I will always remember an existential depression I had when I was about 12 years old. We were on vacation in our family truckster and I was just thinking to myself for hours looking out the window at the scenery going by. I came to the realization that life was meaningless, and I just felt incredibly depressed for the next couple of hours. While I generally just avoided the issue growing up, eventually I reconciled my nihilism using the standard rationale that we create meaning by finding interesting things to do and doing them well--World of Warcraft, baking, discussing philosophy, parenting. This puts your life into a network of interactions valued by others--perhaps only those in the future--that makes your life part of a story as opposed to a random sequence of events.
There's a danger there, that your activity is actually like using a narcotic, something that over time producers less enjoyment because of its irrelevance to others; no one wants to be the guy who spent his whole life becoming expert in something later found to be a dead end, not valued by anyone. This is a nontrivial problem for academics who receive the weak signal of peer enthusiasm, as fads are just as common in academics as in financial markets, and many times I have heard people working on abstruse theory note that Riemann's geometry might have seemed irrelevant at the time, but a half-century after his death it proved very useful in Einstein's General Theory. Yet most geometries aren't so fortunate. I actually think most academics are doing this, as I doubt women's studies professors, string theorists, or those doing Global Warming research will find their output valued, but any middle aged practitioner has the equivalent of golden handcuffs and can't reject his life's work. It must have been awful to have been a 50 year old Marxist in 1989.
But, perhaps the problem with finding the right game to play well is even harder than I imagine, basically needing a lot of luck. Recently, I Stumbled Upon this interesting riff. Here's an argument that the solution may not be within us:
A light bulb sits on a store shelf for several weeks, is bought, taken home, and put in the cabinet for months and months. Alone and in the dark, in a way, it could feel that life, alone and in the dark, is a stupid, futile, pointless exercise.
When, however, it is taken out of the cabinet and plugged in to the socket, all of a sudden it becomes useful; it serves a purpose, and all of the parts and pieces work together harmoniously to serve as a conduit for light. It is now doing what it was designed for, it is performing the job it was built for. This might be the same as what can happen with human beings.
If this is the case, then the whole aspect of "creating" meaning does not work. It would be like the lightbulb taking up yoga or canvas painting in an effort to "create" meaning. While this might work for a little while as a temporary distraction and amusement, the light bulb would not experience permanent relief until it became plugged into the socket, or performed the exact function it was built for.
The question we should all be asking: am I just a closeted yogi lightbulb?