What is the point of life? When I was young I thought about this most basic of questions and decided that the point of it all was to have fun. (It is really shocking how many people just never bother to ask themselves —what IS the point of it all? It’s like sitting down to play a card game or a video game and not asking “what are the rules?” how do you win?” It should be the first thing one does, right?)
I remember when I was a teenager, I was flopped down on the couch eating a bowl of Rocky Road and watching Bugs Bunny battle Yosemite Sam on TV instead of doing my homework.
My dad walked into the living room and said very seriously “Son, some day you are going to learn that the point of life isn’t just to enjoy yourself and have fun.”
I tried to think of what else the point could be . . . I was stumped. ”Well, what is it about then?” I asked. “What is the point if not to enjoy yourself, have a good time, and be happy.”
He thought about it and said “You have to learn to be responsible.”
I have thought about that interaction a lot. Of course we are both right in that little story. You do have to be responsible; if all you do is loaf about eating Rocky Road and watching Looney Toones you’re going to end up diabetic and sick of Bugs Bunny pretty fast. Pursuing nothing but immediate gratification usually leads to a pretty unhappy end. After all the shortest short cut to immediate total bliss is shoot heroin, do meth etc. But that is also a surefire ticket to a tour of life’s miseries and general unhappiness, for you and those around you. What you want is the right balance that leads to long term happiness.
Of course it is more complicated than just that motto —seek happiness. Afterall what about all the virtues such as helping others, activism and caring for the less fortunate, saving the world etc. The hidden paradox to altruism is that people who help others out are given a burst of happiness at having done a good deed. Altruism ends up being not totally altruistic! We need to strike the right balance between looking out for ourselves, and caring for others. I believe that being happy actually does both.
Check out the work of psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky — the methods of increasing happiness are surprisingly simple. Here is one method, it’s a very simple assignment. Try this, get a pencil and paper and write down 3 things that you are grateful for. (If you get carried away and want to write more go for it. Maybe try 108 things it is considered the number of abundance in Buddhism and Hinduism.)
It is Thanksgiving after all. Maybe we should use this holiday to do a little more than just stuff ourselves with mashed potatos. Psychologists who study the science of happiness have found that the simple act of taking a moment to be grateful, to express gratitude for what you have in life leads to an immediate and measurable burst of happiness. And guess what, when you are happy it radiates outwards, and effects those around you in a positive way. So in a surprising way— your happiness can help make the world a slightly better place, and in the end isn’t that what it’s all about?