In the midst of overwhelming academics, jobs, and social activities, let us stop for a moment and ask ourselves: are we truly satisfied with our lives? Could something be changed to allow us to live a more meaningful life?
No one can hand over answers to such personal questions, but thinking about them can help us mature. While we all must answer these questions within the context of our own lives, I’d like to use this space to raise these types of questions, to offer everyday suggestions for living better, and, even more importantly, to challenge ourselves to do so.
It is crucial that we consider and evaluate the way in which we want to live. We are awash with society’s influences; cultural values, parental expectations, and our own desires often guide us down roads leading to prestige, fame, wealth, and power. While these things are not necessarily bad, our motivation for seeking them out must be considered. It is generally accepted that our natural mode of operating revolves around our own needs and desires. Evolution, with its emphasis on the fight for resources, is often used to justify our self-centered tendencies. Ultimately, though, selfish ways fall short of delivering happiness. For example, if we seek great wealth, power, and fame to feed our inflated ego and repress our insecurities, we may find that these things cannot provide meaning in our lives. Or if we seek a romantic partner only for the benefits it provides us, such as emotional support or sex, there is likely to be conflict when a real sacrifice is necessary for the health of the relationship.
I argue that to live only with the self in mind is primal, restrictive, and based on mere survival. Placing other’s needs before our own allows us to experience life more fully. Whenever we question and discard selfishness in all its forms, it is replaced by a whole slew of positive emotions. Joy, peace, compassion, forgiveness, love, comfort, strength, humility, gratitude, trust, awe and contentment are the result of discarding our selfish thoughts, words, and actions. The level of satisfaction offered by selfish actions pales in comparison to that offered by altruistic ones. By questioning our self-centered views, we may erode their power and instead come to experience consistently these positive emotions and share their glory with others. When we place another’s well-being above our own, real love, understanding, and acceptance may flourish.
Think of two times in your life when you truly helped someone. They might be small events, but they still hold great meaning. What feelings arose from these memories? Could their frequency be increased? One time that comes to mind for me is a long conversation I had recently with a friend who was having a tough time choosing her own path without the support of her parents. Simply by being there, caring and offering whatever insight I could, I think I helped. She came to more fully accept the lack of parental support and find strength within herself to perservere in the face of adversity. I may have sacrificed sleep and grades, but what I gained is so much greater. Not only did our friendship deepen, but the knowledge that I met someone in their time of need also gave me great satisfaction.
For the sake of our own satisfaction, as well as for the benefit of others, we must act selflessly. And while our actions may play out in small and inconceivable ways, our impact on the world is profound. Beginning with the state of our mind, each word spoken and each action taken spreads our influence. It is as if each of our actions is a rock thrown into a lake, and its effects ripple through the fabric of society. The wave touches the whole surface of the lake before rebounding and returning to us, its point of origin. It is difficult to conceive how our actions can significantly affect society, but then again, it is difficult to comprehend how interconnected we are. Great power lies in our hands, and the question remains: what actions do we chose to take? What rocks do we chose to throw?
What we can accomplish when we act is unison is inconceivable and fills me with hope. A small group in Britain began the movement that ended slavery, and the civil rights movement ended blatant discrimination. The Wright brothers first flew in 1903 and in 1969 humankind walked on the moon. Who would have thought that possible? But we did it. So if the thought of ending poverty or genocide seems daunting, look at the moon and be inspired. It all begins and ends with us throwing the right stone.