American physicist and author Alan Lightman tells of a childhood experience that set him on a life-long journey of hope, meaning, and new possibilities. He writes, “I was looking up at the sky one night when I was about ten years old, and I felt like my life didn’t matter. And I guess it was converting large space into large time. One star after another star after another star and wondering if that would keep going forever. I sensed that the universe existed a long time before I was born and would exist a long time after I was dead. And I was just a spec that didn’t matter. I don’t matter, my parents don’t matter, nothing matters. We’re all just specs, living in this moment. None of us were here a million years ago — none of us will be here a million years from now. And the universe doesn’t care. It just keeps going on and on and on. So, why are we wasting time going to school, having dentist appointments, and all of that? Why are we wasting our time because none of it matters? And then something happened a few years later – I fell in love. And that changed everything. That mattered despite the reality that we were both just specs in the cosmos.”
The fear that there is no ultimate meaning in the universe and their personal lives grips the hearts of many people. Some fight it off by being as busy as possible. Others sink into apathy and, from there, into some form of escape. Psychiatrists specializing in youth problems estimate that 15% of American adolescents suffer from significant boredom and depression because of the awful sense of purposelessness that grips their lives. This handicap often results in loss of self-esteem and, in some cases, even suicide. Sadly, suicide has risen rapidly among adolescents in America: doubling among 15- to 24-year-olds since 1960. And today, suicide is the second-leading cause of death among teenagers. -1
1- UCLA Health, March 2022.