Welcome to McLife

“Society tells us to direct our hopes in two areas- Romantic love and professional success. And it distracts us with news, movies, and consumption. It’s not enough, as we know. Especially at three in the morning.”

Alain de Botton

“Welcome to McLife. What’s your order?”

I’ll have a dream job, love life, and intermittent bouts of ecstasy and distraction. But not like everyone else. Mine will be epic. Also can you hold the anxiety?

“Got it. Of course. Epic. No anxiety. Pls drive to 2nd window.”

Life’s a Scam.

Wait – woops. I take that back … Looks like the scam is just some dust that’s settled upon humanity over the past couple hundred years…

Here, let me see that.
[Grabs life]
[Takes deep breath]
[Blows on life like a Nintendo cartridge]

All better.

Life Is Great!

It really is though, if we can somehow remove all the junk that culture and lesser instincts impose upon it. Our minds and realities, dreams, expectations, and consequent unhappiness and dissatisfaction are so much more vulnerable and programmable that we grasp. Yet- if we can mount even a tiny and humble defense, life can feel radically better and more expansive than a drive-thru autobiography.

Happiness Mirages of Work and Romance

“…We long for beauty, wisdom, and purpose. We want to live for something more than just ourselves.”

Alain de Botton

Two years ago I wrote an essay by exactly this name. This makes today’s encounter with de Botton’s words, and words of countless ponderers since then, feel like a chorus of increasing and obvious volume. What am I (sorry, we?) putting fingers on… exactly.

It is uncontroversial to say most of us would prefer a life that feels deeply meaningful. What are our options? The one-two punch of modern secular life is most obviously fulfilled by 1) a dream job, and 2) love life. Duh.

But what happens when we actually SUCCEED at these things, and still feel this dim itch crawling over us? The only rationale fix is cure it with more of the same – jobs and/or partners and/or distraction-du-jour. Yet this fails, too, or makes us numb enough to stop wondering.

Religion’s Empty Shoes

It’s crucial to consider de Botton’s words in context. They come from a short clip entitled “What comes after religion”.

The point he makes is a simple one. Sure, God is Dead. If there is one trophy humanity awards Nietzsche, it is certainly his famously noticing that the era of magical beliefs is decidedly over.

(and this is the big however)

Religion was more than just blind faith in deities that explains all the spookiness of the world.

Religion was a collection of myth, values, and stories that helped people live deep and meaningful lives. To live in a world of interconnectedness and beauty – as opposed to an oyster to harvest YOUR pearl, from.

Religion’s Successor?

This is truly a great problem of our era.
(among all other problems)

Can there ever be such a thing as a north-star of humanity? “Freedom” is certainly a key ingredient, but freedom alone is pure potential for both good and bad.

Also, freedom from what? So much of religion gives people ideas and contemplative practices that free them from the bondage of their own minds, never mind freedom from other people and oppressive systems. It can empower us toward selflessness, kindness, and decency.

None of this is to suggest – for an nanosecond – that we need religion back. But certainly we must study and appreciate the void it leaves us with, so we can install something in its place. Especially when we find ourselves in a dead end…. dissatisfied and wondering what this is all about – in midst of apparent chaos.


Yes – that’s precisely where we’re at in human history – a dot dot dot moment. At the vanguard of civilization – individuals and institutions are trying to dominate this void – to give us an answer to the question – what shall we do with our precious life?

This is an open question, but one that is eons old. We can dig through religion’s rubble, find the gems, trade notes with centuries of contemplative practice and philosophy, combine all of this in a soup with modern cognitive science and psychology… and what do we get?

I intend to track this closely. Who is trying to solve this problem? And what are all of these apparent “solutions” really trying to converge on?

Love and Work

Not to completely poo-poo love and work. Obviously they are important and meaningful aspects of human life. The caution is not to disparage them, but to look at them in the context of life broadly. Are they merely two ingredients, or are they synonymous with meaning itself? Society might suggest the latter. Can this possibly be true?

Progress key
Progress deep
Save and Resume Later

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