DON’T Live a Life of Quiet Desperation!
One hundred and fifty years ago, Henry David Thoreau left Concord, Massachusetts, because he believed it had become too noisy, too distracting, and too busy. He went off to Walden Pond to reconnect with himself and with nature. It took him only seven pages in his reflections to conclude, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.”
During my short life, I have had the privilege of traveling in more than fifty countries, and I have seen nothing to make me believe that Thoreau would change his mind today. Most people are not thriving; most people are just surviving, just getting by, just hanging on. It is, in fact, a rare and pleasant surprise to find someone who is truly thriving.
A friend recently drew my attention to a Time magazine article devoted to the question “Why is everything getting better?” The article’s author used economics as his sole measure and reason for life getting better. His only examination of our lives was economic. We are richer. We have more disposable income. We have more choices at the grocery store. We have more in our retirement accounts. We have more cars and we can turn them in to the leasing agent every three years and get new ones.
Is everything getting better? It’s a good question, but one that needs to be assessed a little more seriously than solely from the perspective of the economic index of happiness.
Allow me to offer just a few brief thoughts for your consideration.
We prescribe more medication for depression in America today than for any other illness.
The suicide rate among teens and young adults has increased by 5,000 percent in the last fifty years.
Finally, it is becoming more and more apparent that suicide is directly proportional to wealth. What does that mean? Studies reveal that the more money you have, the more likely you are to take your own life. Peter Kreeft captured the alarming reality in an article: “The richer you are, the richer your family is, and the richer your country is, the more likely it is that you will find life so good that you will choose to blow your brains out.” Economics is clearly not a good measure of happiness.
Yes, we have more material possessions than ever before, but to directly conclude that “life is getting better” simply because of economic prosperity requires a naïveté and narrow-mindedness of monumental proportions.
If you scratch just below the surface of the economic success of our age, there are some very disturbing signs. In an age of unprecedented prosperity, there are millions who feel that something is missing in their lives.
What’s the problem? What is missing? What is it that we need that we don’t have? How do we get it?
There is a crisis of commitment in our society. People seem unwilling to make commitments or, once made, unable to fulfill them. But where is the connection between the “crisis of commitment” and the suicide, depression, and quiet desperation of our age?
As great as this crisis of commitment may seem, it is secondary to a more fundamental problem. Most people sincerely want to fulfill their commitments. People don’t get married to get divorced. People don’t fail to keep resolutions because they want to fail. The crisis of commitment is the result of a far more serious crisis of purpose.
A great purposelessness has descended upon modern civilizations. People at large have lost any sense of the meaning and purpose of life; and without an understanding of our own purpose, there can be no true commitment. Whether that commitment is to marriage, family, study, work, God, relationships, or the simple resolutions of our lives, it will be almost impossible to fulfill without a clear and practical understanding of our purpose. Commitment and purpose go hand in hand.
Commitment is the logical and natural response that follows from an understanding of our purpose.
Everything in our lives is either pursued or rejected according to whether or not it will help us, and others, fulfill what we perceive as our purpose.
Someone who makes money his goal in life accepts or rejects everything according to whether or not it will help him achieve that goal.
Someone who makes pleasure the goal of her life accepts or rejects everything according to whether or not it will help her achieve her goal.
In the absence of a genuine understanding of the meaning and purpose of our lives, we substitute it with shallow and superficial meaning. The human person cannot live without meaning and purpose.
When we embrace our purpose, when we start pursuing the-best-version-of-ourselves, we have more clarity when making decisions, we make better decisions, and our lives begin to overflow with a new energy and enthusiasm.
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