I’ve been learning a hard lesson lately, so I thought I’d share:
As a society there is a trend that is almost so pervasive that we can’t remember any other way of life. In fact unless you are a reader who loves books set before 100 years ago, it may not even occur to you that there is any other way of life.
We work for the weekend. We Americans will do anything to protect our “me time,” our “down time.” This down time is usually focused on “vegging” or some form of entertainment. Amusement offers momentary relieve from the worries of life. Amusement literally means “a state of not thinking.” Our whole goal of working is often to buy the ability to get to the entertainment. The problem is that the thrill, or the joy, or at least the moment of relief only lasts for the moment we are amused. As soon as it is over, the feelings of happiness dissolve. Often downright despair kicks in Monday morning when the daily grind comes crashing back into reality. Musing about our troubles ramps into overdrive and becomes worry and obsession, anxiety and fear.
In contrast, longer lasting happiness is produced by meaningfulness. Instead of entertainment which is meaningless, we need to engage in meaningful thought and activities. Getting involved in things that are meaningful to us is a step in the right direction. Getting involved in things that are meaningful to our community and society as a whole is even more important. Loving others and making connections offers a longer lasting joy. When we are in pain, our reaction is often to focus on our own happiness when the actual answer is to get outside of ourselves and focus on building something more than our tiny kingdom of self. When the joy (or toil) of the moment is over, a lasting feeling of satisfaction remains.
This may seem obvious for an extrovert. They enjoy connecting with people. But even for them if connecting with others is done for self-gratification, then the joy dissipates as soon as the crowd leaves. Meaningful activities are only beneficial in the long term if those activities are focused on building up others, building up society or our world.
Getting involved in meaningful connections may seem like torture for an introvert. However, meaningful connections don’t have to take place in crowded sanctuaries. One on one is where some of the most meaningful connections are made. Meaningful projects don’t necessarily involve getting up in front of people. In fact some of my most meaningful activities are done in solitude. The point is to serve someone else, the greater good. There are many ways that we can use our strengths in order to benefit others.
As long as we as a society continue to focus on the joys of amusement, we will continue to miss the deeper, more lasting joys of meaningfulness. As long as duty, honor, and character are seen as the antithesis of joy, we’re going to need a whole heap more prescriptions. Meaningfulness cannot be bought at a pharmacy. Joy cannot be found in checking out.
As long as we continue to entertain our children in their time off, they will miss the joys of work and the feelings of satisfaction that come with it. Their imaginations and creative power will be crushed. Innovation will be limited. We’ll have a society of basement dwelling pseudo-adults. The earlier we can involve them in meaningfulness, the happier and more satisfied their lives will be–the better off our whole world will be.
Entertainment isn’t bad, but when it replaces meaningfulness it can have deadly consequences both individually and as a society.
What am I doing today that is meaningful? That is my summer break question.