Happiness is more than looking out for yourself

By Ben Moriarty

What is the purpose of life? Only a true egomaniac would try to tackle this timeless question in 850 words. Even more so when he uses many of those words to make jokes and talk about himself.

One’s purpose, one’s destiny and what one should do are all questions that we here at the University of Massachusetts must contemplate and answer. And it is a very important one, for it helps guide us into which specific area of study we should divulge into.

As Jean-Paul Sartre said, ‘Everything has been figured out ‘- except how to live.’

If you ask someone how to live, they’ll usually give you that beautiful bumper sticker answer, ‘to be happy.’

I will note that not every person will give you such a clich’eacute;d answer.

By holding this very original sentiment, choosing your major and your study is easy. If you find something that makes you happy, do it.

It’s easy to recognize that one should choose as an employment a job which makes them happy, for it encourages them to work and not be lazy. But also, well, it doesn’t make them want to kill themselves. And that is a very important thing to have in life. Not having that reminds me a little too much of high school.

But that is not the only thing that falls under the umbrella of what one should do in life. The meaning and purpose of life is how and why one should live, not just what to do as a career.

Saying ‘to be happy’ as the meaning of your life is really saying one thing: ‘to make sure I am happy.’ And that says one thing: ‘The sole purpose of my life is to make sure I am happy and nothing else.’

This sentiment might change once you have a family to ‘make sure they are happy as well as me.’ But it’s not hard to see how self-centered of a purpose the former is.

Saying that the main purpose of life for yourself is to be happy is undoubtedly putting yourself above everyone else, saying your happiness is relatively more important than theirs and is basically just the epitome of a hedonistic philosophy for life.

Obviously there will be some arguments on whether or not life should just be about seeking the greatest amount of pleasure since ‘life is all you have.’ But no one likes those people except the people themselves anyway. So if that’s what you think, then there’s nothing to change.

But for most people, they don’t want such a self-obsessed life. Einstein said that ‘only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.’ Marian Edelman, the founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, said, ‘service is what life is all about.’

Here is the opposite side of the spectrum, where the purpose of live is serving others, holding little, if any, regard for your own well-being and happiness. This seems almost just as crazy because if you live purely for others, suffering all the time for their sake, eventually, you might just go mad.

The question for most people, regarding the purpose of life and what one should do, is trying to figure out where the optimal spot is between those two polarities. As Gandhi said, ‘the purpose of live is to live rightly, think rightly and act rightly.’

What is right?

If we look at the exemplary lives of those who have lived before us, I think we can see what kind of life we should live. Gandhi (the guy obsessed with living rightly), the saints, Jesus, the Dalai Lamas (college kids just love these guys), aid workers. We see one thing in common: monumental service.

The people who are remembered for their worthwhile lives, as Einstein says, are those who lived for others. And it is seemingly very obvious. The people respected most among history are not the great scientists and thinkers and politicians ‘- although they surely are remembered and appreciated for their great importance ‘- but those who have lived for others, serving them, giving them justice, giving them freedom, and all that great and super stuff.

This doesn’t mean that every single person should go to Africa and starve. Every single person is called to a different life with different ways and degrees to living it. Living for others can be as simple as being a parent, as impacting as being a teacher, or as generous as being a friend to someone who is lonely.

‘A purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved,’ the great Kurt Vonnegut said.

Wherever you are, it seems obvious that while your own happiness is important, there are things greater which trump it. The way certain types of people are revered shows that deep down
, we all know what kind of life we should live, it’s just a matter of whether you want to accept it or not.

The way to a worthwhile and purposeful life is not fulfilling your own cravings, but giving yourself up to the service of others.

Ben Moriarty is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]