All your life, popular culture has sold you a lie. Most of us grow up internalizing the lie that happiness is found through the pursuit of pleasure and material things. We don’t even think about it. Everyone wants more “stuff.” And everyone wants all the sensual pleasures that this world offers.
“If it feels good, do it,” is the mantra of foolish modern man.
There’s nothing wrong with material things. There’s nothing inherently wrong with pleasure. But there’s a secret that some people never learn. No amount of pleasure will make you happy. No accumulation of material things will ever bring meaning or joy to your life.
The truth is that meaning comes through responsibility. Real happiness and joy — the kind that come with long-term meaning — come through serving the people we love.
Meaning comes from loving someone — the family you choose for yourself — and from gladly meeting your responsibilities to them.
Many people today think you’re a sucker if you take responsibility seriously. They think you’re an idiot if you don’t set your life up in such a way that you avoid having responsibilities to others.
More and more young men today (and some women, too) avoid marriage or committed relationships, because remaining “free” allows them to pursue pleasure without inhibitions. Sex, alcohol, other drugs, gambling, amusements of all sorts fill their playgrounds.
As a result, many of these “lost boys” appear to be overgrown children who have no real responsibilities. As long as they have jobs, they can spend their nights and weekends pursuing sex, whether through one-night stands or porn. They can dedicate themselves to the video games — or other pursuits — that gives them momentary pleasure. They can run in packs with others of the “man-child” type as they seek pleasure without responsibility.
But that sort of freedom won’t lead to meaning. It won’t lead to a life of real joy and happiness. Over time, it inevitably leads to emptiness — but most such people are broken by the time they realize what they’ve given up. If they ever do realize it at all.
The truth is that your life will be filled with suffering. In one way or another, suffering seems to be a core part of the human condition. No matter how much we try to outrun it, suffering will find us. No matter how much pleasure we fill our lives with otherwise, suffering will still be there. And even if we pile up the largest of fortunes, there will still be suffering in our lives.
It’s a little-understood secret that living a life of love and responsibility makes suffering bearable. Not only that, responsibility can even make suffering worthwhile.
I once worked with a young man in politics who lived for pleasure. Scott constantly boasted of his drunken nights and all the women he’d slept with. He was good at his job, but once the work was done, he wanted nothing but “fun” — pleasure and debauchery.
He eventually surprised me by getting married. The last time I saw him, he was unhappy, though. He was still married and had a couple of children, but he still hadn’t “gotten it.”
He told me that he thought having a family made him more respectable in the eyes of the people he worked with, but he also admitted that he spent as little time with his wife and children as possible. He was still looking for pleasure — which he still found outside his family — to make him happy.
Even though he had tried to grow up, his mind was too warped by his fixation on pleasure and “fun” to learn that the meaning in life came from serving those people you love.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with having some pleasure in our lives, but when our values are so warped that we have learned to see pleasure as the most important thing in the world, we’ve probably ruined ourselves.
If you find your life empty and meaningless, I would suggest that you work on your own values first. Then find someone to love and to serve. Create a family. Then give your life to serving the real needs of your family — not just their material needs, but their emotional needs and all the things that are harder to fulfill.
You will make the people you love feel safe and secure. You will let them feel loved and valued. You will feel great about yourself, too. And you will finally find the joy and happiness that come with genuine meaning.