Ramblings about Life

Can the fulfilment of one’s life be measured in grams – or ounces? What is it to live a life worth living? Sounds like a mouthful of words that do not make sense. But surely everybody wishes to live life to the fullest, and live the best life out there. How so can we then measure the value of a person’s life? Is it by the time he spent living? The lives he has impacted? The number of laughs a person lets out? The tears he sheds? Is there even a way at all to score a person’s life by a single yardstick? What is the purpose of life? These questions are broad, most definitely. They are profound, and their answers are foreign to most people. Or at least, there is no single answer that one person can provide that another can fully agree with. That being said, this essay hopes to discover and uncover the intricacies of life.

If you are reading this, you have life. What one does with life however is less certain. Some are born in wealthy families where life implicates enjoyment and perhaps some form of self-actualisation, in the words of Maslow. Some are born in less well-to-do families – perhaps in countries such as Tunisia or Somalia, where wars and violence threaten the lives of impoverished civilians. There, life would underscore the requirement to constantly keep a lookout to ensure one’s survival. Some are born more intellectually gifted than others. As a result of this disparity of mental capabilities, we can expect different people to perceive the world through different lenses. Also, people have different personalities. The way each person’s brain reacts to the same stimuli may be vastly different. Due to this uniqueness and apparent incongruence between the minds and lives of different individuals, the answer to the Big Questions cannot ever be the same. Thus, what is required is a specific and specialised discovery of the meaning of life where each lifestyle and background is considered.

Apart from different types of lives, the stage of life at which a person is at has to be taken into account. This is because at different ages, people have different priorities. Each stage of life sees a different type of internal conflict within a person’s psyche. On the surface, the process of life encompasses several broad themes. These include survival, learning, creating, experiencing and stabilising. In life, people commonly want to experience different things, and hope for things to keep changing for the better. When things stagnate, people naturally find life less satisfying. However, worse than stagnation would be regression. When life unfortunately changes for the worse. When bad things happen with irreversible consequences and implications. In such a case, anyone would look back to the past and hope things were always the same as they were. Due to the ever-changing nature of life, it is necessary to assume change is a constant. Because of this, change per se cannot be the sole purpose of life. Possibly, the fulfilment of one’s life is relative to the broadness of the spectrum of experiences. For example, one would usually call an all-rounder a person that has a more fulfilled life than others. This is given the fact that an all-rounded person does more things than a person that specialises in only one field. However, this is not for sure, since a person that specialises in a single area would definitely gain more in depth experience in it, and come into contact with things that are not easily discovered by other people who merely touch the surface. Unless we can safely say that there is a case of diminishing marginal returns, and the more effort you put into something the less you get out of it. There is another possibility regarding this matter. Perhaps based on the assumption that the fulfilment of a person’s life is dependent on experience, everybody should feel that life is fulfilling, at least if they don’t stay in the same field and do the exact same thing over and over again. As an extension from this train of thought, we see a trend where people live more fulfilled lives when they get to move around the experiences of a field that they are especially interested in – when they get to do things that they want. Therefore, life is fulfilled when you do as many things you like, or want, as possible.

The issue of likes and wants is contentious. This is because what a person likes or desires in the present might differ from what the person would approve of in the future. For example, for a teenager that commonly seeks to experience as many things as possible in life, he might pick up a habit of alcoholism. Perhaps during his teenage years, that act of drinking might gain him a reputation for being “cooler” than the rest. However, one cannot dispute the negative implications on his life in the future. Then, he would most certainly deeply regret his poorly calculated decision to down the first bottle of spirit. So, would the fulfilment of one’s life be based on present wants, which have been shown to have repercussions that are not exactly desired in the future? Or should one pursue the cause of doing things that will most definitely not be regretted in the future. Clearly, there is a conflict between the two choices. One either chooses the reckless and impulsive attainment of present desires, or the narrow and conservative decision making process, which might very well lead to less experiences, but ultimately to more fulfilment overall. Then again, having tossed around the terms “fulfilment” and “fulfilling” around so much, little attention has been given to expound on its meaning and what it implicates. Here, it has been assumed that fulfilment refers to the ultimate feeling of satisfaction and comfort experienced in one’s life; the memories that one can look back to and obtain solace from; the absence of regret; the ability of a person to look back and say with confidence that he had lived life correctly. Apparently, the scope of fulfilment is far-reaching and complex. Despite this and our present inability to effectively measure the degree of fulfilment experienced by the lives of different people, it is safe to say that we all have a more instinctive and natural understanding about it. It is natural that people look at the lives of famous people and celebrities, hoping that their lives were as exciting and extravagant. Even the notion of regret sheds some light on the fact that people know what they should not have done, even if they cannot possibly engineer a perfect way to live. It is commonly said that people have perfect hindsight – the ability to look back at the past and identify the decisions that they should have made instead of those that they did. Then again, if you give that person a time machine, he would most probably have chosen the same “wrong” decision that he made in the first place. This is a result of the previously identified conflict between present wants and future desires. Is life, then, a period of time where a person puts more weight on future emotions or present and more tangible feelings?

Human beings are able to consider the future to a limited degree. Because of this, while we have the general idea as to which decisions are the better ones, we can never view life in its entirety. Our inability to perceive life as a whole causes us to fail to effectively measure a person’s quality of life, let alone live a perfect life. Although ultimately the best life is one that meets present wants without compromising the future and the attainment of future desires, this is difficult to achieve, given the fact that a person is rarely aware of the ripples that his actions have on his future. Can it then be said that if a person is able to foresee what would his actions result in, he can live a perfect life? If we were to say yes to this question, we would be assuming that human beings are entirely rational and place equal emphasis on the future and present. In a different light, knowing exactly what will happen in the future takes away a key element of life, which is excitement. Excitement stems from chronic uncertainty and the unpredictable repercussions of one’s actions. What makes life worth living (in the very literal sense of the word, i.e. spending time on) is the very simply excitement. Excitement is found when a person is out of his comfort zone. The comfort zone of a person is an area of experiences that a person is absolutely familiar with. That is to say that he knows most probably what will happen to the environment with each stimuli that he or another person creates. Beyond this comfort zone is where excitement lies. It is a place where a person’s security is teetering precariously. There are sufficient grounds to pursue excitement as the aim of life. However, we have to be able to distinguish the line at which pure fun becomes jeopardy. There is always a point at which excitement threatens to take away from life more than it provides. Thus, it is absolutely necessary that in the pursuit of distancing yourself from your comfort zone that you consider the possible negative implications of the new experience.

Life is a continuous process of learning. Life is all about learning how to live. The ultimate goal of which is unascertainable, given the fact that a person usually dies the moment he is the most knowledgeable about how to live. No matter how tragic this might sound, it is indeed the truth. Some people live by the principle that life is all about learning, and because of that, every experience disregarding whether it is good or bad, is beneficial to one’s survival. This is of course excluding experiences that end up killing you. On this note, even losing a limb in the process of living is worth it, as it would teach you a lesson or two about caution and about cherishing the things you have left. This is a very optimistic way to view life, and as much as it is so, it is considerably idealistic. Upon initial assessment, this seems to be a foolproof guideline to live life by, as it allows one to derive fulfilment from life even despite the quality of the events that happen. This way of life is fearless in the face of adversity. However, it seems to crumble a little when you consider the fact that life ends eventually, and all the time spent pulling through misfortune and suffering for the sake of learning would evaporate. This is not to say that this principle is not good to live by. It still benefits us tremendously as it is indeed true that experiences in the present no matter good or bad can help us to make better decisions in the future. This is of course to assume that one would have the same chance to choose from the same options, which unfortunately is unlikely. Choices are usually convergent and it is rare to meet a choice that has implications so heavy that its effect is irreversible. Even if it is structurally so, as in the case of a person receiving a prison sentence, his purpose of life does not necessarily have to be thwarted in any sense. Perhaps it is necessary to determine what is the underlying purpose behind one’s life. For example, for some it may be to help others, and for others it may be to create new things. When the aim of life is successfully boiled down to this state where it can be applied regardless of the situation you are in, there should be no fear about the implications that your actions would result in. To illustrate, if a person lives to help better the lives of the people around them, even if he ends up in jail for some reason, his life would have the same meaning as before. The key principle is that how much one’s life conforms to his desires is relative to how much effort he is willing to put in to achieve that end. Therefore, find out what is the one thing that makes you the happiest, and that you can do regardless the situation you are in.

In modern day society, the wants of the individual falters in the face of the needs of the society. This is unfortunate, for it would often appear to the individual as though his needs are not cared for. It is important to realise that to an individual, his wants supersede that of others, and he is his own world. Social organisation is undoubtedly the hallmark of humanity. It is the ability to put the needs of other fellow human beings above your own – the ability to sacrifice one’s personal gains in order to benefit others. While the needs of the society are most definitely of critical importance to the survival of humanity, it is truly solemn to see that this overbearing sense of social responsibility has resulted in a loss of individuality. People are beginning to see life as something devoid of individual purpose. In that view, we are merely cogs in the machinery of society. Certainly, I do not dispute the fact that it importance for individuals to somewhat conform to the needs of society for the benefit of the community. However, this is provided the direction at which the society is progressing towards is justified and respectable. This is not always the case in the real world. The economic “arms race” has seen many people working towards little but monetary fulfilment for the individual and community. Sure enough, such a pursuit of riches and wealth has allowed many to enjoy a greater material standard of living. Economic development has also allowed countries to improve their infrastructure, providing their population with convenience, among many other things. Whether or not all this is worth exchanging individuality for is questionable. In a different light, perhaps the reason why individuality is beginning to diminish in today’s world is that it is very much easier to follow the crowd than to take the path less travelled by. In other words, we have only our laziness to blame for the apparent loss of purpose and fulfilment in life.

Even though society does not actively impose a set of rules and regulations as to which path to take in your life, it is not easy to deviate from what the society wants. This is represented by the age-old conflict between needs and wants. If a person chooses to disregard societal demands and expectations and pursue his desires, he is bound to be met with financial difficulty. This is a huge disincentive for a person that lacks the willpower to risk death pursuing his wants. This usually does not happen because necessities for survival are almost always viewed to be more important than one’s desire to achieve self-actualisation or some kind of higher fulfilment. It cannot be disputed that both are important in order for one’s life to be the most fulfilled, it is unfortunately the case that society very often disallows a person from obtaining both for himself.

It might seem the best option to completely tear down the ideas that have stuck with us for as long as man could remember. Many people when trying to discover what is it that they really want in life first begin by trying to conceptualise a world where money was not a consideration. Most certainly, money is an unavoidable consideration. The fact that it is has jeopardised Man’s ability to think beyond the attainment of money for the sake of material well being, as money has become so intertwined with survival. How is it then that we obtain our basic necessities if we do not first obtain money? The rigidity of society and the oppressive role that money takes on is an obstacle of the progress of humanity beyond survival. The idea of surpassing the basal state of survival was birthed during the rise of Renaissance humanism, where people realised the importance of utilising the higher faculties of the human mind. The Renaissance was a period of Cultural Revolution; where people took on various skills and interests. The desire to do so, however, has seemed to die down a little since then. The reason for that would most probably be that it was uneconomical to learn more than one could use to earn money. Once again, survival won the battle against the less tangible human desires. Given that money has not only become intertwined with survival but also power as a result, it is right to assume that money would very well be here to stay. This is because the rich and powerful would always desire to maintain their status and position, while the poor would be forced to comply with the rich for the sake of survival. Thus, we should not contemplate a future where the idea of money would have been removed.

Once we recognise that money is inevitably in the picture, we will realise that it is difficult to escape the idea that we have to somehow earn money in order to live a life at all. Thus, it is undisputable that the ideal situation would constitute finding a thing that you like to do that pays you well. Another option would of course be to earn money doing a job you do not like until you decide that you have had enough living life that you do not want. Following that you move on to doing something that you like to do with the money that you earn. The latter is a life path that many people take on, characterised by the inevitable mid-life crises that these people experience. Surely, one would not wish to live half his life only to realise that he did not like it at all. Then again, is the meaning behind life all about not regretting, or being happy about the choices that you have made? It is certainly true that it is better to die happy than to die sad. However, if the meaning of life is to be as happy as possible, would it then be true that life is all about dying in the best way possible? Death is inevitable. Death is something that unites every human being. It is an experience that is common to all but yet still unknown. Death is a driving factor and a motivation – and also an end to every effort that a person puts in to make his life better. Death can come with old age. Perhaps when a person approaches the age of a hundred years, there would be less of a reason to live. Perhaps there would come a time when a person becomes tired of living, both mentally and physically. Since the concept of death is so inevitable, it is strange that nature tries so hard to prolong the death of an entire species. What would then be the reason to reproduce for the continuation of a collective that is doomed for extinction in the future? What is the counteracting driving force that propels a community to keep on living even in the shadow of death? Would mankind as a whole ever get tired of living? Death can also come suddenly and unexpectedly. Whenever this happens, emotions of indignation and grief would very often be much stronger than if death were to come naturally. Is it because the life of a young person is more valuable than the life of an infirm person? Or is it because it is unfair for death to target those that can still contribute to society, possibly threatening the life of everyone else? Death is not a living thing, nor is it rational. Man is bound by the incorrect idea that everything has to make sense. Perhaps it actually does, but we can never be sure that there is only our type of logic in this world.

Our sense of logic founded on the framework of cause and effect. A brings about B; C brings about D and so on. What if logic itself is questionable? We often take it for granted that there has to be some sort of reasoning behind why things happen. Even writing this paragraph poses much difficulty, as it is not easy for me to detach myself for the “absolute truth” that logic exists. Our brains are wired to believe in cause and effect, and perhaps that is the only reason why we think that way. Cause and effect is an effective way to think. Not only that, it is also convenient and quick. Perhaps the flaw in our reasoning is that we do not intuitively consider the idea that there might be multiple actions that bring about a certain response, or that a single action can bring about vastly differing outcomes. In life there are often too many factors to take into consideration. While there might be cause and effect ultimately, it could be beyond human ability to comprehend all of that. The best we can do is to make decisions based on correlation and probability rather than causation.

As much as death is not rational, it is very possible that life, too, is irrational. It is more difficult to discover the purpose behind life than it is for death, because life is variable and indefinite. There are no two lives that are same. There are also no two minds that think alike. Perhaps it is pre-determined to be this way. Perhaps life is a process of discovering. What is it that we would discover or discover for?

Not only can life be irrational, it can be unfair. Human beings hold dearly the concept of equity. We develop entire justice systems on the notion that equity should be upheld at all costs. We close an eye when it comes to killing someone for the sake of justice and fairness, but we despise and scorn those who kill for any other reason. Equity seems to stand high and mighty over conventional ideas of morality and human values. For this reason, when life appears to treat people differently, we go up in arms. The same can be said for premature deaths, civilian deaths during conflicts between countries, accidents, lottery, poverty traps and extremely rich people. We seem to wish for everybody to be treated the same way, and yet we do not want it to happen. We are torn between nobility and self-interests. In a utopian world, we would hope that we are all guaranteed the maximum amount of pleasure while being able to achieve more than others when we choose to do so. Fairness is best achieved when everybody gets desires of their heart. This is clearly impossible to obtain in a world where everything is so limited. Fairness, however much we treasure it and worship it, is a conundrum and impossibility. This is of course unless we manage to transcend physicality. If wealth is out of the picture, and there is ever a time when humans can find within themselves an act that is pleasurable enough to sustain them for a lifetime, then perhaps the existence of equity would be possible.

As creatures with a limited life span, one of our key motivations in life is to come up with something that can outlast us, and hopefully impact the generations to come for as long as possible. This desire to create something that will not be rendered inexistent by one’s passing is most certainly a key idea in the discussion of life. Most commonly, this desire manifests in the natural need to reproduce and raise children. We, humans, have been naturally blessed with the ability to influence things beyond our lifespans. For other individuals, this aim is visible from the desire to invent new technologies that would better the quality of life for other people. Perhaps, the meaning of life is to leave behind a legacy? Maybe. However, it cannot just stop here. What drives us to want to “exist” for a longer time through our own creations? It almost seems as if we are made to live longer than what this world allows us to. The fixed nature of time prevents us from doing so. We are limited by the three-dimensional world where time only moves in one direction. Throughout life, this common theme of leaving behind a legacy highlights the human proclivity to cling onto anything that surpasses the temporal constraints of our world. We fight for eternity. This natural human tendency to want to create something that lasts forever almost consequently suggests that we are made for more than life. Perhaps there is life beyond life? Certainly, discussion of this nature is bound to touch on religious beliefs and postulations. But for the sake of the intent of this essay, they shall remain as possibilities.

Having identified one of the most crucial engines of human life, as explicated in the previous paragraph, it is important for us to try to ascertain the implications of this, with regards to how one should live life. Evidently, our desire to leave behind a legacy underpins our attachment to the “fourth-dimension”, where time is no longer a concern. However, this sense of belonging to a different world does not instinctively shed light on how we should live this life. Perhaps by working towards leaving behind something that will outlast oneself would provide us with some peace of mind, but one would never be sure about something as fickle as time, and the events that will happen that are beyond one’s control. A person can only try his best to ensure that he will be remembered, but what is this memory worth? Our obsession with being remembered seems to suggest that we live to influence others. Assuming these to be true, it almost seems as if a life of any kind is worth living. This is because as long as a person thinks that he has impacted others, or have done enough to be remembered by even just a few, he should feel that his life did not go to waste. Of course this whole notion of the impact and influence of a person on the people around him is quite unquantifiable. While this is so, in order to fulfil this inner purpose and motivation, it is best to begin living life with the aim of impacting the lives of others and leaving behind a legacy as much as possible.

With more than 7 billion people on this earth, it is important to realise that we should not examine a person’s life in isolation. The ways that these 7 billion lives are interconnected is truly awe-inspiring and mind-boggling. Given the limited processing capacity of a human mind, it is impossible to comprehend the extent of these connections. Still, a few things have caught my attention. One of which is social organisation – the setting up and establishment of bodies of people that share the same interests or beliefs. It is amusing how some of them can be so contrived and forced – with certain individuals rising up the rungs of the social ladder and attaining positions of “leaders” of the group. These individuals then attempt to predict what the core interests of the group are, and develop a framework that best satisfies the needs of these members. It is essential for leaders to have a superior sense of what is going on, and the superior ability to know what to do, as well as which direction to move towards. However, as shown in the abovementioned paragraphs, there is no one-size-fits-all direction. As a result, there is bound to be some sort of misfit and jarring in terms of individual interests and subtle distinctions between individuals. Certainly, this paragraph is not meant to undermine the importance of these leaders. Leaders are important as the direction that they provide, and the social organisation that they contribute to, is essential for efficiency. Of course, whether or not efficiency is warranted at all is questionable.

I am personally of the view that our burning passion for efficiency and for accomplishing as much as we can in the shortest possible time is unnecessary. Also, it is unwarranted and unsustainable. With rising populations and rapidly increasing consumption patterns, it does not take a statistician to tell you that there will be a point in time when the resources of this earth will be depleted. The bottom-line is that humans are growing too quickly, and too rapidly. There is really no need for humanity to rush. It is quite interesting, that life is proliferating at such a speed, when a single life is already so complex. It almost seems as if the world is exponentially becoming too much to handle.

The power of the 7 billion people that inhabit the earth at this very moment is undoubtedly a force to be reckoned with, if there was only a person or board that is strong enough to lead everyone in the correct direction. The concept of leadership is more complicated than imagine. Some people feel that humans always choose the path of least resistance. As a result, it is only natural for the more determined and visionary people to take the lead. In this case, followers are not difficult to gather, as long as your direction matches their beliefs. Of course, this assumes that people are born leaders, and that leaders are naturally bestowed with some qualities that help them to rise above their peers. For now, we will assume this to be the situation. If this were true, social organisation is something that is predetermined, and not a result of society at all. With the population increasing at such an exponential rate, the whole concept of social organisation would evolve. The most visible change would be huge organisations with slightly differing beliefs coming closer in terms of physical proximity. This trend would threaten peace and stability if we do not find a way to set aside differences amicably. It is tempting to have one person lead the world, as that would undoubtedly bring about the pinnacle of efficiency. But as mentioned earlier, efficiency is not at all a justifiable cause. Furthermore, we can never be certain if the mind of an individual is powerful enough to govern the whole world.

No man is an island. This statement can never be truer. Nobody is meant to be alone. It is default for people to associate themselves with another. For the sake of this essay, I will assume these instances of interpersonal union to be completely heterosexual in nature. The idea of people naturally wanting to share their lives with another, and for that matter, to live with another person for the rest of their lives is intriguing. It seems almost ingrained within us to want to understand something that we are not familiar with, and perhaps that is the whole meaning behind life – to understand something that we do not yet know. The concept of coupling, as I would like to call the act of people coming together, is interesting to take a look deeper into, because it is exactly this that allows the society to function. Individuals that couple are cogs of the machine that is society. It is strange, however, that individually these units of society feel that their lives are all that matter. Why is it that people couple in the first place? One answer would be that it is natural for humans to seek a partner. Because of that, and given the assumption that humans naturally take the path of least resistance, it is no wonder that we end up being with those people that are most similar to us and have the best fit with us. It is interesting to think about the motivation behind being together with your ideal person, as mere laziness.

Trying to comprehend and make sense out of this entire problem of reality is horribly exhausting. It almost precludes the belief that we are just not meant to understand everything. This essay set off as a journey of discovery, to answer questions that have yet to be answered. Instead of providing us with answers to those questions, it has created much more questions and doubt. However, this does not mean that this essay has not served its purpose. Life is better lived than understood. And while that does not mean that the life that we live is perfect, and certainly it would implicate that life would be ridden with errors; who is to say that this life is a life that is not worth living? The views that are raised above are merely for the purpose of consideration. The questions that have been left unanswered are meant to propagate curiosity for the world that we live in. Some of the so-called discoveries of this essay are merely commonplace opinions. It might be appropriate to end this essay with some call to action that would inspire serve to inspire. But it is not going to. This is for the reason that there is no better motivation than to live life to the fullest than the motivation that is already built into your system. The least you should do is to not let yourself down.

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