Wow, that’s a big question.
But it’s a wrong question to ask.
Hmm…, why? That’s what we talked about in school today
I wish they taught you more concrete and effective things about the world in school. But anyway, let me explain. Question – what is “the world”?
This planet, and all the people on it.
Okay. Are all people the same?
No, each person is different.
Right, each one of us is totally unique, with different desires, needs and thoughts. So, what do you mean by “making the world a better place”? better for whom? better in what way?
I don’t know – safer, richer, more advanced?
Okay, how do you know that all people want to be safer or richer or more advanced?
I assume that being safer and richer is better for everyone.
Why do you assume that? I know a lot of people that are perfectly fine risking their lives every day in car racing and enjoy it, I know people that won’t like to be richer and are perfectly fine where they are. So who are you to decide for them that the world needs to be safer or that everyone needs to be richer?
I was just assuming it’s good for everyone.
You can’t assume those kind of things. Forget about the world, I don’t even know what is good for you and you don’t know what is good for me. Each of us is so different, that assuming anything about what will make them happier, is false by definition.
So how does one know what is good for him?
Now that is a very valid question and a hard one to answer.
If you want to know how to become happier, you’ll have to know yourself really well and discover what are those things that make you happy. The best way to know, is think about how you react to things – what pleases you, what makes you uncomfortable, what bores and what excites you. Those are important signals to who you are and what makes you tick. Those things are hints to the life you should aspire to live.
You mean, like the way I get excited about a new Manga book?
Exactly, that fact that you like Manga drawings says something about you. I don’t understand what you find in those cartoons, but that doesn’t matter and you shouldn’t care about what I think about Manga – this is your thing and you should explore it all the way.
So you think I should be a Manga artist?
First, it doesn’t matter what I think. You should be the one deciding about that. Secondly, you need some time alone to think about what it is that you specifically find exciting, are those the drawings, or characters or the storylines, or maybe it is something else?
Understanding exactly what you like and how to go about getting more of it, is one of the toughest things for a person to figure out. For some people it is very obvious, people usually say “they were born to do that” about them. You should discover what you were born to do and what will bring you the most happiness.
But what if what I like is not productive or regarded as important? what if I just like to play games?
My suggestion is not to accept other people’s standards to what is considered “productive” or “important”. Someone is making a very good living from drawing those Manga books, and creating the games you’re playing with, right? Is that “important”?
It’s important for me.
Right, and I guess it is important for him or her as well. So disregard what other people say and just do your thing. Many people “decide” on what they are going to be without thinking about who they really are, what they are good or bad at. You shouldn’t be a businessman if business doesn’t interest you, and you shouldn’t be a doctor if curing people is boring to you. You should take the time to understand yourself and then do what you can to build yourself the right life that will make you the happiest you can be.
If everyone followed that advice – the world will be a better place – one person at a time. No one could or should “make this world a better place” for anyone other than him or herself – if they tell you otherwise, they want something from you.
So I need to think about what I truly like?
Yes. Understanding that is a key to happiness.
Okay Dad. I’ll think about it.
You do that. The time just before you fall asleep is a great time to think about it.
That means I need to go to sleep now?
I guess so.
Good night Dad.
Good night my dearest.
Just kidding. Just make sure to read Douglas Adams one day.
That is the question of all questions, kid. I hope you’re not too tired – this requires a lot of thinking. And because it is such an important question, we’ll have to go about this slowly and thoroughly. Don’t fall asleep, you promise?
I’m fine Dad. So what is it?
Let’s start from the beginning. What is life?
Life is something that living things have.
True. But what exactly is it? What defines a living thing?
Hmm… They can move.
Right, living things can move, but what defines living things is that they move by themselves. What happens when a living thing dies?
It stops moving.
And it becomes inanimate like any other indestructible materials.
Like a rock?
Yes. And note that the ability of a living thing to move is conditional and temporary as they can die and become inanimate. An inanimate thing’s existence is unconditional and eternal. So what do living organisms have to do to stay alive?
Yes, they need outside fuel to get energy. But also look at the way they are structured. They have organs that are designed to sustain their lives like a heart, kidneys, blood and so on. Living things act to achieve something very specific – to achieve a goal.
You mean a goal to stay alive?
Exactly. Only living things have a goal they are trying to keep themselves alive. Life is the value they are trying to achieve and sustain. Now, is a life of an ameba looks like the one of a tiger?
No, they are very different.
Every organism has a proper way of action. That is its nature. A human being has a specific nature and a proper way of action to keep and enhance his or her life. Now here comes an important concept:
Life is the standard of value.
Not sure I got it Dad. What do you mean by standard of value?
Life is the ultimate goal and it defines the standard by which we judge any action. If you do something that supports your life, it is a proper action, like breathing, eating and thinking. Those are necessary to you as a human being. A bird needs to eat worms and learn how to fly, that is what is proper for it. Now nature made it a little easier for us to judge what is proper or improper for us. Every organism has a mechanism to tell it if it is doing well or not. It is the pleasure and pain mechanism. Pain tells you that something is wrong and you are failing in sustaining your life, pleasure tells you are succeeding.
So when I fall and hurt myself, that means nature is telling me that I just did something wrong?
Basically, yes. Hurting yourself is not good for you.
But what about putting that medicine that burns on a scratch? It hurts, but it is actually good for you.
You mean an antiseptic. Yes, this is the unique thing about humans, we have something even more sophisticated that pleasure and pain – we have a reason. We know that putting that antiseptic will hurt, but also that it is good for us in the long run.
That is pretty simple so far, but when you asked the question “what’s the meaning of life?” you meant to ask what is the meaning of a human life, your life. Right?
So what do you think is so different about humans?
We think. We talk.
Right. We can think and so our action is not automatic. Nature didn’t program us to instinctively know how to lead our lives like a bug or an elephant. We have awareness, choice and free will. So because man is a creature of free will, it has another mechanism other than pleasure and pain.
It has the happiness or suffering mechanism. That is the pleasure and pain mechanism of your mind. It is the mechanism telling you if your decisions are going in the right or wrong direction.
So if I do the right things to make life better, I will be happy?
Yes. And here’s your answer – Pursuing happiness is the meaning of life. Happiness is a long lasting state where your mind and body are doing well, are flourishing, and are healthy. Now, understanding what are the “right things” that will make you happy – that’s the more complicated question, but as long as you remember that life is the standard, it will be much easier.
So how can I know what are the “right things” that will make me happy?
You’ll have to evaluate every action according to the standard – is it enhancing your life? is it good for you in the long term? does it contradict any other action?
And here is the hard part – Our mind is a very sophisticated organ but it has a specific nature. The way it perceives, analyzes and understands reality is through concepts and if you understand how concepts are formed, you’ll understand what is the right way to form those concepts. This will allow you to understand, cope with and master reality that is all around you.
Our mind’s nature defines what makes us happy. It will take too long to explain why, but for now, I can just tell you that if follow the following principles, you’re more likely to be happy. Ready?
You should think rationally about everything. Experience and enjoy your emotions, but don’t make decisions using them.
Be productive and creative. Express yourself and allow yourself to experience success in mastering something.
Be independent. Learn how to take care of yourself. Learn from and enjoy other people, but don’t become dependent on anyone.
Be principled and have the integrity to always act according to your principles.
be honest and never fake reality. Evading reality will always hurt you eventually.
Treat your fellow men with justice. Judge them according to their value to you and always respect their rights.
Be proud and respect yourself.
There you go. I told you what the meaning of life. Now you can go to sleep.
That’s not enough, Dad. How do I do all of that?
That is another big question. How about we talk about it tomorrow?
Okay. Are you happy Dad?
Yes I am kid. My life is on the right track. Are you?
Yes Dad. I am.
Happy dreams kid.