07/20/2011 09:05 am ET | Updated Sep 19, 2011

The Bankruptcy of 'Just Being'

"Just being" is just fine -- some of the time.

There is a vast difference between "just being" as part of a life proudly lived and "just being" as a complete philosophy of life. As the former, it makes perfect sense. As the latter, it is bankrupt.

It is understandable why a New Age marketer or Eastern guru would want to sell you "just being" as the highest ideal or the healthiest lifestyle. "Just being" is easy to understand and reminds us of carefree days and vacations from effort. It's just not very real or very impressive.

I doubt that disciples of "just being" believe that life is really all that simple. I doubt they believe that it is a simple matter of getting over being beaten by your parents, deciding whether or not to be for a war your country is fighting or knowing how to respond to your daughter's tears of sadness. Still, they love to say, "Just be." It comforts them when something unfortunate happens and provides excellent cover for their baser actions. What a flexible, appealing philosophy!

In noimetics we teach about meaning opportunities and meaning investments and suggest that "just being" is one lovely meaning opportunity -- among many other important ones. To turn "just being" into a complete philosophy of life -- as opposed to one opportunity among many -- is a careless way of being. The company you work for does something outrageous. Just be? Your leader vilifies some helpless group. Just be? Really?

It isn't so hard to distinguish between when "just being" makes sense and when "making meaning" makes better sense. It is fine to "just be" as you sit at a café table and watch the world go by. It is less fine to sit there if you are needed at home. It is fine to "just be" as you sit on a bench by the pond and watch the ducklings paddle by. It is less fine to sit there if you've spent the last six months avoiding writing your dissertation. These are easy differences to understand, aren't they?

The philosophy of "just being" is seductive because you can have a rich psychological experience of meaning when you are "just being." You may feel at one with the universe, happy and at peace. This only proves that what we are after in life is not a series of psychological experiences but something more: the felt sense of making meaning. This is a core principle of noimetics, that a psychological experience of meaning is not life's highest goal. Making meaning is a higher one.

You make meaning by supplementing your everyday ability to have a psychological experience of meaning -- an ability possessed by any 3-year-old with a pail and a shovel -- with an awareness of your life purposes, your values, your principles and the spine to do the right thing. Sometimes you have to say, "That would feel meaningful, but it wouldn't be right." You learn that value often trumps meaning -- and that by finding the courage to trump it, you provide yourself with a richer experience of meaning.

It is fine to include "just being" in your repertoire of meaning opportunities -- along with serving, creating, advocating, relating and so on. "Just being" is a good and necessary thing. It simply can't be a complete philosophy of life for thinking people who intend to make themselves proud by their efforts. "Just being" can provide the psychological experience of meaning, but we aspire to more than such experiences. We aspire to making ourselves proud and doing the right thing. To achieve these goals, we must make meaning.

The distinction between a psychological experience of meaning, which is free or comes on the cheap, and making meaning, which is an earned event, is a core distinction in the philosophy of noimetics. Disciples of "just being" aren't very interested in fathoming or living this difference. They are happy "just being" -- and damn the consequences. They may not realize it, but by choosing this easy, bankrupt philosophy of life they have let themselves off the hook and civilization down.

Eric Maisel, the author of 40 books, teaches noimetics with the online Academy for Optimal Living. To learn more visit or