Happiness and the Meaning of Life
Happiness and the Meaning of Life
“I just want to be happy!” A statement I hear quite often. I usually respond by saying: “Yeah, good luck with that!” My intention is not to come off as a smart-aleck or to be unhelpful. Quite the opposite in fact. I respond this way to highlight how this wretched statement sets people up for nothing but misery and despair.
The fact is, there’s no such a thing as happiness; well, not in the way that people generally mean when they make this statement. What they’re trying to say is that they wish to live in an illogical and impossible state of perpetual safety, satisfaction, adventure and pleasure. “Yeah, good luck with that!” Let’s consider the following illustration: Everyday, Life delivers a box of food at your door:
- Some days, let’s say 10% of the time, it’s filled with your favorite delicious foods (sans calories of course). This is what most people call “being happy.” When this happens, cherish it with everything you have because this type of happiness is temporary. It only lasts for a short while and then you’re hungry again.
- Most days, let’s say 80% of the time, Life leaves us a box of tasteless boiled chicken and rice. This may be necessary for our survival, but it’s dull, sad and disappointing. It certainly doesn’t make us happy.
- On less fortunate days, the remaining 10% of the time, your doctor tells you that you have cancer. This is when tragedy strikes and in order to make it through this kind of suffering, you have to go beyond “just wanting to be happy” because now, that’s just not an option.
No matter how much we want to avoid it, we all know that human suffering is an inescapable part of life. This is why “I just want to be happy” is a useless and dangerous statement. Obviously, life doesn’t allow us to live in a state of perpetual safety, satisfaction and pleasure most of the time and not even some of the time. So please stop saying “I just want to be happy” because it’s not only meaningless fluff but it sets you up for a dismal life. Another problem with this statement is that it’s egotistical because in voicing it, you’re focussing selfishly on you and what you alone. This statement is the beginning of a fast and treacherous road to desolation, misery and ultimately, your own hell on earth. So, Good luck with that!
Instead of wrongly encouraging people to “just want to be happy,” I embolden them to aim high with their aspirations. I hearten them to live their lives in keeping with spectacular identity-building personal values. I help people to understand why it’s crucial to live meaningful and purposeful lives because only that type of life brings deep connection with others, security, adventure, peace and joy. And by the way, joy is something entirely different from happiness.
I suspect that you’re probably wondering, “But how do I experience these amazing feelings that you describe on those days when I’m served boiled chicken and rice…, let alone on the days when the doctor says, ‘Your results are back…, I’m afraid that you have cancer…, you have 6 to 12 months to live…’ or…, the surgeon walks into the waiting room and says ‘we used all of our knowledge and all of our capabilities but your little boy did not survive’.”
What do you say or do on those days? Do you really think some “pie-in-the-sky” response like “He’s in a better place,” “Time heals all wounds” or “God works in mysterious ways” is really going to help? As an aside, I do believe in God, just not “pie-in-the-sky” useless platitudes invoking His name. Pie-in-the-sky responses are insulting, destructive and lazy. In such cases, my professional advice is that you say nothing and sit yourself down next to your friend who’s now experiencing the deepest form of loss that a person can feel; their own living hell. And then, if you dare; if you really want to help them, you’ll need to sit silently next to them and feel what they’re feeling. If you really want to make a difference, show them that they’re not alone and walk through hell with them.
There are no words that can help during times like these. Don’t even try to speak. Just sit with your friend and feel the pain she’s feeling, cry the tears he’s crying and scream out with them all of the agony and anguish that’s in their heart! Allow me to let you in on a little secret; there is NO other response that you can offer a person who’s in their deepest moment of suffering; don’t even try.
- How Do I Find Meaning in All of This?
- What Do I Do Now?
Step 1: Aim Big and Shoot for the Stars!
Identify the highest values by which you want to live your life; the values that will give birth to, and build, the New and Improved You! For example:
- • “I want to make somebody else’s life better”
- • “I want to be the best husband/wife/mother/father/daughter/son that I can be”
- • “I want to be of the highest service to my family, friends and community”
Step 2: Small Steps!
Create a list of goals not only that you could do, but that you actually will do EVERYDAY in order to feed and grow the values that you’ve identified. For example, in order to live-out the value of making somebody else's life better, you might try some of the behaviors listed in Step 3.
Step 3: Seek and Ye Shall Find Opportunities!
Genuinely and sincerely, ask God, or your Higher Power, to take off your selfish and myopic blinders so as to reveal to you the opportunities whereby you can make other people’s lives better. This part is really interesting because these opportunities are constantly around us but, due to our narcissism, we rarely notice them until we bravely and sincerely ask that they be revealed to us. Here are just a few of such value-based goals that you can actually DO TODAY!:
- Open a door for somebody
- Smile and say hello to somebody you walk by on the sidewalk or anywhere else for that matter
- Anonymously pay for somebody’s meal at a restaurant
- Pay for the person behind you in a drive-through
- Pick-up somebody’s groceries when they fall out of the bag
- Volunteer your time at an animal shelter or a hospital
- Pray for a friend whom you know is suffering
- Anonymously shovel somebody’s walkway after a snowfall
- Mow someone’s lawn when they’re not home
You get the idea…
GET UP AND GET OUT of your safe and selfish zone of inaction because the more you lie on your bed scrolling through your social media, the more you become USELESS for the people that need you.
GO DO something for somebody in need. It’s that simple. Stop obsessing about whether you’re capable of helping somebody because guess what; “It’s not about your abilities, it’s about you’re AVAILABILITY!” So, BE AVAILABLE! RISE-UP AND SHOW-UP for someone in need. So, what do you do with your opportunity now; because it’s sitting there right in front of you?
Do anything, just do something!, because whatever that is, it’s something that you didn’t do yesterday. Therefore, by definition, you just created an improved version of yourself in that brief moment and that’s an amazing thing! Even a failed attempt is a “win” because you made an attempt and that’s something you didn’t do yesterday! A failed attempt is something that you can build upon so that the next time you will fail better, and the time after that you might even succeed! Small and persistent steps all the while you’re aiming at a star; it’s all about taking small steps everyday and creating a new and improved version of you!
To summarize, begin by aiming for a star; in other words, identify the value(s) by which you want to live your life. However, making that interstellar journey does not happen overnight. That’s why you’ll focus on completing small tangible tasks, like those listed above, on a daily basis. As you perform these steps everyday, you’re making small deposits into your heart and soul. As with high-earning investments, these deposits accrue interest and over time. So, in just 6 months, you’ll have radically altered your heart, soul and character. Continue this for another 6 months and you’ll be an entirely different person! Continue along this road and surely enough you’ll reach your star that just 1 year ago seemed only a distant wish. During this process, you’ll notice that your resentment, complaints and general negativity will begin to evaporate into the ether.
- What Do I Do Now?
Connect and Serve: It’s only in connecting to, and serving, others, that you’ll make the lives of other people better. By improving the lives of others, you’ll begin to get glimpses of the meaning of life. Your child is crying; so soothe her, cuddle her and give her kisses. An elderly man waits for the bus in the freezing cold at 6 am and doesn’t have gloves; give him yours and listen to his story as you ride together. Your server at a restaurant is overworked, underpaid and an exhausted single mom of 3 children; leave her a huge tip. So you ask me about the meaning of life? Well there it is; staring at you right in the face in each of those examples and so many more that you encounter everyday.
So, what should you do? Do something! Do anything! Just do something for somebody that needs the gift that you, and only you, can give; because ONLY YOU can act in that specific moment and that moment was created specifically for YOU! And this makes your presence here on Earth NECESSARY, VALUABLE, PURPOSEFUL AND ULTIMATELY MEANINGFUL. So, just get out there and make somebody else’s life better. Go sit with somebody in their place of suffering and feel their anguish, cry their tears and I promise that you will have added incomprehensible meaning to your life beyond anything that you can imagine right now.
So Ends Theory: Now Begins Practice
This is a very powerful real-life example of what I’m talking about. In his recent book entitled “The Myth of Normal,” Dr. Gabor Maté describes the story of a 56-year-old woman whom he treated during the last few months of her life. At age 36, she was given the diagnosis of a rare and aggressive form of cancer. Her physician told her that based on the statistical evidence, she had 6 to 12 months to live. Her response was something to the effect of [fuck you and your fuck’in statistics; I have two little boys at home and I promised myself that I would raise them to be strong, kind and loving men who’ll be able to have genuine and loving relationships with their wives as well as become great fathers to their children -- ed]. In this woman’s mind, there was no doubt whatsoever that she would accomplish her purpose.
As the good doctor interviewed this woman at the age of 56, it was obvious that she defied the odds and purchased herself another 20 years of life despite her cancer-ridden body; as well as her former doctor’s opinion regarding her longevity. This woman faced her death with peace and joy in her heart and the deep-felt satisfaction of having lived out her desire to raise her boys to become good, kind and loving men. She completely and perfectly fulfilled her promise. She had no regrets traversing the chiasm between life and death at her young age.
So, there you go, the meaning of life. No one can argue that her life wasn’t necessary because nobody else was her boys’ mother and therefore, nobody else could fulfil the role that she did. If this didn’t bring meaning, purpose and value to her life, then I don’t know what could! She had the bravery and courage to transcend her tragedy. I know there are some of you who’ll criticize my argument. Good luck with that! However, do me and everybody else a favor and keep your toxic nihilism to yourself because that’s the true cancer amongst us. It’s for this reason I believe that she would have much rather died at 56 years of age having done this for her boys than to have died 30 years later having lived a shallow, selfish and miserable life shaking her fist at God on her 86-year-old deathbed complaining about how her life wasn’t happy.
Her decision to focus on raising her boys rather than centering her attention onto herself was correct. You might question my conclusion because many people might say “why the should I focus on helping others; I just got diagnosed with cancer?” My answer to that question is always the same: “What are you going to do instead?” Are you going to wallow away in self-condemnation, misery and blame? Don’t you see? This is the time for YOU to GET UP and GET IN THE FIGHT because this is the most magnificent and marvellous thing you can do. What else are you going to do with your life? You might say “Yeah but, my situation is tragic!”
If you think your situation is tragic, then try this on for size: Imagine facing the fact that you chickened-out on living the life you were meant to live. Had the woman above selfishly wallowed in self-pity, she might have died never having tapped in to her life-affirming spirit impelling her to live out her magnificent purpose. Had she made the choice to wallow in self-pity, her negative thoughts would’ve transformed into destructive actions which would’ve damaged and traumatized her boys. In such a case, scientific research indicates that rather than becoming loving husbands, fathers and productive members of society; her sons might have joined the ranks of other fine examples of drug and alcohol abusing, unfaithful, deadbeat husbands and absentee fathers. Do you still really think that you “just want to be happy?” Making the choice this woman did took bravery and courage but the alternative was nothing less than her own hell on earth. If you take nothing else away from this article, if you want to know the meaning of life; then live it with Meaning, Purpose and Value just like she did!
My Professional Recommendation:
Get out of your head and ask God, or your Higher Power, to show you the opportunities available to you to make somebody else’s life better and then, even if you don’t feel like it, get-up, go-out and do it everyday. When you focus that hard on somebody else’s needs, being selfish is no longer an option. As a result, your life will radiate love, peace, joy and yes…, maybe even some happiness!
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