I’ve sometimes been asked how, as an atheist, I can enjoy life when all I have to look forward to is nothing (i.e. no afterlife). Actually, this sort of question is based on a fallacy, the truly sad idea that true joy can’t be experienced in this life, but only in some perfect (albeit robotic and choice free) life to come.
I doubt there is anyone who really lives life only in anticipation of an afterlife. Even the most committed religionist sometimes will think about other events as being joyful – perhaps the next visit to the mosque or church, or the marriage of a child etc – so clearly they understand that joy is available, in a very tangible way, in this life. Would you really like to pass up on the birth of your child, or his marriage to be immediately in the afterlife? Maybe some would, but many would not think twice about asking for a stay – this indicates that experience in this life does have some grip over even the most devoted believer.
That being true, the atheist simply extends his (or her, but I happen to be male) understanding of such temporal joy to being the only type of joy worth longing for. I love my life: I enjoy getting up and going to work, I enjoy meeting people, climbing rocks, diving in the beautiful oceans, flying in our incredible aeroplanes to amazing places; I enjoy creating and listening to music, appreciating art, playing with my children and watching them grow up. I enjoy a glass of wine on the couch while watching home improvement programs with my partner, going to the store and getting groceries, buying shoes and winding up a watch – there is little I consider mundane.
I never for a moment worry about what will happen after I die. Indeed, I know that there is no need for such a worry, I will simply not exist, just as I did not exist before I was born. I sometimes wonder about the process of death itself, and at times that worries me – but that worry is more centered around the possibility of pain, and the ending of this great life that I have lived and the effect that might have on others, but when I die, I will know that I have lived. Lived joyfully, and fully and without regret.
There’s a good article that relates to this subject over at Freethought blogs, which inspired this post.
And, if you’re stuck for sources of joy today, go and have a look at these beautiful books on Typography by Stephen Heller and Lita Talarico. Typography is so much a part of life that we rarely think of it as art, but that’s a mistake, it really is, and has a huge power to provoke a reaction (good or bad) in us, so great as to influence our behavior. That’s why companies spend so much on branding exercises that include testing different typefaces – for instance can you imagine Apple using a Gothic font?