By Isaac Evenson
In my life, I am struggling to get out of a trap that our social psychology has created for all of us. The constant battle between two ideological concepts.
The first being the concept of goals, aspirations and eventual success. The quote that first comes to mind in trying to explain this is “The future belongs to those who plan for it”. Now, I know this isn’t ONLY an American concept, but it is a typical American concept nonetheless. We have this notion that life is a great, long tunnel, and that at the end of it there is going to be some shining light, a reward perhaps for all of our struggles. More often than not this country, people view that as wealth, a comfortable job, and respect among peers. So we send our kids to elementary school, then on to middle school and high school, followed hopefully by college and, for some, graduate school. Then perhaps they get an entry level position at a job that pays decently, but has room for advancement. So you work and work and work your way up the corporate ladder, trying to get to that point where you’ve done it, you’ve achieved whatever that nebulous thing you have been chasing after is. But you eventually realize that thing you’ve been searching for is a sham. It’s a social concept, to have whatever that thing is, but once you have it, you feel no different. You don’t really have anything more than you had before, at least not anything that could provide happiness or self worth. What was the point? You’ve missed everything along the way by only focus on something great that was to come. But without that aspiration, is there really any point in living? What’s to help us push on through the hard times if we have nothing to look forward to? And would our society collapse if we didn’t have that old “American Dream” ideal, that if you just work hard enough, you will get everything you want in the end?
The second concept is that of “Living in the now”. This is the mind set that life is not about the destination, but about enjoying the journey. Now from the onset this seems like a much better idea. If you can be happy and content the entire way through life instead of working your way towards happiness and contentment, then why wouldn’t you? The initial problem I see is that often when viewing life in this way, you are very able to not think about the future whatsoever and you can make impulsive decisions that will negatively effect you for the rest of your life. It might seem like a fantastic idea to take ten thousand dollars and take a trip through Europe, but when you do that instead of going to college you could be throwing away a better future for yourself and a series of happy moments for something that is limited and will end, leaving you with only memories. It can also be a dangerous way to live if you suffer with depression, as I have for so long. If you try and live like this moment, right now, is everything, then that moment…and the moment after… and the moment after that leave you feeling emotionally destroyed, then you will have no hope that the future may bring better days.
So I feel trapped between these two things. The pragmatic and logical mindset that you should work towards specific goals in your future to achieve happiness, and the whimsical and care-free mentality that begs you to just enjoy the moment, whatever else may come. Although I lean in one direction, neither one really seems like a completely better lifestyle in totality. So it seems to me that, like in every other realm, Balance is key. You must have a healthy balance of pragmatism and impulsiveness to live a fulfilled life. Think about who you would like to be in the long run, and then find enjoyable things to do to get there. Make the journey it’s own reward, but keep the destination in mind as well. This, to me, seems like the only true way that I can be the best person I am capable of being, and the only way I can be happy and fulfilled. Alan Watts said “Life is supposed to be a musical thing and you were supposed to sing, or to dance while the music was being played”. So indeed, it looks like we should enjoy the song, but keep in the back of your mind that if we keep the crescendo growing, the finale can be something really special.