Happiness isn’t the Meaning of Life
It is time for me to grow another year older, and since I wrote last year’s birthday thesis late, I decided to write this one early. Sometimes you have thoughts going through your mind so strongly, you have no choice but to write them down at that very moment.
What is a birthday thesis? I figure I should explain, as this is my third one. I originally took the idea from Buster Benson — where he would write a yearly report with a central concept. I really enjoy the idea, but haven’t done it very well so far. I have a rather good central idea this time around, although it is candid and dark, but I believe there is no other option but to write it.
Perhaps similar to most, I was a terrible person as a teenager. Often times, I would bend the truth and find a way to paint myself as a victim — cold and distant towards the few friends I had, often anxious and riddled with neuroticism over melodrama. Brain chemistry during adolescence is a curious thing.
But this is something I have thankfully grown out of. I’ve been happily busy with both work and school, and have had much time to think during my time alone and blossom. I have been happy for a long time, and I have been content with that for the past few years — as that makes plain sense. But I have realized over the course of the past few months that happiness is simply not enough.
To be blunt and rather harsh, happiness is a selfish emotion. Stagnation and a lack of progress are symptoms of being content where you are — why move if you are comfortable? Sure, those around you benefit from having you in a good mood, but that simply isn’t enough.
I’ve come to the realization that happiness is not the way. It is not the objective or end-goal of life. True happiness — and not the temporary high felt after satisfying a craving — is a lovely byproduct of what occurs when you do when you do the right thing — when you work hard.
I am an adult — I have been for a few years now — but what do I have to show for it? There has been a growing trend in writing both academic and editorial that somebody in their 20’s is still in a state of extended adolescence. I cannot help but reject this notion for myself, personally. The difference between somebody 25-years-old compared to a teenager is abundantly larger than if you compared them to somebody 35-years-old.
There is nothing stopping me from living my life independently and boldly, there is no good reason to fester still in the wayward indecisiveness and reckless impulses that wreaked havoc on me during my years as a teenager.
The alternative is rather simple — accept responsibility. This is something that at times, I feel my peers try to run away from. To instead travel wildly to far and unknown destinations with no specific purpose, or to focus solely on the wants and needs of the self, and to anxiously shy away from planning a solid future.
Of course it is incorrect, even dangerous, to categorize only those in their 20’s as people that avoid and neglect responsibility. People of all ages, both happy and unhappy, do not push themselves further than needed for any particular task. I only mention this because it’s something that’s constantly within my sight, seeing my friends post somewhat worrisome things on social media on a daily basis — what am I to do?
The standard of living has exponentially risen for both the developed and developing world in the past century, which is one of the reasons I’m such an unabashed idealist. But what can also not be ignored is how the past century has also seen the largest amount of horrific bloodshed in human history.
I have practiced — often times badly — Mahayana Buddhism for many years, since initially coming in contact with Eastern literature as a child, and the Four Noble Truths clearly state that life is suffering. There is no escaping this fact. We’re all born into an unfair game without knowing the rules or knowing how badly they’re broken. No economic system, religion, culture, political ideology or philosophy can reckon otherwise. No amount of sincere and moral good you do throughout your lifetime can allow you to avoid it.
What should be done, then? Accept defeat? Nihilism can become a tempting mode of thought during the worst times of helplessness, but it does not help. We should not try to merely distract ourselves from this suffering, either. The inevitable should not be ignored and neglected.
Again, the alternative is rather simple — accept responsibility. Forage an identity from tragedy — the worst moments of our lives make us who we are.
Life is an absurdly rare and wonderful gift to have, even when times are often rife with tragedy. I would much rather be absolutely miserable than not exist at all ever again. Of course I will however, eventually, die and never exist ever again.
So, with this short lifetime that I have, I feel obliged to do as much real good as I possibly can for as many people as I can. To live a life where I reduce the net amount of suffering in the world. I feel obliged to explore and discover the many wonderful and beautiful things.
But this does not answer the question of how, exactly, to do real good for others? What am I even taking responsibility for? Being vague doesn’t help anybody, particularly me.
How I’m Accepting Good Responsibility:
- Go Vegan. One of the easiest ways to minimize my suffering onto others, particularly animals, is to stop eating them. Almost as important is the fact that livestock production has the largest impact on the environment, more so than any nonrenewable energy.
- Consume as little as possible. I have been anti-consumerist for quite awhile, as one of the most ignored problems in our society is the extremely low-quality of life of workers that provide us with such a high-quality of life and ease. Use what you have. Borrow. Swap. Thrift. Make and Grow.
- Research effective methods of activism. I would just say ‘become an activist’, but there are so many ineffective ways people try to change the world that I need a better understanding of what works, first.
- Only tell the truth. I do not mean I am a compulsive liar, however the many white lies, or lies by omission, that I tell —along with most people — are unnecessary and can have dangerous consequences. There is simply no need for more dishonesty in the world.
- Invest more time and effort into philanthropy. I am already active on Kiva, (which is a wonderful website that you should join) however similar to activism, I don’t yet know more effective ways to use my time and money to help others that need it.
- Foster a sense of local community. This is more important to me than anything else, and something I constantly think about. The combination of urban development and social media has caused a substantial lack of local, physical community and support for people. Naively put, I want to figure out a way to connect neighbors to have meaningful dialogue and interaction with one another.
- Work Hard. Finally, I need to work hard — beyond words. I need to push myself outside of my comfort zone, and confront feelings of difficult effort head-on. The world is in need of those willing to act courageously and selflessly, I know I am not the best candidate, but I will try my best from now on. Happy Birthday.