en you look in the mirror? That may sound like a stupid question, but bear with me. How well do you know that person’s dreams and fears, or how about their values? More importantly, what makes that person happy?
You may be saying, “Of course I know that person … It’s me! It’s the same person I’ve seen every day for the past however many years of my life.” But think a bit deeper about these questions. Why are your dreams what they are, and why do you fear the things that you do? What influences have shaped your values? Finally, why do the things that upset you hurt you so much, and why do other things make you feel happy?
A year ago, I wouldn’t have thought much of these questions. I was too caught up in my exceptionally hectic lifestyle to even consider them.
My typical day went something like this: I would wake up, eat breakfast on the go, run to class, try getting work done between classes, maybe take 10 minutes to grab lunch, run to my next class, go to a meeting, get more work done, go to a couple more meetings, hopefully grab dinner and chill in my apartment for an hour, then head back to Main to do homework with my girlfriend until the wee hours of the morning. Then I’d go to bed, wake up and do the same thing again. I didn’t stop to question why I was living this way. I didn’t pause to wonder why I was constantly stressed and exhausted. I didn’t let myself cope with the fact that my grandfather was slowly dying. I didn’t allow myself to worry about my grandmother who had been hospitalized again for her own personal issues. And I didn’t allow myself time to accept that I was in a relationship that simply was not working anymore.
Then one day I realized I was miserable. I found myself in the midst of a quarter-life crisis and had no idea why. Yet, I kept doing the same things over and over. It was only after first semester ended and I left for Germany that I was able to break this unhealthy cycle. Being all but completely cut off from all of my friends, family and responsibilities back in the United States, I was finally able to step out of the bubble of my everyday life and get an outsider’s perspective on the way I was living.
I began questioning why I was so unhappy. At first it hurt to dig inside myself looking for these answers, but as I kept searching, my understanding of myself grew and grew. I began realizing the life path I had paved for myself in my head was not one that I wanted to head down.
I began seeing how much my grandfather’s worsening situation and my grandmother’s perpetual problems affected me emotionally. And I began seeing that there was much more to life than what I had been trying to convince myself. I didn’t experience any sudden change in my life once I began questioning myself, but gradually these lingering demons dissipated into nothing but mere memories of a former part of my life. The point of my story is this: We will always be a mystery to ourselves.
But that does not mean we cannot learn more and more about why we are the way we are or why we do the things we do. We can understand what aspects of our lives we want to appreciate more and also which ones we would be better off shedding.
Socrates once said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Like I said before, sometimes this digging may be painful, but nothing worthwhile is ever easy. Ultimately it is this diligence that will lead to a greater understanding of ourselves, and this understanding will ultimately lead to greater happiness.
Tom Barrett is a senior philosophy major from Colonia, N.J. He can be reached at [email protected]