“Happiness is not a goal…it’s a by-product of a life well lived.” — Eleanor Roosevelt
Truth be told, Eleanor’s quote is not what inspired this revolutionary thought in my life, but I felt that it added a bit more punch to the statement when coming from “The First Lady of the World” than from a self-proclaimed confused college student. The instigator of this revelation within myself was the proverb:
“Sunshine all the time makes a desert.”
After having a stressful time in school, I had supplemented my personal research with a wave of self-help books and articles whose genres ranged from biographical, scientific, new-age, religious, etc. It was fortunate that there was such a large wave of burgeoning writers going through their mid-life crises, so I didn’t find myself at a loss for reading material. Happiness was and continues to be one of the trendy topics in research–it’s what we are all looking for and can’t seem to have enough of. Like John Lennon, I decided that all I wanted to be was happy.
One day I was thinking about my obsession with happiness and realized that life isn’t about that. All of life is beautiful no matter what is happening. We prefer the good moments, but we really would not be able to appreciate that without the bad. I’m so happy because I knew what it was like to be in the exact opposite situation and I knew how to appreciate what I had. And life is about the balance and the existence of opposites. Not only would we not be able to appreciate without the opposite, the good would not even exist without the opposite. Our willingness to feel the beauty of life comes with our acceptance of how things are.
Because of the nature of reality, we cannot really want just happiness, we want something else. I believe that that is fulfillment–fulfillment from a life well lived. That is the eternal questions–How can we live life well? I cannot say I know the answer to this since each person is so different, but some things I think are generally true. As children, we have dreams of what we wish to be or things that we feel compelled to do with our lives. It is in the striving of stretching ourselves to be these new visions of ourselves that makes life worth the living. The goals that we each have within ourselves–the dream of the champion within us–is what propels our actions in this life.
Once we can let go of the idea that happiness is something to strive towards, we can appreciate life in its fullness. Only by accepting what is can we move towards genuine improvement. The fulfillment of having lived our lives our way and to the fullest of our capabilities is “a life well lived”.