The American philosopher and author Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” While we appreciate such words of wisdom, we rarely understand the true meaning of such words since we rarely try to follow them in our lives. How many of us ever try to find purpose in our life? How many of us ever try to be useful to the world and work hard to make the world better? How many of us are willing to suffer for the millions of poor and helpless people in our world and lead a life with a purpose?
Most of us prefer to live a good life ourselves ignoring our duties and responsibilities for the world. A good life for us means a life of comfort and luxury with few problems or worries. It means having lots of money, big house, expensive cars and modern gazette. In order to achieve such a life, we work hard all through our lives and even sacrifice our ideals, principles and relationships. Most people remain unhappy because they never achieve the desired success. A few lucky ones who become successful also fail to live their life well due to failing health, broken relationships and often their guilty conscience.
What then is the secret of good life? “The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction not a destination,” said American psychologist Carl Rogers. If we wish to be happy, we have to move in the right direction and follow the right principles. We have to earn good life by first making the world good. It means that we must try to make a difference in the world by contributing to the betterment of the society using all our abilities. In this process, we may have to sometime suffer and sacrifice our happiness for the sake of others. When we see the impact of our good work on the world, we give meaning to our life and earn lasting joy and happiness.
In order to know how we can contribute to the world, we must know ourselves inside out. Socrates
advised us long time ago, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” It is only when we examine ourselves deeply, that we know how we can contribute to the world and thus discover the purpose of life and work accordingly to make the world a better place. The real challenge is to keep doing the good work, avoid instant gratification and accept sufferings in the present to create a better tomorrow.
The first important requirement for good life is love. A mother sacrifices all her comfort to take care of her child because she loves her. In the same way, a person can sacrifice everything for the beloved. The people who love their country are always willing to lay down their life for their country. Love is the magic that can make everything possible. The British poet Lord Byron said very aptly, “Love will find a way through paths where wolves fear to prey.”
When we don’t have love in our life, we find it difficult to do good things unto others. When we do certain right things merely as a duty, we find our act so burdensome that we burn out quite fast. However, when we do that same act out of love, we not only enjoy what we do, but we also do it in a much better manner, because love is the food for human soul. The German philosopher Max Muller said this beautifully, “A flower cannot blossom without sunshine, and man cannot live without love”.
When we have love in our heart, we are always motivated to help others because by making the life of our loved one better, we feel good and happy ourselves. We enjoy serving those we love without any expectation in return because their happiness is the very source of our own happiness. When a work is done with love, it becomes effortless rather than laboured; and a source of joy rather than merely a duty or obligation. We become selfless, empathetic and ethical naturally when we are inspired by love.
However, love alone is not sufficient to lead a good life. Love is an emotion and it often blinds us to the reality. As a result, even if our intentions are good, we are unable to achieve good results for our loved ones. In order to do good to others, we need accurate knowledge of the practical world so that our actions lead to the desired outcome. Nothing is more dangerous than false knowledge. George Bernard Shaw said this aptly, “Beware of false knowledge; it is more dangerous than ignorance”.
If love is the engine of a car, knowledge is the steering wheel. If the engine lacks power, a car can’t move. However, if the driver does not have control over the steering, a car with even the most powerful engine can crash. If we have love but we lack knowledge to guide us to the right path, the consequences can be disastrous. William Shakespeare said this rightly, “Ignorance is the curse of God; knowledge is the wing wherewith we fly to heaven”. We can lead a good life only when we have the right knowledge in our mind and we are full of love in our heart.
The narrow perception of good life based on ‘eat, drink and be merry’ may provide short term benefits, but is sure to lead to long term harm and suffering. A good life based on comfort and sensual gratification soon leads to more pain because we spoil our health due to lack of physical activities, poor eating habits and our constant desire to seek comfort. We may also spoil our character by following the immoral path in our quest of seek sensual pleasure.
A truly good life is thus achieved when we have love in our heart and we are guided by the right
knowledge because when we lead such a life, we don’t seek goodness for the self, but strive to make the world better by doing good to others. When we do well to others, we get back love from others as well. When we are loved, we feel blessed and deeply satisfied. The American actor Frank Morgan said rightly, “A heart is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others”.
When we allow our life to be inspired by love, we are self-motivated to make our world a better place by self-discipline and by helping each other. We get love, honour, and respect from our fellow human beings that gives us lasting joy and happiness.