This is probably the hardest thing of all to learn, and the least taught.
Living meaningfully is actually a combination of several things. It is, in one sense, your dedication to some purpose or goal. But it is also your sense of appreciation and dedication to the here and now. And finally, it is the realization that your place in the world, your meaningfulness, is something you must create for yourself.
Too many people live for no reason at all. They seek to make more and more money, or they seek to make themselves famous, or to become powerful, and whether or not they attain these objectives, they find their lives empty and meaningless. This is because they have confused means and ends – money, fame and power are things people seek in order to do what is worth doing.
What is worth doing?
That is up to you to decide. I have chosen to dedicate my life to helping people obtain an education. Others seek to cure diseases, to explore space, to worship God, to raise a family, to design cars, or to attain enlightenment.
If you don’t decide what is worth doing, someone will decide for you, and at some point in your life you will realize that you haven’t done what is worth doing at all. So spend some time, today, thinking about what is worth doing. You can change your mind tomorrow. But begin, at least, to guide yourself somewhere.
The second thing is sometimes thought of as ‘living in the moment’. It is essentially an understanding that you control your thoughts. Your thoughts have no power over you; the only thing that matters at all is this present moment. If you think about something – some hope, some failure, some fear – that thought cannot hurt you, and you choose how much or how little to trust that thought.
Another aspect of this is the following: what you are doing right now is the thing that you most want to do. Now you may be thinking, “No way! I’d rather be on Malibu Beach!” But if you really wanted to be on Malibu Beach, you’d be there. The reason you are not is because you have chosen other priorities in your life – to your family, to your job, to your country.
When you realize you have the power to choose what you are doing, you realize you have the power to choose the consequences. Which means that consequences – even bad consequences – are for the most part a matter of choice.
That said, this understanding is very liberating.
Think about it, as a reader – what it means is that what I most wanted to do with my time right now is to write this article so that you – yes, you – would read it. And even more amazingly, I know, as a writer, that the thing you most want to do right now, even more than you want to be in Malibu, is to read my words. It makes me want to write something meaningful – and it gives me a way to put meaning into my life.
– Stephen Downes