Lola and Zoe, the blog, is taking a turn for the serious today as I ponder the meaning of life (blog style).
In the past few months, I've been thinking a lot about the meaning of life, and I have all the usual questions. Why am I here? What is my purpose? Why are other people so hard to understand? What is the meaning of all this?
When I was younger (I mean even as recently as eight or nine years ago), I was really quite self-centered. I thought in terms of what was best for me and people that I directly interacted with. I didn't feel a responsibility to the larger whole. I had a life philosophy where I thought "What am I getting out of this?" And honestly, I wasn't so grateful. I felt like I deserved everything that I had because I worked really hard for it. If people didn't have what I had? Well, they should of made better decisions! But, as I've grown older, I've come to several conclusions. The big conclusion is that the meaning of life is to serve others.
It's pretty imperative that I explain that I think serving others is also self-serving. You see, living like "it's all about me" did not bring me happiness. I believe that if you want to be happy, you must think of others. This works on a small scale (thinking about your family's needs above your own), but it works on a much larger scale too. Sometimes, you need to make a stranger's needs your top priority for the day. If you are the person that can help someone else, and you choose to use your time that way, you just did something incredible for the world; maybe you did something that no one else could do. And that means that on that day, for that person, the world was a better place because of you. This, alas, is the secret to happiness! The second key to happiness is being grateful. Now, I spend a lot of time every day marveling at what I have: my health, my career, my family, my home, and I am really grateful beyond words. I mean I literally freak out thinking about how lucky I am. Because I finally realized that even though I did work hard, I don't really deserve any of what I have anymore than the person that is without. Sure, I worked hard, but I also inherited a fantastic set of circumstances that have facilitated much of my personal success. If my fantastic circumstances set me up for a great life, and I only lived that life in benefit to myself, the world would gain nothing. BUT if I use my life to do great things for others (to help others advance, to contribute to society, to give to charity, art, and causes that helps others, etc.), then the world gains some good from my existence. And you know what? I'm so much happier feeling that my life is doing some good--not just for my friends and my family and my students but also for my community and for people that I encounter. These two things together (being grateful and serving others) equal my meaning of life.
I don't ever think negatively about paying taxes; instead, I think: I'm so lucky to live in this country and enjoy everything it has to offer, and I'm so happy I can contribute to it. And I don't ever worry about what someone else is taking or not doing. I'm happy that I can help support someone with nothing, and if a person finds refuge from bad circumstances, then I am happy for them, and I don't care if there's a bit of a cost to help that person become established. I think often about if the tables were turned and I needed help. I would want that help to be there, and so, I'm grateful for the chance to contribute to foundations and funds and social welfare programs that can be that help for someone else.
I know some people that have a really nice lifestyle, but they don't think about what they can give to society; I hear them be worried and defensive and suspicious of others, and I know what that line of thinking feels like because I've thought that way (and I'm not perfect and still have my moments from time to time).
I do feel sorry for these people though, and I do wish for them a beautiful transformative experience that gives them the chance to really help someone and feel how great it feels.
For me, my transformative experiences happen at work almost daily. I have the opportunity to help a lot of people, and I love it so much that I have trouble staying at home for a day even if I'm not feeling well! But I've also been lucky to have Brendan in my life because he is a person that really does think of the underdog all the time, and he has brought out a kinder more giving and compassionate/empathetic side of me than I ever knew was there.
He left me this in my office today just to make me smile. His ability to think of me first fills me with love and makes me want to put other people first too.
This little gesture had me thinking about the meaning of life today. So: may you be loved and give love, may you do unto others as you'd have done to you, may you be grateful for each and every blessing that has been bestowed on you, and may you serve others every day in every way that you can.
And if you realize that you've been a jerk, may you rectify it and not beat yourself up over it, and may your happiness increase tenfold because of your newish worldview.
These, my friends, are my hopes for all of us!