In case you didn’t know, I’m in between jobs.
Largely it was a personal choice. I was employed, but was moving in an imbalanced direction. I took corrective action, but found myself adrift. Personal health is so often contrarian to professional health, isn’t it?
I’ve had the chance to speak to a lot of people during this quieter period of quasi-busyness. We chat about their dreams, my dreams, their lives, my life. We chat about what we hope to be and what we are now. Through most of these conversations, there are themes.
One of them is a restlessness that comes from lives described by the movie “Fight Club” (if you’re not familiar…a source of tremendous insight into masculinity for all of its absurdity, sex and violence):
“I see all of this potential, and I see it squandered. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables—slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We are the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our great war is a spiritual war. Our great depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars, but we won’t. We’re slowing learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.”
How people react to this disconnect—this dissonance between intended lives and someone’s current actionable circumstances, gets me thinking a lot about what it is to be happy.
What is happiness? Is it a chemical reaction in the mind, alterable with alcohol and prescribed medications? Is it sexual satisfaction? Is it nothingness…enlightenment? Is it professional achievement? Is it this ‘bucket list’ of stuff people build out?
Is it a job? Is it in having a job? Is it in having the right job? What’s the right job? Money? Relevance? Transcendent purpose?
One of my favorite books of the Hebrew Scriptures is Ecclesiastes. Christians especially get all weirded out by that. “Why Ecclesiastes? It’s so depressing.”
Sure it is—well, really, it is and it isn’t. With the right perspective, it’s tremendously enlightening. My Buddhist friends will completely understand the juxtaposition of futility, suffering and happiness. The rest of you might need a moment.
Have you read Ecclesiastes? It’s fantastic. It’s 12 chapters. You don’t have to read the whole thing, but go take a look at the first bit. And don’t just read the “seasons of life” part that everybody fixates on because of the song “Turn! Turn! Turn!” by The Byrds. Get to other parts. See if that stuff doesn’t hit you.
It’s the same stuff Nietzsche talked about thousands of years later (which is strangely apropos, given the parallel Ecclesiastical/Nietzschean idea of Eternal Recurrence).
The author of the book goes through these seasons in his life. He’s a king—thought to be Solomon, said to be one of the wisest persons to have lived. He builds, destroys, acquires, gives away, celebrates, mourns…goes through all of this wrestling with the meaning of life and circumstances, trying to find a meaning behind it.
And he does and doesn’t. He sees that, regardless of what you do with yourself, you’ll die. Regardless of how good of a person you are, you’ll be forgotten. Regardless of what you build and the legacy you leave, it will be squandered by people who come after you, who won’t even know it was you who gave them anything.
However, he’s able to distill down from his tremendous wealth and position a basic set of truths, accessible to all. These truths are independent of wealth or position. They can be gained by anyone. They’re a matter of attitude.
The central truth is this: “A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their toil.”
The theme is repeated, with other turns of phrase. Basically, it’s this idea that we have our lot in life…that we are largely powerless to single-handedly alter the course of organizations, nations and the state of the world…that when faced with the enormity of the ocean of life’s challenges—the circumstances of broken humanity at large—we should instead focus on our localized portion of reality, rather than project laments about unrealized idealized outcomes to out-of-reach situations.
Elsewhere Ecclesiastes admonishes that “there is nothing better for people than to be happy and do good while they live.”
So there is an overall purpose to life well lived. It shouldn’t be Hedonism. This is where I do depart from Nietzsche and assert that there is nobility to selflessness and edification of others and that we can induce lasting ripples into the the seeming futility of life. We can enact lasting change through being good people and ushering goodness into the lives of those around us.
But the words “finding satisfaction in their toil” are important—toil, especially.
The author of Ecclesiastes says happiness is found in our attitudes. Moreover, it is up to us to find satisfaction in our work. It is not up to us to necessarily find work that is satisfying.
That’s an important distinction.
When figuring out my next move…what job I should take…where I should live…who I should date…it’s important to recognize the significance of attitude over circumstance.
Better to be a happy janitor than a miserable CEO. Better to enrich and be enriched through the lives of a half-dozen real friends than to amass a shallow one-way relationship with a 1,000 people. I’d rather have someone who would help me move over a dozen fawning well-wishers.
Better to steady my mind and steel my resolve to find satisfaction in my work—my toiling.
Better to find happiness now, rather than wait for it to find me. Because that’s the lie—that we think the world owes us happiness. We wait for it to show up.
Turns out it’s all around.
I may have talked about this before. After two-plus years of blogging, many perspectives change, but a few stay the same. I remember realizing his particular number back in college—now some six years ago. Wow. Long time.
Do you ever get the feeling like you’re nuts? I mean, like your ideas are just way too far out there? Like you’re weird for thinking or feeling something?
I felt that way all through high school and into college. Part of it was the typical teenage angst, but I had some serious spiritual concerns and unsettling issues.
For the longest time, I just ignored the lingering questions or initial reactions to situations or circumstances—preferring to go along with the immediate group, thinking that my ideas were just crazy.
Whether it concerned sexuality or God or even friendship, I had my own flavor of things—my own faith or my own outlook on life. When it vibed with others, it was cool; but more times than naught, people would bring up points of view or political dispositions that I was flatly expected to espouse.
And I’d resist, sometimes internally, sometimes being outspoken. Whenever I did argue for a new perspective, it never ended well. I had some blow ups at church, some arguments with friends. I was different, and it was unsettling.
Then I started meeting people. One or two in high school, then a few in college, more beyond, who were wired in the exact way I was. We’d finish each others’ sentences. We’d be passionate about the same areas, approach problems in the same way, and feel the same general unease about the larger world.
I came to realize that I was not completely crazy, but that God had wired me and dozens like me for a reason. I don’t think any of us really know what that reason is. And I don’t think that it’s some sort of club or exclusive thing.
The Christian Scriptures talk about how followers are the body of Christ—that we are the mechanism that expresses God to the world. Love, charity, compassion, justice, truth, beauty, humility—the essence of God, is transmitted to the world through believers.
The Scriptures talk about how, like a human body, there are parts that serve different functions. The eyes do things the ears can’t. The arms and joints work in ways the feet and hands don’t. Each serves a purpose. Each supports each other.
There’s a notion I hear sometimes from people that describe a general malaise with the current times. “I was born in the wrong century,” or, “If only I lived back then.”
You and I were born to live now. Fully present. Aware. Now. Not just to dream of yesterday or what may come, but to be here.
And you and I were wired with personality and disposition to mirror our purpose. Our passions are aligned with a focused determination of the creator to minister in a specific function to a purposed segment of the sh*tstorm of life.
Alone this is hard to see. With others, especially others with whom we share a certain connection, this becomes easier to perceive.
Who am I? Why do I think or feel this way? Where are my passions? What need I create? Where should I go?
It’s terribly exciting to explore our part in the revolution—the restoration of humanity. Every second makes you and I who we are and who we will become. With the proper perspectives, every second grows us, every second pushes us closer to our purpose.
It helps to find others, to build relationships. It’s tremendously encouraging when you can find others of like minds. Helps us realize we’re not so close to crazy as we thought.