In 2012 I went through what most people would describe as “an episode” or “mid-life crisis” (perhaps a ‘quarter-life crisis’ may be more appropriate in my case). Without getting into too much detail, I will say that I was having trouble being content with the way I was living my life. My job at the time involved what I considered unethical business practices and it began taking a toll on me. Unknowingly to most of those surrounding me, I was also dealing with a lot of personal issues in my day-to-day life.
Generally speaking, I would say that I have a somewhat introverted personality, so naturally I enjoy spending time with myself to think. I spend a lot of time thinking about the world’s current state of affairs and all the problems I see in society. While reading some philosophy texts, I began thinking about death, and I cannot quite explain why or how, but the idea of suicide became appealing. This wasn’t the first time the thought crossed my mind, but it was certainly the first time I was seriously contemplating it. I was in a dark place, and what made matters worse was the fact that some people who I considered to be friends — not close friends, but friends nonetheless — were pushing me further into the ground. One would have thought (or at least hoped) when your friend or member of your community is down, you should try to help them up, not keep kicking them while they’re hurt. In hindsight, I’m glad this happened because I learned an important lesson which reminded me of a proverb I once read, “Be careful who you call your friends. I’d rather have 4 quarter than 100 pennies.”
I’ve always had trouble trying to live a balanced life, I often found myself bouncing from one extreme to the other and selfishly consuming (sometimes in secret) whatever was deemed “cool” or popular to try and extract as much pleasure from what society told me was, in one way or another, the purpose of life.
Lucky for me, the person whom I least expected to help me out of my situation was there for me. This person doesn’t even know the extent to which they helped me, which makes me so much more grateful to have them in my life — particularly at that low point. I’m still not quite sure how to show my appreciation.
From that day forward, I changed a few things in my life. The most significant for myself was that I quit my job (literally, the next day) and let go of one of the only material possessions which I thought brought me joy. Both were very difficult decisions for me to make, but I felt it was necessary so I can have a clear conscious. “Am I doing this for myself, because I think it’s right? Or to please/impress someone else?” is what I constantly ask myself. It always amazes me how some of the most impoverished people in the world, with practically nothing lead such content and seemingly happy lives. They never take anything for granted and enjoy the simple things in life. Unsurprisingly, they are also the most kind hearted and caring of people — even to complete strangers. Anyone who has had the opportunity to visit rural areas in Northern/Western Africa knows exactly what I’m taking about. That’s what I wanted, that same level of contentment. I no longer wanted to pretend to be happy by basically trying to impress others. And so began my journey on finding what actually makes me happy. So I began reading a lot and did my best to be very conscious about the choices I make, even the small ones. And as it turns out, those are actually the most important!
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
When the declaration of independence was drafted by Thomas Jefferson, “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” was actually borrowed from John Lock and it originally said something like, “Life, liberty and property”. However, this was amended to read “Life, liberty and the pursuit -and attainment – of happiness” instead.
But when writing the declaration of independence, Jefferson (who was a philosopher) took out the “attainment” part, perhaps insisting that happiness is not something that we could actually have. It’s just something we can pursue. This reminded me of a line my friend had mentioned from the movie “Pursuit of Happyness” with Will Smith:
“It was right then that I started thinking about Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence. The part about our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And I remember thinking… how did he know to put the “pursuit” part in there. That maybe happiness is something that we can only pursue. And maybe we can actually never have it.”
I personally think happiness can only be measured at the end of one’s life. Naturally, everyone will have their ups and downs throughout life, so it doesn’t make sense to try and measure happiness at any specific moment. This is especially true, because circumstances can sometimes change in an instant and what you perceived to be good can in actuality turn out to be bad, and vice versa. But when a life comes to an end, that is truly the only time you can determine whether someone has lived a happy/fulfilling or a sad/wretched life. Everything we do is inevitably because we want to be happy. However, it’s quite ironic that nobody really knows why they want to be happy, “I just do” is what most people will say. And doesn’t that sound like an end in itself? That what we really strive for is eternal happiness despite the possibility that it may not even exist?
In my opinion, the closest we can get to real lasting happiness in this world is that derived from helping others. The word “pleasure” was initially used in the English language to describe joy which only came as a result of helping/pleasing other people, and I can honestly say this has been the only consistent thing throughout my life. There’ s just something about putting a smile on another person’s face just makes us feel fuzzy inside as humans. So by helping others, you’re also literally helping yourself. And when I say help someone, I mean genuinely doing something just as a random act of kindness. Not doing something kind, but also secretly expecting praise or something else in return — and only you can be a judge of that.
To those who actually suggested I should commit suicide when I was going through a difficult time, perhaps because I became a burden, I say thank you for helping me reflect upon my life in such a way. And I will also quote rapper T.I. in saying, “I know I’m the shit cuz i totally bounce back and recover from a pitfall.” I have a deep amount of love for my family and friends, and I’m so thankful they were patient with me. Unfortunately this isn’t a sentiment I express as often as I should.
Suicide is never the answer. We did not have a choice in our physical existence, and similarly, we shouldn’t be able to decide when we depart. For perhaps we are serving a greater purpose of which we are ignorant. No one can say for certain, but that is a possibility at the very least.
So while we search for meaning and happiness in this life, let us not be deceived by materialism. Let us learn to take our tight grip off of traditional capitalism and realize that money isn’t everything. Instead, let’s look at the benefits of smart capitalism. Rapper Fabulous said, “Money can’t buy me happiness, but it’s a damn good down payment.” This statement really sets the alarms off in my head because it rings so much truth about the reality of wealth. Learning to live a balanced life and differentiating between needs and wants is of the utmost importance to keep yourself grounded. It’s a sad reality that thousands of children are dying every day from malnutrition in impoverished countries, while at the same time just as many are suffering from obesity in more developed countries. This is an example of imbalance. We should focus on on trying to find what makes us truly content rather than trying to impress or please others to make ourselves feel good (extracting joy by exploiting the happiness of others). Don’t be fooled by the flashy and fluffy things in life because there’s more to it than what appeals to the naked eye. Let us strive to see things for what they are, and not what they appear to be. There’s nothing wrong with pampering yourself a little, but be mindful of why you’re doing it and always remember those less fortunate than yourself.
“I’m on the pursuit of happiness and I know,
everything that shines ain’t always gonna be gold…”
– Kid Cudi
There are a lot of ways to get lost. Just because something is perceived to be good, doesn’t mean you can’t lose yourself in it. There’s nothing wrong about swimming in the ocean, but if the ocean is all you see, and you get so deep into it that you lose sight of shore… you drown.