The Struggle for Purpose
One of the largest struggles in adolescence, and even through adulthood, is understanding the purpose of life. Especially with technology growing at such a fast pace and consuming many younger lives, is there even a purpose anymore? Trivial sources of entertainment and high standards of living have caused human civilization to shift their mindsets away from survival, and towards want. Desire. Greed. Ambition. These are the values that seem to form our society.
From the first day of school, children are taught to reach for a goal, and that goal is success. What is this success? It’s what adults and society expect of children nowadays. This success is “only” achieved through higher education. College. As children reach middle school, they begin their mission, they drive towards that college, their eyes set straight on that path. Much of this influence comes from parents, especially parents of affluence. As Valerie Strauss points out in the Washington Post, children who are raised in privileged environments feel more pressure from others of the same status and their parents to attend a top college, this is due to competitive surroundings(3). This results in a future of people without morals, with only the concept of winning. The need to succeed in wealthy areas fuels delinquent behavior such as lying, cheating, and stealing, as well as depression. In fact, “Two high schools in Palo Alto have a 10-year suicide rate between four and five times the national average” (3) due to the concentration of wealthy Silicon Valley employees. Internal and external pressure to be rich not only results in unhappiness at an early age, but dims the passion and curiosity that children should have.
This brings on the question, is success in life determined by wealth? By attending a top college and becoming wealthy, the emotional mindset of an individual does not seem very healthy. And which is more important, wealth or health? Maslow’s hierarchy stresses health. A psychological system created by Abraham Maslow, the hierarchy is used as a basis for human development. The first stages that must be achieved according to Maslow, are basic needs such as shelter, health, food, etc. Therefore, before one can even think about wealth, basic health must be met first (2). However in another standpoint, economists and financiers who devote their lives into the art of investing measure success on what is realistic. While everyone dreams of mansions and Ferraris, for the average person, their highest success is financial stability, shelter, and raising a family. The American Dream. But, is there anything TO a life like that? One still needs a certain amount of wealth to attain this “success” and the standards of this day and age have only gone up. This pattern affects Maslow’s hierarchy as well. As standards of living, and the implementation of material goods in basic life has increased, to many people who desire these material goods, achieving the first few stages of Maslow’s hierarchy is more difficult than ever.
Putting weight on wealth and materialism cycles back to the affluent yet emotionally unhealthy upbringing of the next generation, who will go on to repeat it. Therefore, if the only mode drilled into our brain is work, then where does our life go? Is there a point where it just stops? We work towards a top college, once in said college, we work to achieve high and obtain a job, after obtaining said job, we work until we pay off debts and mortgages. Then what is left? 65 years old with possible health issues, and is that when you realize that your whole life you’ve only done what others expected?
Which brings us back to the question, what is the purpose of all of this? All of this work for nothing, not even happiness. Perhaps, if people could just think about it differently, if people were brought up in different mindsets, for example, in the Hindu religion, they believe in rebirth. Each life, their purpose is to free themselves of any blemishes and inconsistencies, until they become whole (4). Their soul is born again and again until it reaches a state of delusion, transcends others, and is complete. Yet, bringing back Maslow’s Hierarchy, to reach fulfillment and personal growth such as this, you must make your way up the hierarchy. Conflicting philosophies, but they still work for whichever an individual believes.
So what is the purpose? Is there just one? Is the purpose to cleanse yourself as the Hindus say? Is it to achieve personal fulfillment through working your whole life? Because as mentioned above, once you get to that ripe age of 65, what else is left for you to do but waste away and think of all that could have been? Perhaps if people lived to think of their life as being happy rather than successful, hierarchy wouldn’t be necessary. While a psychologist may create a formulaic response to human behavior, humans are much more fluid than that. We see the effects of measuring life by success everyday, we see the stress school puts on children, the pain and unhappiness of a “successful” job on an adult. I know so many people who live their life everyday as a routine, who don’t enjoy what they do. This is a waste of a life, if nothing else counts, the least a person should do is to find happiness, and with society continuously following hierarchy, happiness doesn’t seem likely to come.
The reliance on money and material causes the majority to play their life safe, to drift listlessly among the other wasted lives. This idea isn’t new, in Ancient Greece, they believed that in the Underworld, there was a section for the souls who did nothing. No crimes were committed, but nothing good came out of their lives either, those souls are destined to drift endlessly in the Fields of Asphodel until they waste away (1). Therefore, working your way through life doesn’t DO anything, nothing is accomplished. The few Steve Jobs out there will find their way, but for the rest of us, if making a difference in the world isn’t our purpose, then at least we should make a difference to ourselves. The biggest lesson people tell is to take risks in order to not regret chances never taken. If so many people are reiterating this ideal, doesn’t that ring an alarm that it must be true? So instead of emphasizing greed, ambition, and wealth, parents, schools, and adults must continuously remind and show the upcoming generations that they must have a purpose, because ultimately every goal is powered by the desire for happiness. Whether it is achieved through working your way up a hierarchy, or discovering a talent, everyone’s purpose is dependent on what they need to be happy, and forcing societal ideals on individuals results in the opposite effect.
What’s to say a new philosophy or way of approaching life can’t be implemented? Taking a look at the popular ideal of wealth, we realize that the underlying notion isn’t bad at all. It is fueled by a desire to be happy. Ultimately, everything in life is. People nowadays see happiness as being synonymous to having a beach house in the Bahamas or a private jet. But what if happiness could be taught to be found in other aspects of life. What if, say, instead of instilling competition and greed in children, society taught children to find what they love. Instead of extinguishing the genuinity and desire to learn, we cultivate it into a purpose. And I know, people “claim” they do that now, but their actions don’t reflect their words. Cultivating the love of learning is not spending multiple Saturdays taking a four hour test to get into a top college. Cultivating happiness is not companies feeding on the desperation of high schoolers by creating programs to write their college applications. No more of adults complaining about hating their jobs, no more of the negativity when a child wants to escape the norm. If the next generation is taught to experience and find their own happiness through positive behavior and role modeling, perhaps more people would have a purpose.