Insight Paper by SLL

What Are You Waiting For?

As grim as it sounds, we are all just waiting to die. We are born into this world with no explanation and die with no explanation. Most people seek out an eventful life full of happiness, adventures and wealth. From a purely scientific point of view, however, it cannot be argued that the fate of a man who never aspires nor reaches the greatness of another man is in any way different. Why, then, do we strive to be the wealthiest, most powerful and extraordinary human beings we can, all while knowing that we are all inevitably left to die? This question may lead us to the contemplation of suicide, the shortcut to our fate, which we are conditioned to look down upon. But what if suicide were not a sin and tragic, but on the contrary a praiseworthy act? What if what happens after death is unimaginably better than life on earth? What are we doing wasting our time waiting for this greatness?

One simplified explanation to the latter questions may be the banal saying that it is not the end result that matters, but the journey. In other words, the fact that we all die should not be the motive for people’s actions, because what is important is the present and the journey one takes throughout his or her own life. The concrete purpose of our lives may not be as easy, straight-forward, and obvious as this, but it is the best and most suitable explanation in this situation.

Certainly, this is not the way society functions today. People tend to think about the end result more than they think about the journey or the present. This is perhaps one explanation that can be offered as to why inequality exists on Earth. While there are people who struggle to provide a scrap of bread for themselves, their neighbors are struggling between picking a restaurant’s $100 filet mignon or its $100 caviar truffle salad. The gap between the income of families living in New York City’s most elite and wealthy neighborhoods and those living in some of New York City’s poorest neighborhoods, sometimes just a few blocks apart, is around $200,000. How can we live our life comfortably and carefree when there are people who’s greatest life struggles could be alleviated with just a tenth of another’s wealth? The answer to this question brings us back to a person’s strive to wealth, which is often, although sometimes falsely, associated with happiness.

Happiness is often associated with wealth. They go hand in hand. It would not be surprising if 99 percent of Americans said that if they had more money they would have less stress, and ultimately be happier. According to multiple studies, however, only about 85 percent of wealthy Americans could say that they are happy. So, we have to turn and say, what makes us happy? Is happiness not just a state of mind? It’s impossible to always be happy, mood swings occur all the time, and the average human is bound to be disappointed somehow, at any given moment. On the other hand, the average human being is also bound to be satisfied at any given moment. Of course, the moments, levels and degrees of satisfaction and disappointment vary from person to person, but they happen to generally everyone. So, then, why do we strive for something that is in nature, temporary? Why do we strive for happiness?

As David Foster Wallace explained, striving for wealth leads to tedium, exhaustion, and in some cases petty routine. “For example”, he writes, “let’s say it’s an average adult day, you get up in the morning, go to your challenging, white-collar, college-graduate job, and you work hard for eight or ten hours, and at the end of the day you’re tired and somewhat stressed and all you want is to go home and have a good supper and maybe unwind for an hour, and then hit the sack early because, of course, you have to get up the next day and do it all again.” Most American adults would say that they live their lives this way. As a society, we have been prescribed a template for “success”, of course, a very broad and relative word. Because we are conditioned to view success as the accumulation of wealth, achieved through a strenuous career, more often than we like to admit it will we choose a career that does not make us happy, but instead we identify as a way to make us wealthy. The end result in this case, is a person who lived his or her entire life being unhappy, just to be wealthy, and in the end has left no mark on this earth.

The average human has a false perception of what the end result is. No one thinks about the end result of life as their own death, no one strives to death. People would say they strive for happiness, wealth and good health. They see the end of their lives as themselves as a retired, old person, having saved enough money to live in a beach house with three maids on a tropical island. While this retired person may very well say that they achieved their goals of being happy, healthy and wealthy, after their death, will they have made a difference in the world? Many philosophers argue that the purpose of life “is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”[1], and “to contribute in some way to making things better”[2].

The problem is that humans see their ultimate goal as happiness and wealth. If we were all able to look at our ultimate goal as being death, which in context is the same for everyone, it would make it easier for the average person to be more compassionate, understanding and willing to make a difference in the world. People would not be so focused on being wealthy and happy since it ultimately makes no difference in terms of the end result. Everyone will die. Why make an effort to be the best, the strongest, the smartest, the best looking? Would it not be easier to work on understanding each other, understanding the world and discovering the beauty of humanity? So, if we were to remind ourselves that death is the ultimate event in our lives and in turn our own happiness and wealth really will not matter in terms of the world, we would be more prone to coexist peacefully. It would also be easier for us to follow Emerson’s and Kennedy’s opinion about our purpose.

Perhaps it is a little bit too optimistic to assume that everyone would suddenly be open to seeing our ultimate goal as death and consequentially want to understand the world. Many people, whether for religious reasons or out of fear, would probably not want to agree with the fact that we all have the same fate. This denial of fate most likely comes from fear of death. But why do we fear something when we know that it will happen? Perhaps it is because we do not accept the fact that our lives are contingent and that death could happen at anytime. However, like Sisyphus in The Myth Of Sisyphus, we must do our best to to accept death, our ultimate fate. Camus write,

“I see that man going back down with a heavy yet measured step toward the torment of    which he will never know the end. That hour like a breathing-space which returns as        surely as his suffering, that is the hour of consciousness. At each of those moments when he leaves the heights and gradually sinks toward the lairs of the gods, he is superior to his fate. He is stronger than his rock.”

Although some may choose to overlook the purpose of trying to achieve a task while knowing that the end result is absurd, Sisyphus completes his task every day because he accepts his fate.  He knows that he could push the rock up the hill and feel that moment of happiness at the top of the hill, or he could choose to stay at the bottom of the hill, and never feel accomplished. Sisyphus chooses to accept death and make the most out of his tedious task.

According to Sartre, existence precedes essence. We are born into this world with no specific purpose or characteristics. It is only once we live our lives that this becomes a reality. The purpose in our lives is thus to figure out our purpose, define ourselves, so that when we are dead, a person can identify us by our essence. Everyone exists, but not everyone develops an essence. For this reason, it is not only important to define yourself as you go through life, but find out what your purpose is. If everyone dies at some point, why bother doing anything at all, such as trying to understand the world or each other?

Although this is an answer that everyone must answer individually, theoretically the probability that we are born alone should make us feel prerogatived to be alive, to have been born in the first place, and should give us the initiative to find out why we were given that privilege. As Richard Darwin put it,

“After sleeping through a hundred million centuries we have finally opened our eyes on   a sumptuous planet, sparkling with color, bountiful with life. Within decades we must close our eyes again. Isn’t it a noble, an enlightened way of spending our brief time in the   sun, to work at understanding the universe and how we have come to wake up in it? This is how I answer when I am asked — as I am surprisingly often — why I bother to get up in the mornings. To put it the other way round, isn’t it sad to go to your grave without ever wondering why you were born? Who, with such a thought, would not spring from bed, eager to resume discovering the world and rejoicing to be a part of it?”

Perhaps it is this dour uncertainty about death that should make us eager and resolute to make changes in our lives, to bring good into the world and understand humankind. Were we all to accept death as the last thing in our lives, our ultimate end goal, our fate, in my opinion, everyone would be more open to kindness. Death is something that happens to everyone, regardless of how happy, healthy or wealthy you are. In the end of our lives, it does not really matter if we led happy lives, if we were successful in terms of wealth. What will have mattered will be what our purpose was, what we did for others and how well we understood the world we lived in.

Insight Paper by S.L.L.

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