What does the Perfect Life Look Like Today?Stephen Farah
Anja was listening to radio 702 the other day (isn’t she always). Anyway, she told me about a caller to the show, who said, the problem with the youth today is that they no longer have role models. Or, if they do, their role models are less than ‘ideal’.
The caller went on to say that in yesteryear the ideal profession was to become a doctor or a lawyer (I would add chartered accountant to that list), but these lofty professions no longer hold the same appeal for the kids of today.
The imagery of the youth today is principally based on MTV and was perfectly summed up by Robbie Williams a few years ago, when he received the coveted ‘Moon-Man’. Robbie said something along these lines:
‘I have mansions in LA and London, drive a million dollar sports car and have a supermodel girlfriend. Thank you MTV- I am living the dream!‘
Then beyond the kids themselves, even their parent’s aspirations for them have changed. Whereas before the dream of every parent was for their kid to grow up and become a professional in one of these classical genres medicine, law, finance or a little further down the ladder, possibly, an engineer or architect. That no longer seems to be the case. Parents have changed their dreams for their kids as well.
Something has shifted. We no longer want the same things we wanted a generation ago.
Okay so far so good. The question is what is ideal today? What constitutes:
the ‘perfect life’,
the ‘perfect job’
and the ‘perfect relationship’?
What has changed? What do we value today higher than social, financial and professional status? Or is it not the desire for status that has changed but rather that which confers status?
Well the truth is it is probably a little of both. Status itself, in the traditional sense, is no longer the holy grail of yesteryear and that which confers status has shifted as well. But I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest the real shift is from wanting status to wanting something fundamentally different.
What do we want today if not status?
Today everyone wants meaning.
This is the new ideal.
To lead a meaningful life, to make a meaningful contribution to others, to have meaningful experiences, to go on meaningful holidays, have meaningful relationships, and possibly even to understand the very meaning of life itself.
Today meaning is more important than status.
The bloody thing of it though is that meaning is no gimme, no patsy, no glass jawed opponent. Trying to lead a meaningful life is tough.
Status itself was never easy. Some had it, some were born into it and some fought tooth and nail for it. Not everyone achieved it of course, if it was open to all it would negate itself. To mean something it necessarily had to be an exclusive club. Still I would wager those that achieved it knew they had, and far more importantly others recognised it. One could say it was the very recognition of the other that constituted the sought for status.
Not so with meaning. Meaning is not something that can be conferred by another upon you. That is more of a problem than maybe it appears at first. You see naturally we are social beings and in being social beings we develop our sense of identity through our interaction with others. Others tell us who we are much more than we come to that idea through any inner process. Even when we introspect on who we are, we are thinking about who we are in relation to other people.
How do other people treat me? How do they make me feel? Who do others think I am?
These are the kinds of questions that go through our minds when we look ‘inside’ and ask the question- who am I? Think about it next time you reflect on your sense of identity and I bet you’ll notice just what I have suggested.
You are who you are because I tell you who you are. You didn’t come up with your sense of identity on your own!
But here’s the kicker…
Is your life meaningful because someone tells you it is?
It may make you feel a sense of wellbeing when I, or someone else, tells you your life is meaningful. But that is not sufficient to truly make your life meaningful.
Think about it for a moment. Meaning, real meaning, is something that of necessity:
- Can only emerge from within in you.
- Can only be experienced by you
Meaning is an inner value judgement, much as status is an external one. That is to say I can confer status on you but not meaning. Only you can confer meaning upon yourself. Only the meaning you find in your life matters, not the meaning someone else sees for you.
So how do you access this meaning?
I’m not sure. I think it’s a tricky question. I have a few ideas I will share with you ‘ but for God’s sake don’t confuse these for the roil hoil truth.
It may be easier to approach this question by considering what doesn’t confer meaning; that which is often mistakenly believed to confer meaning. Well here are some obvious candidates:
- Professional or social status
Remember these confer status not meaning.
- Having a good time.
- Enjoying life.
- Taking it easy
- Going on holiday.
- Living a life in service of the great me!
- Being a ‘good person’.
- Helping others.
- Doing charitable work.
- An important job for the community at large.
- Your talents.
- What you know.
- What you have done, what you have experienced?
Still not convinced (!)….okay what about:
- Becoming a member of the New Age!
- Joining a mediation group.
- Doing yoga.
- Use alternative medicine.
- Hydroponic farming.
- Going to an Ashram in India, or even better buying a book on Osho from Exclusive Books.
- Becoming a vegetarian.
- Building or converting your house into an echo friendly house. Going green as they say, come on, going green! That surely has got to be meaningful!
What do you think? Do these confer meaning?
I would wager that quite a few on that last list constitute what is considered ideal today. The ideal person today, as we said, leads a ‘meaningful life’.
But what the hell does ‘meaningful’ mean?
We could say that the zeitgeist today suggests being an androgynous, vegan, conscientious abstainer from political activity or traditional religion, non sexist, non racist, non fascist, spiritually enlightened, Tantric practitioner, pseudo easterner, non materialist of moderate habits who consciously works at saving the planet whilst still looking good in the process- may not be too far from the mark.
Still the problem remains that may be what ‘meaningful’ looks like in the world, but is it actually meaningful for those that are living one or other version of that contemporary ideal type?
I come back to the point; meaning is an experience not a badge. Looking like you are leading a meaningful life is not the same as actually living one. It’s easy to get confused on this point but try not to. It’s important; this is your life we’re talking about here after all.
Giegerich suggests that the very search for meaning is of necessity doomed to failure. That to search for meaning is not to find meaning. That our removal from meaning, our disenchantment in modernity is what has led to the ‘search for meaning’.
The very essence of modernity is meaninglessness. A meaninglessness that is expressed in the search for and aspiration to meaning. I suspect that Giegerich is onto something (he usually is). But one must look not only at what he is saying but what he is not saying.
What is the meaning of meaninglessness? Where does the search for meaning lead us to if not meaning itself?
What is the true ideal we are all in search of?
Well as I said earlier I don’t know but I think it is a worthwhile question. One worth considering in the personal sense.
What is the true ideal you are in search of?
It is the kind of question that has the potential to lead you away from ignorance and unconsciousness into a more conscious way of being. You have based your life on certain ideals whether or not you are consciousness of this. Becoming conscious of these ideals offers liberation from the bondage of unconscious compulsion.
Until we talk again,
Hello Stephen, Someone said we generally ask about meaning when we are unhappy or feeling disconnected. Perhaps it is the fact that we are in some way unhappy or disconnected that prompts the question. Frankl is a case in point. So now we may even compare meaning or compete on significance. Hoisted by the petard of choice – judged by one’s own measure.
Perhaps the Self starts charging ‘standing time’ when we hang around doing stuff that does not make sense (or serve the Essence); my sense of time is starting to overule my sense of curiosity. At some point it becomes almost impossible to
ignore the internal value system. Thank you for your thoughts.