Previous part: The purpose of my life – part one (e)
The search for answers to the questions that have haunted people since the awakening of intellectual curiosity usually produces several possibilities. But just when you start getting confident about your philosophical abilities, you realize that you never managed to properly formulate the question. What is it that we want to know? Do we want to know why we were born? Do we want to know whether or not we have a purpose we must fulfil? Do we want to be convinced that our lives have meaning and value? Do we want to know what we should do to live happy and fulfilling lives? Why do we want to live happy and fulfilling lives?
Most of us have certain expectations of ourselves, things we would like to achieve. Growing up we look at what other people do, and we identify – consciously or not – certain individuals as examples. We imagine what it would be like to do the same things these people do or have done, and to achieve similar results. But why do we want to pursue these goals? Why do we want to realize our expectations? Why do we have expectations of ourselves to begin with?
The Greek philosopher Plato argued that because we fear to disappear into the nothingness, we want to achieve immortality. We look at the animal kingdom, and we hope that our lives are more valuable than that of a rat or a giraffe. We are aware of how fragile our own lives can be, but we are also aware of some unique qualities and abilities that other animals do not possess.
The notion that we should achieve more in our lifetime than a wild beast would achieve in his seems to be a natural result of our superior intellectual abilities. If we do not need to do more with our lives than the average animal, then why do we possess abilities that are much more advanced than our primate cousins to whom we are most closely related? We start formulating questions that can bring us closer to what it means to be “human”. We start wondering about the “meaning of life”, whether or not there’s a specific reason why we were born, whether or not there’s a purpose to our existence.
I suspect that these questions are not merely different versions of the same basic inquiry, and it is therefore necessary to consider different answers to each question. I would also suggest that one initially focuses on one question, namely the one about what makes you happy. (Many will protest that personal happiness is selfish. “Should we not strive for something nobler?” they would ask. The latter is an issue that will be raised again later; the reader will also find that a nobler pursuit is not inconsistent with the primary emotion we call “happiness”. The possibility of happiness also plays a key role in the conviction that life is worth the effort, however people choose to define what makes them happy – whether it is endless entertainment, or commitment to a good cause.)
Is there an answer to what makes a person happy that, if not universal, can be applied to a majority of people? I believe there is.
Now, at this point, some readers might expect a life-changing revelation. They may see in their mind’s eye how I clear my throat, take hold of the microphone and start speaking, slowly, carefully weighing my words. After hearing my magical utterances, they may imagine pulling back and muttering in awe: “Wow! So that’s what a man comes up if he spends years in solitary isolation in an attempt to find an answer! I am so relieved that you have given me these magnificent words! It’s now clear that I would never have been able to work it out on my own …”
The truth is, fortunately for all of us, much less dramatic (even though it did take me years of possibly unnecessary semi-solitary confinement to work it out). What you need is the three things that have already been extensively discussed. For those who didn’t quite notice the pattern, here it is again: You need love, and you need money, and then you need something you enjoy doing – on your own, it might be wise to add. (Good health can be added to the mix, now that I think of it). If these elements are part of your life to a satisfactory degree, you are at least on your way to a state of existence that can be called “personal happiness”, and you might just be convinced that life is worth the pain and disappointment that are sometimes unavoidable ingredients of our existence.
An extra word of advice here would not be inappropriate: Balance must be maintained. If the balance is disturbed, it will be like a magic formula that doesn’t work because the words were uttered in the wrong order, or because you have left something out. If you spend too much time making money, and you harm your relationship with the person (or people) you love, it will break the spell. On the other hand, if you warm up the bed all day with your lover, it won’t do if you tell the bank manager that love is more important than money when he wants to know where the mortgage payment is. The third thing is also essential to complete the first two and balance the whole story out. Relationships are not always simple, and sometimes a colleague or superior at work makes your attempts at earning an income even more gut-wrenching than it’s supposed to be. At such times, it helps if you know you can go fishing later, or spend a few hours plucking away at your guitar strings on the back porch.
There you have it, as you surely have always suspected: love, money, and something you do for pure enjoyment. It’s up to you to decide which one is more important, or which one is most deserved of your time. Personally, I think we can all do with a guitar, but not even Jimi Hendrix could survive without love or money. And remember, the thought that bread can quiet your hunger pains is not sufficient to fill your belly. You have to go out and find what you need; otherwise you’ll end up a lonely and hungry fool, no matter how much you know or understand.
This brings us to the end of this part of the discussion. If, however, you find yourself among a small group of people who are not satisfied with enough money, true love and a decent hobby, I encourage you to continue reading the third and final part of this piece.