabagel 10 months ago

        It’s not obvious at all that that’s what OP intended.

  • quickthrower2 10 months ago

    We are trying to be rational actors in an Austrian economic model

  • codegeek 10 months ago

    Become the stakeholder yourself.

unixraider 10 months ago

God I love this question. I ask the exact same thing at least twice a week. I use to have real depression over this issue.

I have zero answers for you. Personally, I learned to truly be ok with the answer "we don't know yet, but we're working toward it together". If you can somehow get to that point, you'll feel a little ease and maybe even a bit more connection with the rest of humanity.

I don't feel like most of humanity cares or even thinks about this in any regular interval, but I do. Might sound lame, but I feel like the right thing to do is contribute to meaningful work (space travel, medicine, sustainable energy, <noble cause X>) and focus on immediate problems in those areas.

People like you and I will never be around to see if humans collectively find good answers to these questions, but the same can be said about all the humans before us that got us to this point, and I'm truly thankful for what they built so far for us.

  • mensetmanusman 10 months ago

    All the practicing Catholics I know are doing this weekly :) Find an adoration chapel near by (almost everywhere in the world) for some quiet time to reflect would be my recommendation.

  • undopamine 10 months ago

    I'm with you on this one.

    I've come to terms with the fact that there's no point of our existence other than being merely observers. I still get these waves of existential dread that I know will go away once I regain momentum.

    Scientific advancement is one of the few things that gives me energy. In an ideal day, I would be spending most of my time reading textbooks, learning physics and math from ground up.

fabiofzero 10 months ago

I'm 47. After worrying a lot about this, I came to the conclusion that the objective should be to be comfortable and that's it. If you have a roof over your head, can save some money and are able to travel and have fun, you've made it. Everything else is basically bullshit.

Also, don't create unnecessary problems for yourself - keep it simple. Don't have kids if you don't want to. Don't buy a car if you don't need it. Don't buy a huge house if all your need is 2 bedrooms. In other words, don't measure your success by external metrics.

Apreche 10 months ago

I don't know what anyone else is chasing, but I know precisely what my primary goal is. I want to live a life of idle leisure. I'm 20% of the way to my goal now that I only work 4 days (32 hours) a week. It may be that I don't get to 100% until retirement, if I'm even able to retire at all. It may be that I have a setback and end up working 5 days again. It may be that I get extremely lucky earlier than that.

I know that my end goal is so unrealistic, I am very unlikely reach it if I try to make it in one step. Instead I'm always looking for small steps I can take to just get a little bit closer. And with that mindset, I have made real progress.

  • steviesands 10 months ago

    How did you achieve 4 days a week? Curious to hear about your strategy.

    • Apreche 10 months ago

      I had a very stable job already that I was perfectly happy to stay at. This meant that if I interviewed at other places I could negotiate from a position of extreme strength.

      So I did exactly that. I interviewed at places and when I reached the offer phase I asked for a lot. The first offer I got was not good enough, so I didn't accept it. The next one I was able to convince them to let me work four days. It was written in my offer letter and everything. I signed it, and have been working 32 hour weeks since July.

    • voisin 10 months ago

      Not OP but I’d recommend looking at the r/FIRE, r/LeanFIRE, r/ChubbyFIRE, and r/FatFIRE as starting points for how people in various situations retire early, often by scaling from 5 workdays to 0 workdays over time rather than abruptly in the traditional retirement context.

gazby 10 months ago

Get yourself to a therapist, and evaluated by a psychiatrist. Concerns around holistic well-being aside, it is an urgent practical matter for you to be able to sustain yourself.

For me, the combination of COVID, a soul-sucking employer (though with a fantastic team I miss very much), and being unable to see my family on the other side of the planet for three years was too much. I'd have been fired were it not for the fantastic team. I had almost nowhere else to turn, so I finally took the (extensive) advice to see a therapist. Between therapy and psychiatry I found what was needed to get myself out of the awful job and into one I enjoy, and I can be productive again.

Once sustaining yourself is worked out and the pressure is off, you can work on the more holistic aspects.

Good luck mate! Happy to talk further in the comments if you'd like.

Context for those who haven't read OP's replies below:

  • undopamine 10 months ago

    It's a very helpful response! Thank you :)

lcall 10 months ago

Joy. "Men are that they might have joy." (2 Nephi 2:24 or so, in the Book of Mormon). Money doesn't drive it, but is a tool only. I have much more at my web site (in profile), including how I know this for myself. We can have peace and joy in this life, and eternal life in the world to come, starting now, based on our choices.

Sources of joy including learning, and service to others, especially family. In my church we have made promises to do this and it brings the most satisfaction in life, as far as I can see.

This also provides tools to handle the hard things in life (which can become growing experiences, to become our best, now and later on).

(thoughtful comments appreciated with any downvotes)

(ps: one way to serve others is by trying out if it is available in your area -- a free site linking volunteers with community groups that can use volunteers.)

vichu 10 months ago

This is such a funny question. It's not a particularly uncommon one either, but I find it so peculiar.

Who's "we" here? Are you saying "we're" the same, you and I? Are you using the royal "we"? Are you a group of people running this same account? But I suppose I do know the answer to that question, "we" is the group of people like you that is still fervently participating in the rat race.

Live as you can, live as you should. There's not much else I or anyone else can really say. If you have goals, try to achieve them. If you fail, get back up. If you succeed, keep on going. What are we going after? We're just living. Is there an end? Unfortunately, yes. But don't take it so seriously.

Read, meditate, go see a therapist, maybe take some drugs. You'll figure it out.

  • mansoon 10 months ago

    Plural systems exist.

    • vichu 10 months ago

      Oh, I like you. That is also an option :)

mind-blight 10 months ago

You might be depressed out burnt out. You might be at a job that is demoralizing. For a while, I used productivity as a replacement for fulfillment, and work as a distraction from difficult parts of life.

I eventually realized that I was miserable, and focusing on productivity just made me better at being miserable fast. Some people get joy out of optimizing their life - I don't.

I get joy out of working with people I respect towards a shared goal. As long as it's not actively harmful, I don't care what that goal is. I found a team that I liked which scratches that itch. I spend my free time with friends and family, reading, and doing other activities that are just existing. It works well for me

  • undopamine 10 months ago

    OP here.

    You're right. I left my job last year, after 1.5 years of experience out of burnout. I'm highly frugal but still running out of money, so gotta work again.

    The problem is, I knew from the very beginning that I'm only doing software for the money. And now I have to do the same thing which I've always dreaded.

    I hope I get some fulfilment working from office, socializing after three whole years.

    • mind-blight 10 months ago

      Yeah, I feel that. I just started full time work a couple weeks ago after avoiding it since December 2021. And I'm pretty happy with it so far.

      What worked for me was holding out until I found a team with people I connected with. And I know that will change as the company grows. I wanted people who were philosophically aligned about how to work and how work should relate to life.

    • randomopining 10 months ago

      How much do you spend per month? If youre frugal dont you have at least 1-2 yuears saved?

      • undopamine 10 months ago

        I quit my job in May 2022 with ~3y worth of savings given my burn rate.

        I contributed ~50% of that to my parents' retirement home, leaving me with ~1.5y worth of expenses.

        It's been 8-9 months since I left my job. So effectively I'm left with ~6mo.

        I'm living with my parents. I can easily survive for another couple years, but I want to contribute to the family's expenses. Plus, home is too comfortable to get things done.

  • trabant00 10 months ago

    > Some people get joy out of optimizing their life - I don't.

    Yes do, you just optimize for different things which you mentioned in the last paragraph. There is no escaping the need to optimize, so the chase is true for all of us even if the objectives differ.

    • mind-blight 10 months ago

      No, I actively avoid optimizing my personal life - specifically talking about productivity techniques used to maximize desired outcomes. I used to use those techniques for optimization. Now I don't.

inphovore 10 months ago


Enlightened ascendant being here, I have some perspective for you …

In the beginning, there is the discovery of meanings, then the self while at the same time the self relationships with everyone and everything else …

And then, for those aspiring or just damn lucky, a glimmering ray of light penetrates the monotonous gloom.

A meaning beyond self worthy of devotion.

This may rise or fall, be ever lasting or a series of elevated epiphanies, However without question the ultimate fulfillment of existential being is …



To make consequences of your life out to be more than the sum of consumptive waste keeping you alive.

This is the ultimate human endeavor.

Btw, your self excellence comes by decades of determination, not a few years here and there.

tppiotrowski 10 months ago

First of all, these are valid feelings so don't just discard them. They are normal. They reflect your values. You want your life to have meaning, you want to have an impact on the world, you want to be happy. These are good things. They get you out of bed each day and motivate you.

Now, just learn to tone your emotional response to these thoughts from 100% to like 20%. Remember that your desire to grind is rooted in positive values, but don't let them run amok and take over your life. Acknowledge them, but realize they are not the be-all end-all.

  • spoils19 10 months ago

    For me, I'm chasing a great team to work alongside. I want to sit next to the developer I can ask about the pro/cons of any web development framework, that can help me analyze a heap dump, or explain why some transitive dependency is getting pulled in at compile time.

nickd2001 10 months ago

Contentedness can be found doing things for other people, e:g if you have kids, if the software you work on helps others, if you do some caring for relatives, if you are a good friend. Meaning isn't hard to find IMHO but it involves doing things for other people! The happiest people I know do that so much, they're far too busy to have angst about "what's my purpose" . But human nature being what it is, we tend to do stuff for ourselves instead, which doesn't satisfy in the same way. I am guilty of that at times like alone else. The person I believe had the most smart things to say about this subject was Jesus. Whether he was the son of God or not is a topic for another time. ;) I happen to think he was, and is. Even for people who doesn't think he was, if you look at what he was reported to have said, it seems a lot smarter to me than anything said by any other human. Basically distills to "love your neighbour as yourself". Just my 2p, others may strongly disagree, and that seems OK to me. :)

carapace 10 months ago

We're yak shaving.

There's a simple algorithm, similar to the "Five Why's" technique[0] that uses a particular question[1] to elucidate the chain of intentions between a given behavior and it's deepest motivation.

Using this algorithm, it turns out that all behavior is directed toward achieving certain "core states". There are five of them and I forget exactly what they are, but um, Bliss, Oneness, Okayness, Being, and something else...

Anyway, as you might imagine, these "core states" are incredibly nice, and they are also not dependent on anything, so once you experience them through the process the original behavior is typically transformed in a deep and profound way.

So that's what we're chasing: these profound states of being.

The problem is that we are chasing them using very complicated and counter-productive and indirect methods. We are yak shaving.

Fortunately, these folks in Colorado came up with the aforementioned algorithm[2] and it's slowly spreading. I figure it's a pretty major advance in the history of psychology, eh? A short easy path to healing and happiness and growth...


[1] Not to be mysterious, it's "What do you want, through having that, that's even more important?" but there's more to the process than just that question, please don't experiment without learning the whole thing first, okay?


charles_f 10 months ago

> hoping we'll achieve X

You seem ripe to read 4000 weeks, which central point is that the finitude of life is both the reason why you are always running after something in the future, and why you shouldn't.

Strongly recommend

fredead 10 months ago

The pursuit of outcomes, or the search for fulfillment and satisfaction, is a fundamental aspect of human nature. It is natural to strive for goals and to desire to improve one's circumstances. However, it is also true that the attainment of a goal does not necessarily bring lasting satisfaction. This phenomenon is often referred to as the "hedonic treadmill," where people quickly adapt to new levels of achievement and return to a baseline level of happiness. The key to finding fulfillment in life may lie in finding a balance between setting and working towards goals while also finding contentment in the present moment and cultivating a sense of purpose. Additionally, it's important to be mindful that the pursuit of material things may not bring the ultimate happiness, it's also important to focus on experiences, relationships and personal growth

  • navane 10 months ago


jayski 10 months ago

Most of the things I have bought, I've gotten used to, and brought me only short term happiness.

There are some exceptions:

- Financial stability for my family.

- Some musical instruments/equipment have given me lots of long term enjoyment. But I also have some stuff I only used a couple times.

- Trips. I love remembering the places I've visited and who I was with.

- Books.

cryptonector 10 months ago

> Our entire lives get spent pursuing outcomes.

Short-term outcomes: satisfy biological and psychological needs now.

Long-term outcomes: satisfy biological and psychological needs later.

Biological needs are pretty obvious (e.g., food).

Psychological needs are less obvious (what makes you happy). These can range from mere entertainment all the way to being creative.

For me the real thing is creation. Being creative makes me happy. Being a good parent makes me happy because that means my children get to be happy, and having and raising children is -for many people- part of what it means to be creative.

> Is there even an end to this?

Yes, there is. Individuals die. Species become extinct. Enjoy the ride, and do good, while it lasts.

sQL_inject 10 months ago

"Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.

A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil"

alisztha 10 months ago

To shed some light on this question, which we all have at some point in our lives, I recommend reading Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. It provided me a completely different way to see life, and whenever I forget, I go back to this book.

tylershuster 10 months ago

Purification — Deification — Theosis.

  6 Remember him—before the silver cord is severed,
    and the golden bowl is broken;
  before the pitcher is shattered at the spring,
    and the wheel broken at the well,
  7 and the dust returns to the ground it came from,
    and the spirit returns to God who gave it.
  8 “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher.
    “Everything is meaningless!”
  13 Now all has been heard;
      here is the conclusion of the matter:
  Fear God and keep his commandments,
      for this is the duty of all mankind.
  14 For God will bring every deed into judgment,
    including every hidden thing,
    whether it is good or evil.
  • metabagel 10 months ago

    Better to have your own internal framework of morality than one which is externally imposed. Otherwise, when your god tells you to sacrifice your son, you might actually do it.

    • IYasha 10 months ago

      Good words! I usually cut it down to "I don't need a religion to be a good person". )

  • chasingthewind 10 months ago

    This is also my answer as you can see from my username.

moughxyz 10 months ago

For me, it’s for the love of the game. I like being productive and being challenged more than I like being indolent.

I imagine pro athletes might feel the same way. You have to enjoy playing the game for its own sake. The joy of a championship only lasts a few days.

mensetmanusman 10 months ago

“ Restlessness is that desire to be filled and fulfilled. We all have it. We try to ignore at times, but still it remains.”

Theologians have been discussing this forever. Why have consciousness and a will with this built in restlessness? What is this all for?

jemmyw 10 months ago

You really poked all the religious and spiritual nuts with that question.

Why does there have to be an objective? Do the things you enjoy doing. Sometimes a bit of grind is enjoyable, sometimes it's necessary to afford to live.

I think of everything as things to pass the time until I die. If you spend a lot of time on things that you don't enjoy and they aren't a path to more enjoyable past times then reevaluate. Work less and hobby more and remember, the goal is not to end up with all the money, the goal is to maximize your time spent doing enjoyable activities.

nine_zeros 10 months ago

You are creating wealth for shareholders, who are writing emails about cutting your job out because they can't afford a new boat due to the downturn. Get back to work you peasant. /s

Jokes aside, the rat race is a very American thing (maybe also a thing in other developing countries). To be very honest, most people wouldn't mind a layoff if it didn't destroy their ability to stay alive in this country.

There is a reason why more and more Americans want to emigrate to cheaper countries. They want to stay alive without being tied to an employer.

trabant00 10 months ago

Simple to answer, hard to accept: we don't know what, but we chase because we are built to. The hopes and dreams for the achievement and the normalization after it are working as intended. It's the mechanism that keeps us from stopping. We rationalize the direction, but the truth is we have little freedom in choosing it. As an individual all this makes little sense, but as a species it has gotten us pretty far. And it has done so by making as many people chase in as many directions as possible.

tjpnz 10 months ago

Are you sure that you even want X? Perhaps it's a signal that you're pursuing the wrong things.

  • undopamine 10 months ago

    Oh, I know I don't want X, but I need it - X being money in my current situation. Frugality has helped, but only so much.

    I know I'm pursuing the wrong thing. I know I need a system to get out of this cycle. Either that, or find something that's fulfilling and lucrative at the same time, which I've found to be rare.

    Guess I'd achieve it some day. Maybe the freedom and satisfaction wouldn't be as long lasting as I'm telling myself to be.

voisin 10 months ago

Consider Schopenhauer‘s telic vs atelic pursuits vis-a-vis happiness. Telic pursuits are those like you reference, badges of honor that have an end (job promotion, raise, bigger house, whatever). These are inevitably and ultimately unsatisfying. Atelic pursuits, on the other hand, have no end. Like a craftsman, you are always honing them, never “done”. These are where fulfillment comes from. Being the best [x] you can be. Father, runner, etc. The journey is the destination.

majikaja 10 months ago

I just decided to focus on getting through life as comfortably as possible. Chasing after extra money I don't need doing things I don't want to just means subsidizing less hard-working people at the expense of my own well being.

If I were in the US and could make $500k for being a typical employee then I may have been more motivated. It's not that I don't have my own business plans, but I'm generally taking it easy outside of a corporate career.

wrldos 10 months ago

Stop looking at the carrot. Enjoy now.

“Dead yesterdays and unborn tomorrows, why fret about it, if today be sweet.” - Omar Khayyám

Disclaimer: life may now contain booze and floozies.

  • drewcoo 10 months ago

    > Stop looking at the carrot.

    Is that the carrot from "carrot and stick?"

    I'm pretty sure that ignoring the carrot means you get the stick instead.

    Disclaimer: maybe some light spanking happens with booze and floozies.

    • wrldos 10 months ago

      sounds good to me!

dotBen 10 months ago

It's all a layercake.

Everyone enters the layercake at different layers depending on opportunity/privilege/luck/etc and the idea is to ascend the layers. Not everyone chooses to play, not everyone wants to play, but the opportunity to is get as far up to the top as you can.

The higher the layer you are on, the more you get to benefit from the foundation created by the layers below and benefit from the opportunity above you.

Rury 10 months ago

Really, I'm convinced there's no permanent solution to this problem. People have long asked this question, the Bible and every major religion even has parts about this topic.

I'm quite convinced that the only solution is: to simply distract yourself from being aware of it. This can admittedly be hard at times, but it can also be quite easy at other times.

pupppet 10 months ago

God..I hear ya. I'm at that midlife point where I'm realizing I'm probably not going to be a rock star or billionaire.

moomoo11 10 months ago

Nothing. You were given the gift of life which is random af in this universe. You come here. You go.

Use the time you have in a wise manner.

  • bumby 10 months ago

    The pressure to "use the time you have in a wise manner" may be part of what is driving the OPs angst that they must focus energy on some worthwhile end. Someone already mentioned Oliver Burke's book 4000 Weeks but it does a fairly good job of describing a different point of view.

LunarAurora 10 months ago

We are “multistaged” beings:

First stage: As Animals, we are chasing our impulses. It is just LIFE.

Second stage : As Rational Beings, we are chasing our "personal" desires/goals. Most people, most of the time, are content to feel the satisfaction and move on to the next one.

However, for some, sometimes, a voice emerges, a nagging voice. It says: "What are we even chasing?". The satisfaction is not there anymore. The wall crumbles, the void is overwhelming. Sometimes it is called depression.

Third Stage: This is what some would call “Spiritual”: as Spiritual beings, we are chasing...that void. Or more to the point, the void is chasing us (especially if we ignore it). Yes maybe it is not a "mere" (as you said) emptiness afterall. Maybe we should pay special attention to what this "emptiness" is telling us.

conwy 10 months ago

For me, it's about the process as much as the outcome.

I don't write code only because I want to achieve some distant future goal. I write code because that's part of who I am in the moment. I enjoy typing, I enjoy problem-solving, I enjoy building things, etc. Like a spider weaving a web, it has become part of my nature.

The beauty of humans is that we are general purpose machines, which can do a wide variety of things, because of how our bodies are, especially our hands.

The future of course is also important. Greater financial independence, learning new skills, improving one's character, meeting interesting personalities. All these of course are things we can hope for and strive for, but should also try to have reasonable expectations about, and avoid excessive entitlement.

jkmcf 10 months ago

There is no single answer. You search for and decide what makes life meaningful for you.

There are a lot of great answers in this thread, I particularly like inphovore and Waterluvian's, but yours might be different.

You need some minimal things to find happiness, enough food, shelter, and health. Sadly, in the US, we don't get those things, but there are places that can help you. You may need to move. You may need to live with family, friends, or strangers to get started on your journey. But, you must start your journey and only you can do it.

Read quotes from Mark Twain, The Obstacle is the Way, and The Conquest of Happiness.

Do something that brings you joy and embrace it -- this is particular hard for me. I'm still searching after 50 years.

hprotagonist 10 months ago

  Seize life! Eat bread with gusto,
  Drink wine with a robust heart.
  Oh yes—God takes pleasure in your pleasure!
  Dress festively every morning.
  Don’t skimp on colors and scarves.
  Relish life with the spouse you love
  Each and every day of your precarious life.
  Each day is God’s gift. It’s all you get in exchange
  For the hard work of staying alive.
  Make the most of each one!
  Whatever turns up, grab it and do it. And heartily!
  This is your last and only chance at it,
  For there’s neither work to do nor thoughts to think
  In the company of the dead, where you’re most certainly headed.
c. 450 bce. And we think existentialism is some new thing ...
  • amelius 10 months ago

    The last two lines were declared obsolete 450 years later.

francisofascii 10 months ago

To continually improve something (yourself or something in the world), or to chase goals, it kinds works. As we get closer or see improvement, our brains like that. Just be sure to chase the right goals. And it is a better plan than the alternative.

pcdoodle 10 months ago

Making "cool shit" if possible.

The empty problem could mean you need a vacation or routine change.

I get this way in the winter too. Best of luck to everyone feeling this way right now. These feelings are mostly temporary. 3 weeks vacation to a new climate is nice. YMMV.

UnpossibleJim 10 months ago

If you want a somewhat existential answer, I treat my life like I treat my art. It's open for interpretation but I know what I'm trying to say with my life. Figure out what you want your life to say and create it as best you can.

nisegami 10 months ago

I'm just passing the years until I die. Seems to be working alright for me.

TradingPlaces 10 months ago

Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans. - John Lennon.

at-fates-hands 10 months ago

Read Viktor Frankl's "Man's Search For Meaning"

  • farleykr 10 months ago

    This is actually great advice, even if it seems like a disposable recommendation. Why try to get wisdom from HN comments when you can plumb the depths of the wisdom of those who have been to hell and back to get that wisdom?

  • steviesands 10 months ago

    I read it a while ago and while I can't recall what was said exactly, I remember how I felt while reading it and how strong it was. The mark of a good book.

polyamid23 10 months ago

Read some philosophers who have didicated writings handling those topics. It might change your views on the matter in a more meaningful way than HN crowd. I would try to find something, I am passionate about and try to use my skillset in that area. There is plenty there [1]. Personally, I try to make the world just a little better and keep my physical and mental well being in check.


asolanaruiz 10 months ago

The answer is dopamine. That’s what your brain is after

coding123 10 months ago

I watch deer wandering past my property and their goal is to just EAT something and not be killed by something.

We're basically that with video games so it's more fun.

  • Towaway69 10 months ago

    > We're basically that with video games so it's more fun.

    Also drugs, sex, rock'n'roll, burgers, Netflix, amazon prime, cola, holidays to sunny places, cheap fashion, plastic, pollution, war and death.

isghoor 10 months ago

Happiness, or avoiding unhappiness. That is the true goal of every goal.

I would advise you go to your experience. Not thoughts and ideas. But directly to your experience and figure out what you want to.

To find happiness, first one must gain clarity about the one who is finding. If we can see that one we call "I" very clearly then the attainment of happiness is going to be easy.

If the question is unclear, the answer will be unclear or completely wrong.

  • isghoor 10 months ago

    To share the starting point I found helpful, start with the question to yourself: "Am I aware?"

    Go to the experience of validating that answer. That is your anchor and starting point.

    You know that to be 100 percent true.

    Then separate what you are aware of from you (that which is aware).

    Then investigate the nature of the attribute you know you have for certain. Is it limited in anyway? Is it personal? Does all experience depend on it or does it depend on some element of experience?

    Clarify the understanding of your experience of yourself. And only then ask this question again.

SirMaster 10 months ago

Experiences I guess?

I wouldn't really say I am specifically chasing anything.

If I had to pick something, then I guess I'd say I'm chasing what makes me overall the most happy.

  • brewtide 10 months ago

    Life. A collection of fleeting moments.

mindcrime 10 months ago

  Life's a piece of shit (Oooh)
  When you look at it
  Life's a laugh and death's a joke, it's true (Oooh)
  You'll see it's all a show (Oooh)
  Keep 'em laughin' as you go
  Just remember that the last laugh is on you (Oooh)
kissgyorgy 10 months ago

If you don't enjoy it, don't do it. There are plenty of opportunities in life you can find you at if that's something you are after.

  • IYasha 10 months ago

    But, desires must meet possibilities...? (

    I don't enjoy living under constant threat to my life and imposed choice of either being recruited (war) or jailed, even regardless of poor health condition. I'd really love to change this and do what I love (like art and programming). But it's a bit laughable )

DustinBrett 10 months ago

Yes there is an end, when you die. We aren't chasing life, we are running away from death. All that we really have is the current moment.

metabagel 10 months ago

Try not to let the negative feelings overwhelm you. You can experience them, but let them flow over, around, and past you. Stay connected to your physical body in the present moment. Don’t focus so much on what’s ahead or what’s behind. Every moment is a fresh new moment and experience.

Suggest you try meditation. And maybe make some room for frivolous, creative activities, if you can.

wobbles123 10 months ago

You're already at a place where you can be content with what you have. There is nothing you need to pursue, you already have it.

  • baal80spam 10 months ago

    This is so very true. It's sobering to remind oneself of this. Thank you!

drewbug01 10 months ago

> What are we even chasing?

I think I'd be more interested to hear _why_ people are chasing [insert thing-to-chase here].

smilebot 10 months ago

I view my work life to be a sandbox game. Like Minecraft, you can build w/e and be whoever. In the end it doesn’t really matter.

In my personal life, I do the things I enjoy. Try not to suppress desires, instead be open to the world and let life happen.

beebmam 10 months ago

Therapy can help you figure out these kinds of feelings you have, I highly recommend it!

Towaway69 10 months ago

We're all matter: it matters, antimatter, dark matter and the most important matter: doesn't matter.

Humor and being kind, become a Buddhist since it doesn't matter but that's important.

UtopiaPunk 10 months ago

I think we should pursue "human flourishing." What that means for each individual will be very different. It could be enjoying time with family and friends, creating or appreciating art, being involved in sports, gardening, raising animals, discussing philosophy or theology, electronics, cooking, etc, etc. The point is to flourish in this precious life.

On the societal level, I think promoting human flourishing means first making sure everyone's basic needs are met (shelter, food, clothing, healthcare).

The next step for society to promote human flourishing is to give people more time away from work to pursue their own things, and to that end I'm a proponent of the 4 day (32 hour) work week replacing the standard 40 hour work week.

Another important step in promoting human flourishing is for towns to design physical spaces to encourage community and satisfying daily rhythms. There should be more places like libraries, local cafes, community centers, parks, etc where people can meet with other people. And there should be a concerted effort to reduce the need for cars. Places that are designed to encourage walking and biking are generally more pleasant than places that are designed around cars. There's less paved space for highways and parking lots, and more space for interesting places to visit along with more greenery. Not to mention the gentle exercise.

I think there's more our society can do to promote human flourishing, but those are big ones. The biggest point is that capitalist societies, especially the United States (the heart of capitalism), prioritize profit over human flourishing. Sprawling highways, homelessness, financially brutal healthcare, inadequate paternity leave, and bad work/life balances are all things that can be changed if we, as a society, want them to be changed. But to do that, we have to stop doing what capitalists want and instead build what we want.

  • lcall 10 months ago

    If I didn't have a purpose in life already, I might think of reaching for the stars -- literally. Make human society better (constitutional and principled behavior, honesty, Golden Rule, etc, but without restricting freedom, i.e., as founders of USA saw freedom), but then become multiplanetary, advance science etc etc. Like in Isaac Asimov's Foundation trilogy or such books. Or something along those lines.

sherilm 10 months ago

CS Lewis captured this perfectly in his essay " The Inner Ring". TLDR: there is none.

>As long as you are governed by that desire you will never get what you want. You are trying to peel an onion: if you succeed there will be nothing left. Until you conquer the fear of being an outsider, an outsider you will remain.

>If all you want is to be in the know, your pleasure will be short lived. The circle cannot have from within the charm it had from outside. By the very act of admitting you it has lost its magic.

>You merely wanted to be “in.” And that is a pleasure that cannot last. As soon as your new associates have been staled to you by custom, you will be looking for another Ring. The rainbow’s end will still be ahead of you. The old ring will now be only the drab background for your endeavor to enter the new one.

more_corn 10 months ago

At the end of the day… it’s night and you missed the day.

We’re not doing this for some reward at the end. It’s only worth doing if it’s worth doing as you’re doing it.

recursivedoubts 10 months ago

it turns out that the glitter of this world offers no lasting happiness

this is perhaps evidence that you, the real you, the deep down you-you, is not of this world

leesec 10 months ago

An abundant and exciting future amongst the stars

sleton38234234 10 months ago

Excellent point.

Humanity has made all of our basic needs (shelter, food, water, land) inaccessible without lots of money. And, so we're forced into being slaves of govt and capitalism for most of our lives to earn a living. It's just something we have to accept. The material standard of living (as far shelter goes) has been dropping for the last 50 or even 200 years now, so people need to work harder and harder to reach basic needs.

There's no end to it until you've got more than enough investible assets to cover your future rent. and since there's no real such thing as land/house ownership, it makes that even harder.

JohnFen 10 months ago

I'm not chasing anything. I'm just enjoying travelling the path and seeing where it leads me.

dinosaurdynasty 10 months ago

Why should we achieve X and then be content forever?

It's not like we eat a really good meal and are never hungry again!

thorin 10 months ago

Empty spaces, what are we living for?

Abandoned places, I guess we know the score, on and on

Does anybody know what we are looking for?

simne 10 months ago


Happen constant race, of good guys vs bad guys. And good guys should constantly be better to win.

Greetings from Ukraine!

AndrewPGameDev 10 months ago

I'm making a video game and once I'm done with the video game hopefully it's fun

tryauuum 10 months ago

Some say "x" is always "less pain". Less pain for you or your loved ones.

jl6 10 months ago

You could be suffering from depression, and it may be worth speaking to a doctor.

  • symlinkk 10 months ago

    Doctors don’t have answers. They’ll give you SSRIs which will numb your emotions and ruin your drive, or they’ll refer you to a therapist who will take your money in exchange for listening to you vent once a week.

    • coev 10 months ago

      Don't discount talk therapy as an aid to reduce depression symptoms. I did different medications for 10 years with limited or adverse results; talk therapy by comparison has been way more effective, even if it's a big rubber duck session sometimes. I'm fortunate to have found a therapist that takes my insurance though so YMMV

    • dntrkv 10 months ago

      Is your comment really necessary?

      Psychiatrists (and meds) have saved a lot of people’s lives, both figuratively and literally.

      Not sure why you would even mention therapists. Having a trained third party listen and help you navigate things in your life has been a god send for many people I know, including myself.

      • symlinkk 10 months ago

        I would definitely encourage others to try doctors and see if it helps. I’m just saying for me it hasn’t (so far).

HKH2 10 months ago

For contentment, your actions need to reflect your values.

maCDzP 10 months ago

There is no end - it’s all a strange loop.

Learn to have fun while looping?

  • Towaway69 10 months ago

    The Hamster wheel looks like a career ladder from the inside.

    • maCDzP 10 months ago

      OMG, it’s funny, true and sad at the same time. I’ll have to reevaluate.

9999px 10 months ago

Read Marx (for real, not just skimming) then the Bible (for real, not just skimming). Worked for me.

  • AnimalMuppet 10 months ago

    I think that if God is really there (not just as a word, not just as an idea, but as Someone who really exists), and if He can be known, then that's worth chasing.

    A shiny new car? Not so much. As Dion said, "Cadillacs end up in the junkyard."

    Money? As Tim O'Reilly said, "Money is like gasoline during a road trip. You don't want to run out of gas on your trip, but you're not doing a tour of gas stations. We need to pay attention to money, but it shouldn't be about the money."

    Me? It really shouldn't be about me, either. I've seen that "me" is a really small space. "Me" isn't enough to make me happy.

    To the parent: If I may ask, where did you wind up? A Christian Marxist? An atheist that respects some of the teaching and who is skeptical of capitalism? Or where?

    • 9999px 10 months ago

      Yes, just a Jesus-following (not in a church other than for volunteer work) commie at this point. Figure the point of all this is to have kids and help build the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth, the goal eventually being a society that doesn't require anyone to work. Heaven is free time.

amriksohata 10 months ago

The same question Arjuna asks Krishna in the Gita

reportgunner 10 months ago

This is something you need to ask yourself.

evronm 10 months ago

This is my all time favorite HN post. I actually tweeted it. Thanks to everyone who answered.

throwawaysalome 10 months ago

What exactly are we going after?

Money. And lemme tell you, have lots of it is totally awesome.

  • metabagel 10 months ago

    Money is nice to have, but there are other things which are more important to our emotional well-being: friends, health, respect, etc.

    Plenty of people have money, but drink themselves to death because they’re still so unhappy.

johnea 10 months ago

Of course, death.