People have struggled with the meaning of life for thousands of years. One of the best expressions of that struggle is in Ecclesiastes, chapter 3, verses 9-11.:
What advantage has the worker from his toil? I have considered the task that God has appointed for the sons of men to be busied about. He has made everything appropriate to its time, and has put the timeless into their hearts, without man’s ever discovering, from beginning to end, the work which God has done.
That passage tells me that it is common for people to not get the big picture. The why of why we’re here, the what of what we’re supposed to do, thinking that there is some plan for us. It’s a tricky picture, and may make you think there is no point to it all.
But We’re Human
Being human means we have an amazing one-two punch: self-actualization, and self-determination. We can discover who we are, and we can decide what we shall do. We may pursue whatever we so desire to pursue.
The Pursuit of Happiness — It’s in the Constitution
If pursuit of happiness is in the Constitution, you might think that it’s a fine thing to do. But that phrase, “Pursuit of Happiness”, was a compromise from the original, “Ownership of Property.” In the haggling over slavery during the constitutional convention, that phrase implied that owning slaves was fine and dandy, so abolitionists wanted it struck. Pursuit of Happiness was put in its place.
I do not believe the founding fathers wanted us to chase joyful distractions during our waking hours, just as I don’t believe they wanted us to own military weapons with large capacity clips. They wanted us to lead responsible lives if given the opportunity to decide our own beliefs. And I am certain that chasing joyful distractions is fun and important, but it won’t bring lasting happiness. Joyful distractions fade from sight like shooting stars, and you must search the heavens for more and more of them.
A State of Permanent Happiness Cannot be Found with Fun Alone
Pursuing joyful distractions can not lead you to a place where you will always be happily distracted. That sort of fun is fleeting. It is not a lasting happiness. It’s important, but will not fulfill you.
Lasting happiness requires three things:
- Something to do
- Something to love
- Hope for the future
It works especially well if we care about the something, and our hope involves that same something in the future. For instance, caring for your family or friends gives you plenty to do, involves lots of love, and will develop in the future based on the care you provide.
A job that helps others improve their own lives, or helps the community, can also fulfill the three elements of happiness.
The trick about being human is that the self-determination is our gift that allows us to attach meaning to our lives, and to choose activities that support that meaning. For instance, I am a father and husband. I believe part of my purpose here on earth is to help raise my children, and share in their life. I am meant to do that.
You May Not Know the One, But You Get to Choose the Other
Like the author of Ecclesiastes, you may not ever understand God’s reason for giving you life. That may be frustrating, or baffling, or even discouraging. But we were given that one gift — free will — for good reason: that we may decide a meaning of our own.
You may decide that your life is meant to provide yourself with shallow or selfish pleasures. If you do, then you may feel unfulfilled at some point in your life.
But if you decide that your life is meant to connect you more closely with your family, friends, or community, you experience a deep and lasting happiness from the good work you accomplished, and from the gratitude and favor returned by those you have helped.