Saturday, September 29, 2012
When you were a child, someone probably asked you, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" Now that you are, presumably, grown up, the question becomes retrospective: "Are you happy doing what you are doing, being what and who you are?"
Having a central purpose to your life – and being able to do that thing as your life's work – is probably what brings happiness. I've talked about happiness before on this blog. I've maintained that happiness can't really be set as a goal like concrete things: "I want a nice house." "I want a new 4x4 truck." "I want to be happy." I want to work at Walmart."
Happiness? Happiness is not a "thing," so it doesn't translate very well into the step-by-step attainment of goals you've written down. Happiness isn't a thing; it's a condition. When you are doing something that brings you joy, happiness "ensues." This is old territory for this blog, but it bears rehashing from time to time.
So, happiness is not the thing you feel so much when you actually attain a long-term goal (indeed, some people have even felt a sense of sorrow or let-down when the goal was attained and there was nothing to go to work on in the morning), but rather a life-long feeling of joy when you are STRIVING in some worthwhile endeavor.
Now we return to, "What is your central purpose in life?" Maybe you really enjoy playing in the mud with your new 4x4. Maybe it really makes you happy when you do that. But is playing in the mud with your cool 4x4 really your central purpose in life? Probably not.
To me, a "central purpose in life" is something you gravitate towards, if at all possible, to earn your livelihood from. At the very least, you try to incorporate some of it into your livelihood. You mostly get a good feeling when you are doing this thing, because it just seems "natural."
Are we born with come sort of "purpose" wired in our genes? Maybe. I wasn't, that I know of, although, looking back, I can think of things that I have always done ever since I can remember. I envy, or used to, the people who seemed to be born knowing what they were supposed to be doing. I think of musical prodigies, like Mozart who did nothing but play and compose music all his life. Then I think of his father MAKING him do that as a child, and I wonder. I can't imagine Picasso doing anything with his life other than painting. Pavarotti. Yeats. Shakespeare. Dickens.
I read where W.B. Yeats went to medical school, even getting his apothecary credential. But he didn't practice medicine. His life's passion wasn't medicine. "I'm a poet," he explained to those who asked why. Could YOU turn down financial security because you had a burning desire to write poetry? Was poetry in Yeat's genes? Maybe. I don't think he wrote any serious poetry until he was 19 or so, so it wasn't something he was obsessed with in childhood.
So, some people seem to know what they are "meant" to do from childhood, and do nothing else. And some (many) stumble through various things until they "hit upon" the right thing that makes them sing. Or dance. Or do math. Whatever.
How do YOU find out what your purpose in life is? I'm not going to use the word "vocation" because that means "calling" – and calling implies a Caller, and this post is not about religion. I think you find out over time, just by recognizing what it is you enjoy doing. Then, theoretically, you think up a way to make a livelihood from that thing or group of things, or activity. Or, if you are a poet, maybe you just keep your day job. Dunno about that one.
Sometimes when you walk into a person's house, you can tell right away what they like to do, even if they don't seem to know themselves. I mean, if there are three sewing machines in the spare bedroom, or a bunch of camera equipment all over, or a fancy kiln out back, those are clues to what a person likes to do which bring him or her enjoyment. Happiness.
Are there books all over the house? Books tell you something about what makes a person happy. No books tells you something about the person, too.
A lot of self-help books which purport to guide you to your "right livelihood" tell you to look for clues like the above. And, if there are a lot of books in the house, what kind? Fiction or non-fiction? What kind of fiction? What kind of non-fiction? I know, I know – self-help books. Ha!
With me it is books that tell the history of some event or person, or books that tell how to do something, or how things really are or were. The inside story. The truth. On my own bookshelf you would also find a fair amount of books written by political people, too. Unread, mostly - started but never finished, since I really don't like politics except for the sake of argument or theorizing - but I have a failing in that I think one of them might have the answer. Not so far.
What do you want to be when you grow up?