This is a chapter from the book The Teenager's Guide to the Real World by Marshall Brain, ISBN 1-9657430-3-9. For more information on the book please click here.
Chapter 41: Material Things Will Not Bring You Happiness
It is very common to get into a mode where you think, "If only I had object X, my life would be perfect and I would be happy." You REALLY want something: a new TV, a new car, a special pair of shoes, whatever. Then you buy it and you LOVE having it for a few days. But over time you get bored or it wears out. You can see this pattern repeated constantly in your own life. For example, your parents and grandparents likely spent thousands and thousands of dollars on toys for you as you were growing up: Dump trucks and Barbie dolls and video games and electric cars and on and on and on. All of those toys got boring or broken or outgrown eventually. They brought happiness for a moment or a week, but over time they became worthless and your desire turned to a new object.
This pattern begs the following question: "If material things bring just a temporary and short-term happiness, then what does that mean?" It might mean that you have to buy material objects at a rate of perhaps one per day to sustain the temporary and short-term high of getting something new. The problem is, that begins to sound a lot like a drug habit. This train of thinking can get you into some very deep areas. Things like:
There is a difference between material happiness, which implies having all the basic (or extravagant) comforts necessary to live life, and spiritual happiness, which implies something else altogether. I had a friend whose philosophy was this:
The thing about "wealth" is that there is more than one way to measure it. Traditionally it is measured in dollars, but there are many other scales. You can be "rich" in ways that have nothing to do with money. For example:
All of these alternative types of wealth are different from financial wealth, and yet all of them can be equally rewarding in their own ways. The point is that the act of buying things by itself, despite what television tells you, may not be what will bring you maximum happiness in life. Things like good friends, a loving spouse, well-raised children, a home built on love, a good relationship with God, a clear conscience, a worthy goal and a job you truly enjoy bring you contentment that lasts and has meaning. These things are often very hard for some teenagers to understand, but as you mature they become more important.
As you look at the world around you and come to understand what is important to you, keep these things in mind. Think about what it is that you enjoy and what makes you truly happy. See what you find. In thinking about it consciously, you might be surprised by what you discover. Money is incredibly important—you need it to survive. But it is not the only thing you need, and money itself will not bring lasting happiness to most people. Man does not live by bread alone.
The Meaning of Life
There are as many answers to the question, "What is the meaning of life?" as there are people. However, the answers often break into broad categories. By looking at some of the categories (as well as creating categories of your own) you can often come to understand how you want to answer the question. The following three sections look at three different ways that you can think about the question. This list is not exhaustive, and I am not advocating any of them. They simply offer you some examples.
Life Has No Meaning
The "life has no meaning" school of thought applies that same line of reasoning to human beings. Humans, so the logic goes, have no soul and no afterlife, and therefore are no different from rabbits. When we die we die, and that is the end of it. This thought process can lead to one of several behavior patterns:
Assume that there is no God and no afterlife. Even so, it is possible for life to have meaning through the larger and ongoing society we live in. By looking at your life as a part of a whole rather than as an individual life, it can have meaning when you ask a question like, "Where is humanity, as a whole, headed?"
Think of it this way: Human beings have progressed from the point where we were strictly animals to the point where we are thinking, knowing beings who have just started to harness space travel, computers and communication. In just 100 years we have gone from an agricultural society to a technical society. This transformation has not occurred because of one person, but instead because of the contributions of billions of people. Each of us does one small thing that moves society forward. For example, many people worked to develop the telephone and build the switching infrastructure that makes up the telephone network. Many other people invented the Internet and built the systems on top of the phone system that make the Internet possible. Many more people worked to get a phone wire to your house. Still more people invented, refined and popularized computer hardware and software. Many more worked on modems and web sites. As a result of all of this effort you can now easily dial in to the Internet and retrieve billions of bytes of data from around the world using the World Wide Web.
Given our rate of technical progress, imagine what you will be able to do 100 years from now in terms of communication, calculations, travel, and so on. One day we will be able to colonize other planets. One day we will be able to travel to other solar systems and galaxies. One day we will be able to move huge amounts of matter to create new planets. One day we will, in theory, be able to design our own universes. When that happens, humanity will have become something else entirely. If we become immortal and can redesign or create universes, then we will be entirely unlike what we are today. Perhaps at that point we will find a completely different way to look at the universe and understand its significance.
In such a context, you are one part of the process that gets us there. Choose a worthwhile goal that moves humanity forward and work toward it.
Life Has Meaning Through God
If you believe in God and Heaven the questions then shift:
This is a chapter from the book The Teenager's Guide to the Real World, ISBN 1-9657430-3-9, published by BYG Publishing, Inc. For more information on ordering a copy of the book, click here.