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We’ve Lost Our Grip

November 17, 2010

Life is like a road map. When we are born we begin our journey, our road trip if you will, to our final destination. Like a road trip, the only point on our map that is predetermined is the one that we begin from. From there, it is our decision to decide where we want to go and how we want to get there. However the unfortunate reality is that the structure of life has become just that- too structured. In our capitalist society we have been raised and instructed to believe that the ultimate acquisition is money- how much can we get of it? The “he who dies with the most toys wins” mentality that dominates the average person’s life. This mentality skews the road trip; it shuts doors to what we may want to do with our lives. What truly makes us happy may be something that does not earn us as much money as, say, another, less personally appealing occupation, so we pass on it. True happiness is passed on for tangible goods. To relate back to the road map metaphor, the intense structure that characterizes our lives today is like using a GPS on your road trip. A predetermined path is laid out for you, with stops A, B, and C along the way. Whether or not you are taking the most enjoyable route on the trip is no longer a factor because the GPS told you the quickest, most efficient route possible, so that is how you are getting there.


So I ask, what makes life worth living? Is life a competition to acquire as many tangible goods as possible? Or is it something the average person is overlooking; is it to wake up every day knowing you are going to enjoy what is ahead of you?


This has been something that I have recognized but never truly thought about before this semester. A personal example is one that I just experienced the other day. Like most of us here, I am on my “structured” path through the university. I know that at this instant the most I can do to help myself find the best, highest paying job in the future is to do as well as possible in my classes today. However, just last week I had three exams in four days; stressful, yes, but nothing a UM student isn’t expected to be able to handle. Needless to say I did not do as well as I would have hoped on two of those exams. Since then I have seriously contemplated changing my major with no real assurance as to what I want to do. Under conditions of high stress, which naturally brings about depression, I was walking home from class and noticed a man on the side of the street raising money for a soup kitchen. Normally I would just walk right past him, but this time, I don’t know why, but I felt an urge to help him out. After I donated the man was extremely gracious and for reasons I could not explain I was immediately relieved from my stress. In fact I was in the best mood I’ve been in a long time- I was happy.


The purpose of this story is to demonstrate that I have realized that helping people is something that naturally makes me happy and even though it was something small it was able to overcome the stress of my “structured” life. Now I’m not saying that everyone needs to start helping each other more- that is not what this blog is about. I am saying that everyone has things that naturally make him or her happy, but sadly these things may be underutilized, forgotten, or even lie undiscovered because they are not part of the structure we were taught to follow.


Do these sources of happiness truly exist?

If so, are they worth pursuing?


  1. dbwein permalink
    November 18, 2010 2:00 PM

    I think this idea is especially important for us as undergraduate students. What are we working towards? What are we studying for? Are we learning to learn or because we know that an undergraduate degree is just the next stepping stone to the next stepping stone to the next – until eventually, hopefully before we burn out, we can garner a high enough paying job to make our parents proud, our friends impressed, and ourselves satisfied that it was all worth it. I think unfortunately for most it’s the latter. To many college students today are focused on where they want to be in ten year, instead of where they are now. I think it’s just the way our society is now. However, as mentioned above, I think it is of vital importance to us, as humans and to our own personal psyche, that we sometimes pause and take time to focus on something other than work. Something that genuinely makes us happy.

  2. Taylor Fields permalink
    November 18, 2010 2:42 PM

    I think that view is a little depressing? What makes you happy isn’t forgetten IF you can structure your life to include what makes you happy. I think what our parents try to teach us, and what we naturally try and pursue is to be happy. For some people, making money and living a lavish life IS what makes their life worth living. For some, it’s helping the poor. For millions of others, it’s a million other things. Personally, I embrace the structure of my life, because I have been taught to incorporate the things that make me happy. While school is my priority (and yes, because I want a successful career) I am part of a sorority that I love, weekly volunteer at a local elementary school, and campaign for a political party. All of these things make me happy, and if I did not perfectly structure my life, I wouldn’t have the time to do these. I think what we forget when we are stressed, when we are struggling, is that we are doing so to eventually be happy. I struggle, because I know I want to go to law school, I know being a lawyer would make me happy. But in the mean time, I also know my activities make me happy. What makes life worth living isn’t pursuing something that makes you unhappy; if you’re miserable, structure your life to include the things that make you happy.

  3. Vidya permalink
    November 19, 2010 9:52 PM

    I agree with your main point, that sometimes we never find out what we truly enjoy in life because we are too focused on trying to attain “the most toys”, as you put it. However, I also want to challenge your statement, “the only point on our map that is predetermined is the one that we begin from.” This largely depends on the way you look at the issue.
    Think about it: we live in a society where after high school, almost everyone is expected to go to college if they want to be happy. To be honest, most of the kids who don’t attend college simply don’t have the grades, or enough money. At this point in time, if you meet a graduating senior in high school, “Where are you going to college?” is a completely natural question to ask. If one or more of your parents are working in a highly professional field, then it’s pretty much guaranteed that you’ll be going to college.
    In Israel, the kids in high school know that when they graduate, they will most likely end up spending time in the army. In India, most kids just worry about taking care of their parents when they graduate (if they can even attend school in the first place). In the US, money matters (a lot), so most people pursue a higher education. In places like India, not everyone has the luxury of worrying about money when they have mouths to feed, so going to college might not be the most convenient or financially smart move to make.
    The point is, many things are predetermined by the society you are born into. People will almost always follow the path that will make them the happiest possible, but this path to happiness can sometimes depend on where you live.

  4. jbrasspolsci permalink
    November 21, 2010 8:43 PM

    Every life is lived differently but started and ended the same way; whether dieing “…with the most toys…” or least toys, lived a life worth living or not worth it at all, every person has the same inevitable result. However, what does happen from birth until death is controllable. The so-called road trip taken in between those two points is somewhat dominated by the mentality of dieing with the most toys for some, but not for all. For example, from a personal account, my uncle is a police officer – a job that does not pay very much at all. However, he loves his job and would not trade anything for it. So even though this does not earn him as much money say compared to working for a financial corporation, he is happy and is taking the route he wants to follow.
    For others, indeed they may pass on what truly makes them happy for those “tangible goods”, but for good reason. Let’s take someone in college for instance, studying criminal justice and wanting to go to the police academy after graduation. However, after realizing the amount of pay that includes he has skews in his route and majors in Political Science instead in hoping to go to law school and become a lawyer, a much higher paying job. However, down the line even though he is not doing what he originally wanted to do, he will be more successful in the future, be happy, and end up with what he wanted and thus lived a life worth living.
    If someone is happy, life is worth living. But life is not easy, and happiness is not easily achieved; nothing comes without hard work. Going back to having a low paying job, one may need to work more days to pay the bills but as long as he is doing what he wants to be he is happy. Or, not doing what you want to do, working hard to follow a path you weren’t originally interested in but ultimately leads to more success then happiness is also achieved. Therefore two different routes lead to two different types of happiness, leading to two different lives that are both worth living.
    Society may push that the ultimate acquisition is money for the most part, and therefore shuts doors to what we want to do with our lives and etc. However, ultimately the individual is who makes his or her own decision; metaphorically speaking even though an address is typed into a GPS, you are still in control of taking detours and not sticking to the original plan. What I am trying to say is to live a life worth living is in the hands of yourself and no one else; you are the person who has the most power dictating the route you want to choose. For example, even if it is as small as going out of your way to drop coins in a homeless person’s cup when you originally wouldn’t. This was a detour, a quick one, but did indeed lead to happiness. Make decisions so you wake up everyday and know you are enjoying what is ahead of you regardless if it is to a cop car or to a nice big office with employees and secretaries. And if you are traveling down a route, and you are struggling to find happiness take detours and get away from the originally structured life. If you think life is acquiring as many tangible goods as possible, then do what you can to obtain that goal. Look for the sources of happiness that exist, then take it into your hands and decide how you will pursue them.

  5. changmc permalink
    November 27, 2010 10:55 PM

    I agree with your view that many people today have forgotten what truly makes them happy in order to pursue the most wealth and the most trinkets. When they are older, they find themselves with what they wanted, but not what they needed because they didn’t understand their own happiness. Now society has a great deal of influence and it seems like our culture enforces this ideal of monetary wealth as the number one source of happiness. Although there are varying degrees of monetary wealth, there seems to be a minimum amount of wealth needed- that number i do not know- that people need in order to survive and put food on the table so that they can enjoy other things. Now in an economy as harsh as the one today, I feel as if many jobs and the money they provide falls short of this minimum amount of wealth that people are culturally accustomed too. When I look around me, it seems as if the majority is either pre-business, law, or medicine and many do not have a clue what the work entails. I ask now that is it so wrong that society enforces this notion of monetary gain?

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