The stories that give meaning to our lives are getting increasingly f***ed

Vichar Mohio
9 min readMar 31, 2023

NOTE: This is the second part in a series on stories that provide the meaning that many humans seek in their lives.

Read a fun short-story (fiction) that starts off an exploration of meaning stories. Read it if you ever wanted to see what a combination of Jungle Book & Buddha’s Four Sights would look like.

The series concludes with an exploration of Sacred Nihilism — a future-proof meaning story.


I crave a deeper purpose and meaning in life — and I suspect I’m not alone. This shared pursuit is one of the rare things that brings together people of different religions, races, genders, and lifestyles.

Some of us can keep that existential angst at bay by becoming busier in their lives — a more prestigious job, more money or simply a more comfortable life can keep one occupied without having to think what life all is about.

But that only works for some of us.

For a wider majority, we want our lives to mean something more — simply running on the auto-pilot version of the HumanOS (concerned with improving our ability to survive/thrive by accumulation of resources and power) is not enough.

Luckily for most of us, we’ve been able to come up with narratives help us make sense of it all while also lessening our fears about the future. I call these narratives, “meaning stories” & their primary purpose is to help us understand our role in the grand scheme of things — making it easier to believe that our lives mean something.

Traditionally, there have been three main meaning stories that most of us use — I’m sure each will seem familiar to you:

1. Religious and philosophical stories

2. “Work is worship” / leave a legacy through work story

3. Doing things for your children story

Unfortunately, as society progresses and scientific knowledge expands, these traditional meaning stories are being increasingly challenged.

In this article, we examine the formidable obstacles facing traditional meaning stories. It’s meant to be read alongside the Sacred Nihilism article, which presents an alternative narrative that imparts purpose and integrates scientific observations.

The Most Important Meaning Stories & Why They Are Under Threat

As mentioned earlier, stories and actions that helped us cope with existential angst have traditionally centered around religion, work, and family. However, these pillars are undergoing massive upheaval, becoming outdated, and leaving future generations without the coping mechanisms that have served humanity well.

The primary cause of this breakdown appears to be the rapid pace of technological and scientific progress — a trend that’s unlikely to slow down in the future. Let’s explore how each of these pillars has worked in the past and why it is increasingly under threat:

The OG meaning story: Religion

Religion has long been the “super-app” for meaning stories. It’s amazing in its ability to address existential dread by weaving a meaning story that helps us feel part of something bigger (a fight of good vs evil, or enlightenment of the universe) along with some side-functionality that caters to our base evolutionary instincts (formation of tribal identities, hierarchies within these tribes).

While the evolutionary functionality plays a big role in how religion functions from a day-to-day perspective (religious persecution or exploitation by priests come to mind), no one really talks about this aspect openly. Instead, the ‘meaningfulness’ of religious stories takes centre stage.

And within this framing, religion usually casts individual humans as almost-hero like figures with unique roles to play.

For example, in Christianity, humans are considered to be created in the image of God, giving them a special status within creation. Similarly, in Hinduism, humans are believed to possess the potential to achieve enlightenment, setting them apart from other living beings (at least on Earth).

This is a problem. By casting humans as a having a central role within these meaning stories, we are inadvertently doubling down on human exceptionalism as being a necessary ingredient for meaning to take shape.

Unfortunately, as science advances and we understand more about the wider world, it becomes harder to reconcile our observations with beliefs in human exceptionalism.

Documentaries by Sir David Attenborough, for instance, highlight the intricate complexity of life on Earth; often in regions untouched by human influence. If the purpose of the universe has human-centrism at its core, how do we account for the countless species that have become extinct during our time without humans ever having even encountered them? What was the purpose of those species within this framework?

Certain other scientific discoveries about tardigrades, slime molds, and other life forms further make one question whether humans are special to begin with (source:

Some other “meaning stories,” such as cycles of re-birth/re-incarnation, often attempt the impossible: keeping humans at the center of it all, while also accommodating the rest of the planet. We then get stories of how animals are souls that will go through reincarnation and eventually become humans, who will then do the “meaningful thing” that existence is all about.

Unfortunately, the numbers never seem to add up for me. As an example, there are 100 million times more bacteria in the oceans (13 x 10²⁸) than there are stars in the known universe. If all those “bacteria souls” were to eventually become human, we’d presumably need way more stars than it is reasonable to expect in our universe.

As science continues to advance, it is likely that the role of humans as just one cog in a giant machine will become clearer and clearer. Already, we know that the reality we perceive is not necessarily what is out there. For example, our brains are constantly tricking us into perceiving a coherent reality (source:

As our understanding of the world expands, religion is increasingly unable to accommodate or acknowledge the true complexity of the world that is becoming evident around us.

In the face of uncertainty and rapid change, our ability to adapt and find meaning in new ways will be crucial to our emotional well-being and our continued survival as a species. It is up to us to create meaning stories that reflect our evolving understanding of the world and our place within it.

Hustle mania story: Work is Worship

Many of us find meaning and purpose in our work, treating it as a form of worship. Immersing ourselves in our jobs can offer an escape from existential angst while also providing resources and influence.

For a rare few, this could also lead to a lasting legacy. Consider the story of Thomas Edison, the inventor of the light bulb, who famously tested thousands of materials before finding the right filament. Edison’s unwavering dedication to his work exemplifies the “Work is worship” mentality. His persistence and belief in the value of his work allowed him to change the world, illuminating homes and streets like never before (source:

However, Edison was likely an outlier, and most of us can’t hope to have the impact he did or leave behind a similar legacy. Instead, we search for meaningful work — a grand and inspiring vision behind our actions, never mind whether it makes sense or not.

For example, even though Meta pays well & seems very obviously like it was engineered to be a money-making machine, it too needs a fancy mission statement such as “give people the power to build community & bring the world closer together”.

Another example is LinkedIn’s vision to “Create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce.”

These statements sound good, but anyone who has some resistance to self-deception has to wonder whether these companies are being serious. Does Meta truly think bringing the world together is as simple as giving them tools for engagement with people from far away? My guess would have been that deep, transformative work on the psyche of people would likely bring the world closer together (something that is likely not very scalable).

Or in LinkedIn’s case, does the leadership team truly believe that it understands value creation at a global scale (something Economists themselves aren’t usually in agreement on) to offer it to the entire global workforce?

The crazy thing about our need for meaning stories is that otherwise intelligent people will believe a story because their need for rationality is less than their need for a good meaning story.

Therefore, outlandish vision statements have become the norm, and I suspect very intelligent people working at these companies are unable to see eye-rolling jargon when they see it.

This isn’t even the problem. Outlandish vision statements can still be inspirational, and humans seem to be pre-wired to a certain level of self-deception while looking for meaning stories. Therefore, they seem to be working well & could have continued to give meaning to a lot of people.

The problem is jobs themselves. Automation and artificial intelligence are threatening to make many jobs obsolete, leaving future generations without a professional sphere in which to find meaning — (source: As an example, Goldman Sachs recent report claims that Generative AI could replace 300 million jobs!

Moreover, the gig economy and the rise of remote work are altering the traditional relationship between employers and employees, causing a detachment from the sense of purpose that was once derived from a more stable career.

In this new world of work, people must adapt and find new sources of meaning and purpose.

Do it for the children: A story about the next generation

Given that death and the slow breakdown of biological processes seems to be an inevitability, having progeny becomes critically important to the survival of the species. This method of ensuring survival is so strong that we often view the child-parent relationship as something nearing mystical/sacred status.

This is very likely a very good thing, I’m sure species that did not treat this bond as special were unable to survive through the eons.

The side-effect of this however is that instead of being viewed for what it is (a very good solution to avoid species death), children are often viewed through a rose-tinted glasses as the reason for life itself. (Yes — I know parents will disagree with this, because they feel their purpose)

For many parents, providing a better life for children is meaning enough to slog it out through life. I have no problem with this. Much like the jobs situation, the problem lies in the fact that this story seems to be becoming less appealing to a wider section of society. And by the way, I have to say that I’m very surprised at how fast this change happened over the course of my own life.

Shifting social norms and economic pressures are causing shifting attitudes towards parenthood, traditional family structures. In many cases, younger people are making the choice to delay or forgo parenthood altogether. In my own experience too, the number of couples who are in their late 30s or even early 40s and have no plans to start a family is higher now than I remember from my childhood. And I’m sure you might feel the same way.

Of course, anecdotal experience isn’t as compelling as data for most but there’s enough data to back up this point as well. According to a study by the Urban Institute, the birth rate in the United States has been declining steadily since the 1970s (source: This decline is attributed to factors such as financial instability, increased access to education and career opportunities for women, and changing attitudes toward parenthood.

As traditional family structures change, people are left to search for alternative ways to derive meaning from their connections to others.


While there may be other meaning stories some of us have created, these three are the big ones I see in operation all around me — and each one is coming increasing under threat. Unfortunately, this “attack” is unlikely to abate any time soon as technology & science only continue to accelerate.

In the absence of robust coping mechanisms, I suspect that we will continue to double down on the time tested strategy of escapism: through stories, through drugs, through entertainment & through activities that make us forget the existential angst.

Let me be very honest — these “escapism” strategies work well too — so well in fact that I would be willing to invest a significant portion of my net worth into a videogame/entertainment industry index for the medium-term future.

But similar to relying on the original HumanOS of resource monopolization & chasing power, it is not an inspirational strategy. For example, think of your last Netflix binge — I’m sure it was fun, but you might agree that it would hardly qualify as the basis for a fulfilled life.

Our search for meaning is a deeply ingrained part of the human experience. As the traditional stories that have provided us with purpose are challenged by scientific progress and social change, we must strive to create new narratives that resonate with our modern understanding of the world.

Sacred Nihilism is a proposed theory that does just this. It is an improved scaffolding which has been constructed to incorporate as much change as possible, while also providing us with a chance to be part of something much grander and permanent that our individual lives.

Let’s dive into it.



Vichar Mohio

Writing about topics I find interesting & original. Usually a mix of philosophy, evolutionary psychology & technology