I stumbled across a writing prompt the other day that really spoke to me. It featured the following quote:
“I am going to tell you a secret. Everything is about wanting. Everything. Things happen because of people wanting. Watch closely, and you’ll see what I mean.” ~ David Mitchell
In college, I spent two semesters on our campus newspaper’s editorial board. One semester, the editorial page editor was one of those philosophizing types. He liked to write editorials that, as someone who worked in newspapers professionally for eight years can now say, had no business on the pages of an editorial page, even for a campus newspaper. In addition to the opinions on local ordinances and racial relations on campus, he liked to write about topics like “What is the meaning of life?”
Being a college student, I thought this was just grand. I remember a conversation about the topic in the Rathskeller, a bar with food and pool tables in the basement of the Student Center. We had beers (well, he had a beer — I didn’t touch the stuff until my mid-20s, I thought it was gross) and talked the kind of talk reserved for college students and philosophers.
He posed me the question, a question he had previously posed to just about anyone who would listen as he researched the piece, and then was stunned at the ease I used to answer the question: What is the meaning of life? The meaning of life is happiness.
A decade later, and I still agree with the beer-hating college student I was, because what is life if not “doing what makes you happy”? In relation to Mitchell’s quote, isn’t doing what makes you happy simply doing what you want? Life is full of choices, and even if you have an agonizing one to make, how you ultimately decide to proceed is what you want to do.
Remember the episode of “Friends” where Joey spends the 22 minutes of the show trying to convince Phoebe that there is no such thing as a selfless good deed, that everything we think we do selflessly is just an act that makes us happy or that we want to do? It’s like that. Even if Phoebe hadn’t gotten joy out of getting her friend on television, she would have gotten joy in proving her friend wrong.
Consider the “selfless” things you think you do. You have children, and they make you so happy, and you’re amazed at the selfless love you feel. But you wanted kids. You wanted that experience, whether to grow your family, to have someone to care for you when you’re old, because children make you happy, because you wondered how your DNA would match with your spouse’s.
You cart those kids around to soccer practice and day camp and after-school activities to the point where you feel like taxi cab, but in the end, your offspring develops into a well-rounded adult with experiences and interesting things to say. You’re not selflessly playing taxi — you’re playing it because you desire the eventual outcomes of it.
You donate to charity, because the organization is one you support. I give to Autism Speaks, to Planned Parenthood, to the Human Rights Campaign, because I want each of those groups to achieve their respective goals. I might lose $30 in the process, but I’m gaining knowledge that I’m supporting a cause much greater than my lil Midwestern life.
You spend entirely too much time in the office, because of the money it earns you, because of the fun you can have with said funds, or maybe because you believe in what you do and enjoy your day-to-day tasks. Sure, who wants to be in the office at 8 a.m. Monday morning, but it’s better than the alternative of working elsewhere or not working at all. So you opt to keep things the same.
I’m not saying any of this judgmentally. I think it’s wonderful that we have the freedom and ability to have the lives we have. We are not always happy, and sometimes, our options might seem like they suck, but in the end, isn’t it all about happiness? And isn’t that awesome?