I was fascinated by this idea, written by William Deresiewicz, in The American Scholar, on what really matters in life. By focusing on meaning and joy and creativity and wonder, there is a common connection with the life of the spirit. It doesn’t matter what labels the writer ascribes to. He’s shared something eloquent that can give anyone pause and make us think harder. It also serves as an important lesson for parents in passing on universal values:
Look at lists of “100 Things to Do Before You Die,” and you’ll find them dominated by exotic sensations of one kind or another (“Skydive”; “Shower in a waterfall”; “Eat jellied eels from a stall in London”).
Really? This is the best we can do? This is what it’s all about? These are the things that make our lives worth living? When I think about what really makes me happy, what I really crave, I come up with a very different list: concentrated, purposeful work, especially creative work; being with people I love; feeling like I’m part of something larger. Meaning, connectedness, doing strenuously what you do well: not sights, not thrills, and not even pleasures, as welcome as they are. Not passivity, not letting the world come in and tickle you, but creativity, curiosity, altruism, engagement, craft. Raising children, or teaching students, or hanging out with friends. Playing music, not listening to it. Making things, or making them happen. Thinking hard and feeling deeply.
None of which involve spending money, except in an ancillary way. None of which, in other words, are consumer experiences.
One thing I’d add to the experiences that don’t involve material pursuits : if you CAN experience them while exploring a new culture, eating jellied eels from a stall [anywhere], then that might be the definition of awesome. The point is, look for opportunities to find meaning and connection wherever you are, mindfully and contentedly, feeding your soul. In the world and times in which we live, the possibilities are unlimited and start with an open mind and heart.