I vividly remember when I reached this point. I fell into what I’ve seen referred to as a deep “existential depression.” It’s like the other side of the double-edged sword that is human awareness. For me, it didn’t fade quickly and stayed with me for a few years. I will say though, that with time, the feeling dissipates. We humans are great at getting used to things and this is something that mostly falls into that as well. As others here have said, once you just move back into living your life and don’t spend so much time thinking about this, you will realize that you have managed to get by just fine without the need for an ultimate meaning or reason for living. Not that is doesn’t really suck in the meantime or that it is ever completely gone. However, I will pass on some thoughts and findings I ran into over the years that have helped me to climb out of that place from time to time. First is a quote from David Attenborough and some comments by Bill Bryson:
”Like most things that thrive in harsh environments, lichens are slow growing. It may take a lichen more than half a century to attain the dimensions of a shirt button. Those the size of dinner plates,” writes David Attenborough, are therefore "likely to be thousands of years old.” It would be hard to imagine a less fulfilling existence. "They simply exist," Attenborough adds, "testifying to the moving fact that life, even at its simplest level occurs, apparently, for its own sake."
“It is easy to overlook this thought that life just is. As humans we are inclined to feel that life must have a point. We have plans, aspirations and desires. We want to take constant advantage of all the intoxicating existence we've been endowed with. But what's life to a lichen? Yet its impulse to exist, to be, is every bit as strong as ours - arguably even stronger...."
This quote was very powerful for me. I started thinking about other creatures too like sloths. And then the thoughts hit me “WHY MUST you be more than the lichen or sloth? Why MUST you do more than live?” I decided that it's ok to just be and get on with life, that that is enough. You don't have to DO or BE ANYTHING. Life just is. But you CAN CHOOSE to do more than just live if YOU want to, but it’s not required.
I ran across another great quote a few years ago that resonated with several thoughts I had been having about living a good or meaningful life. It’s short and pulled together all of my thoughts on the subject into an easy to remember idea. It has been a useful reminder for me in the years since:
“I too hope that I bring meaning to the lives of my family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances.”
I like to add “and that I will create wonderful memories for them to remember me by” to the end of that. That quote was from a really good discussion on the meaning of life (I wasn’t a participant)link to discussion
Finally, if you enjoy reading, you might find some solace in discovering that you are definitely not the first to ask these questions. It appears that they have been asked since the dawn of time. If you enjoy the modern absurdist angle on it, there are several great and hilarious books that can lighten the weight that is on your shoulders by basically making fun of it. My suggestions would be The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, The Sirens of Titan (as another person mentioned), and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. (A super short intro, with more God references than usual, to the genre would be “The Last Rites of the Bokononist Faith” by Vonnegut.) They lovingly mock the human existential crisis in such a way that you can’t help but laugh at yourself and the energy you’ve put into resolving these questions that have demolished the greatest thinkers our species has ever known.
Sometimes, when I start down this path again about finding the meaning of life, I remember all the incredible thinkers who came before me and who were so much more well trained, educated, and skilled than I am and yet they too failed to provide the answers to these questions. So then I laugh at my arrogance, in thinking that I would solve the eternal riddles of existence, and go on with my day again, trying to bring meaning and memories to the lives of those around me.