Who I am Now: My Journey for Meaning and Happiness

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Matt Binder Honors Program Regis University
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Matt Binder

Who I am Now: My Journey for Meaning and Happiness
Chautauqua: My journey over the last semester has taken me from acting out Faustus to an English tea party to listening and conversing with my fellow lovers of learning. Like any good journey introspection and questioning were elements that came up along the way, meeting me with each new assignment. The question of how I came to be here, at Regis University, to begin a new chapter, a new journey, in my life started to grow within me. Last year I clearly remember thinking how confusing and intimidating it was to choose where I would spend the next four years of my life. Now that I look back, I whole-heartedly agree that I made the right choice and I begin to see a pattern. Robert Pirsig once said, "You look at where you're going and where you are and it never makes sense, but then you look back at where you've been and a pattern seems to emerge" (Pirsig 212). This seemed to ring true for me. However, at the same time this made me question elements of my journey: did I get to where I am by predestination or destiny?

Simplicity: While watching the TV show 24 with Tim, a conversation arose that would occupy my thoughts for weeks. Our discussion about the evils of modern day society led me to the idea that simplicity seems to be a dying thing in the modern world. Time seems to be stretched progressively thinner as the modernized world rushes on without us. There always seems to be homework that needs done or social events that need going to; there is very little time to simply sit back and find yourself. We are forced again and again to adapt, and then redouble our pace in order to maintain our position in the world. As children, we were all carefree and ebullient, yet as the years go by there becomes less and less time to do the things that really matter, being simple and enjoying the little things. People would not ever describe their life as being simple anymore; in the world of today it is nigh impossible to have a simple existence. We are forced to become complicated beings, drones that are fast and efficient because society demands that of us. If we do not conform to the rigors and speed of society then we are merely replaced by someone who is willing to sacrifice what we will not. Time with family seems to be a less and less concern of big businesses as more hours are required for workers. My father's occupation has provided evidence of that in my life.

Chautauqua: Destiny is a series of marked choices that make a person. A person's destiny changes with each decision made. It is a road map in which the destination is the person. The idea of destiny relies on the fact that we all have free will. We make our own choices and we can make anything of ourselves. It was once said that books find us. I agree with this however, I would argue that quotes find us as well. While thinking about the concept of destiny, a certain quote from John F Kennedy popped into my head. "Our problems are man-made, therefore they may be solved by man. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings" (BrainyQuote). The idea that we are in control of our fate and decide our outcome in life is a liberating one. I think everyone likes to think that they are in control of their lives. I know I do.

Simplicity: I fear that losing our simplicity will cause us to lose our empathy for the world. With the increased weight and complexity each person carries as a burden, due to the complexity of life, it becomes harder and harder to see past the self and acknowledge other suffering in the world around us. Elizabeth Seton was the first woman canonized in the United States. I find her quotes to be deep, meaningful and above all though provoking. My favorite quote by Elizabeth Seton is: "Live simply that others might simply live" (BrainyQuote). This may seem clear, yet it is most difficult to practice. The pressure and rush of society infests our houses and makes a nest in our very heads through the constant exposure of what we should do or whom we should be like. Emphasis is placed on false pop culture idols enforcing the ideas that in order to be accepted a person must be beautiful or must be rich. They infest our world by appearing in commercials, on billboards on TV's and magazines. Very rarely are patience and compassion enforced, creating the idea that they no longer seem to be held as a virtue. Society is like a subway train barreling through the darkness. If you stop to get off at a station, to see the sights, then you are left behind and it rushes on with out you. It immediately forgets who you were the second you stop to get off and enjoy the little, simple, things in life.

Chautauqua: The concept of predestination seems to encompass the idea that you are going to be whoever you will be despite your actions, your life was laid out from the beginning and there is nothing you can do to change it. This reminded me of the story of Achilles. He was destined to fight and die in the Trojan War. He tried to avoid his fate, however, in the end it did not matter. Achilles fulfilled his life prophecy despite his attempted avoidance of it. This led me to question the very validity of free will. Do people actually have a choice or are we one massive program with set ends and no decisions of our own?

Simplicity: Not only do the complexities of society cost us our empathy but also it very well may come at a price even greater, our happiness. While I was perusing Facebook one night the following quote seemed to find me in the form of one of my friends' favorite quotes: "Simplicity is the essence of happiness" - Cedric Bledsoe. This immediately intrigued me and caused me to think more about the statement. If this is believed to be true then in the absence of simplicity there will be an absence of happiness. People are inherently simple. We are born, as simple beings that only need a mother's love to survive. We grow up as children and simple thrills are all we need to be content and happy. How, or perhaps the better question is why, do we evolve into beings so complex when we are raised on a foundation of simplicity? I believe the answer to that is to fill a need society makes for us. The stigmas, struggles, and social pressures of society complicate life and force us to give up much of our simplicity. Life for me now is not as simple as it used to be. There are more things to get done and more distractions for my time. I am now forced to budget my time in order to get everything done that needs doing, socially and academically. Sometimes I feel as if Ralph Emerson's idea of leaving society to go live in the woods in solitary, with nothing except my thoughts, may be the right idea. Due to his experience in and out of society Ralph Waldo Emerson may provide some insight into how to counteract the evils of modern society. He stated, "Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles" (Emerson 5). If a person sticks to well founded principles then they will find peace and in doing so triumph over society and find happiness.

Chautauqua: Where is my life going, is my future decided through predestination or is my future a product of free will? B.F. Skinner once said that free will is an illusion. Animals, including people, only do activities that yield favorable or pleasurable results and do not repeat activities that yield unfavorable results, thus free will is merely an illusion. Contrary to this, William Ernest Henley states in his poem, "Invictus," "I am the master of my fate/the captain of my soul (William 15-16). This quote, which came to me in the form of an "Invictius" commercial late one night studying, implies that free will is quite real and we make our own path through life, nothing is predetermined. This question has provoked me this semester to ask: how does a person know which is right, free will or predetermination? This does not seem to be a question that can be answered in this world and maybe it is better if we do not know.

Simplicity: Simplicity seems to apply most aptly to the field of science, after all was life not more simple before the multitude of inventions that shaped modern day society? Jack Johnson once sang a song where the chorus is, "and stars where just the holes to heaven." This simple phrase intrigued me, for I had never heard it before. For the next few days I could not stop thinking about that phrase and wondering how much more wonderful and simple the world would be if everyone believed that stars were just the holes to heaven. This is certainly simpler than the idea that stars are giant balls of gas burning millions of miles away; in something so massive it is incomprehensible.
This creates a contradiction in myself between innovation and scientific achievement. I plan on becoming a part of the scientific field, yet a sizable portion of me wonders if that is what the world needs. According to Bertrand Russell, "The good life, as I conceive it, is a happy life" (Brainy Quotes). If happiness stems from simplicity then where does science fit into happiness? Science cannot be described as simple. In fact, it disproves and proves things all of the time, making the world much more complicated.

Chautauqua: One day, as I was reading the bible on my iPhone, I came across a certain prophet who seemed to have words that applied to what I was thinking. The prophet Sirach states, "don't seek out things that are too difficult for you and don't investigate matters too perplexing for you" (Common English Bible 27-31). Perhaps this provides the best answer of them all. Maybe it is best to not attempt to understand something beyond the scope of man but to be happy reveling in the journey itself.

Simplicity: Often science allows us to have a high quality of life and provides a structure that is much needed in order to flourish. It has pushed the boundaries of innovation and cured diseases. However, is going against nature the right thing to do? Can adding complexities into life make it better? In Casper, Wyoming, many of my friends' live simpler lives: they go to school, work, and will die in Wyoming. I knew right away that I could not do this, my aspirations for the future would not have me contained. Just because my friends are living simpler lives, a life I deemed as vapid, are they better lives? Perhaps the best thing to do is take the bad with the good, stick to your principles, become a captain of your soul and finally realize that you are enough.

Works Cited

BrainyQuote. BookRags Media Network, 2001. Web. 4 Dec. 2011.

Common English Bible. Ed. Kristen Tuinstra. Michigan: Grand Rapids, 1984. Print.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. "Self-Reliance." Great Literature Online, 1997. Web. 4 Dec. 2011

Henley, E. William. "Invictus" Book of Verses. Ed. Arthur Couch. England: Oxford, 1875. Web.

Pirsig, Robert. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. HarperCollins Publishers.
2005. Print.