There’s more to life than the American Dream we’ve been sold. In this series I present an alternative way to view the world and your surroundings. There is so much out there to experience, enjoy, and incorporate into our lives. It’s all there for the taking, but getting there is the hard part. In this series I show how to to change your paradigm to give yourself a fighting chance of taking the path less less traveled to live up to your potential. How you act on what you discover is up to you, but I hope you take your own plunge into a happier and healthier life.
Life seems to have some distinct cycles. For me, there are three.
First, there are daily cycles. I guess on a daily basis they would be called routines. You wake up, eat, brush your teeth, go to work, work, come home, eat dinner, etc. Generally, people are comfortable with their daily routines, though deviations from the routine can be a cause for distress or anxiety.
Then there are longer-term routines. There is early childhood, early school years, teenage years, university years (if applicable), single and mingling years, married years, raising a family years, retirement years, etc.
Lastly, there is the whole cycle of life in general.
This is all coming from a Western perspective and even then a city-dwelling perspective. I’m aware there are many other kinds of lifestyles, but this one is most typical among this audience.
Regardless, starting from the whole cycle of life, how different is your life from the lives of your parents? It may seem totally different, but in the grand scheme of things, we generally stay bound to a particular way of life – the dominant one around us or that of our parents.
I like to think of all the many possibilities of life as a circle. Of course, the possibilities are endless, but infinity is a hard concept for me to get my head around. Still, in most cases the way we approach life looks like this (pardon my terrible Photoshop abilities).
Yes, I think that orange line represents all we experience of the total possibilities out there. From a completely non-judgmental point of view, all possibilities are equally valid. Though many might like to live a life with lots of wealth or power, for example, it ignores the perils associated with wealth and power. Similarly, a life of poverty and subsistence is to be avoided at all cost, but this fails to recognize the wealth in this way of living.
For me, filling up that pie is one of my goals in life. I don’t expect to fill more than 1% of it given the infinite possibilities, but I’ll do what I can.
The Dalai Lama advocates living a life of empathy and compassion. The more empathetic and compassionate you are, the more you can absorb and understand other ways of life.
For example, in a typical, consumption-based Western lifestyle where the cost of food is quite low relative to one’s income, experiencing the life of a subsistence rice farmer in Southeast Asia might teach the value of food. Or spending time in a nursing home with people who are nearing the end of their path in life, hearing their stories and perspective can offer new insight into the value of life.
In my opinion your wealth is equal to how much you can fill that circle above. Money is just paper that everyone agrees has some certain assigned value. But in reality it is based on nothing. Though similarly intangible, life experiences are fulfilling in a way that money can’t be. And again, life experiences allow you to understand your fellow man more and become more at one with humanity.
Why are these cycles perpetuated?
That third cycle of life, life as a whole, is constantly perpetuated, with each generation being raised in its parents’ mold. Yet every generation rebels in some way. Sometimes it’s healthy rebellion, such as the fight for rights and peace in the 1960’s. Sometimes it seems not terribly healthy, with today’s generation of young people constantly seeking self-fulfillment through the opinion of others and bragging about every bowel movement on Facebook.
Forgive me for being a geek, but in physics there’s a concept called centripetal force. It’s what keeps you in your seat when a roller coaster goes upside down, or why liquid rushes to the edges in a centrifuge. But the life cycle is similar. Parents just perpetuate their reality and encourage their children to largely live within the same boundaries they know. Perhaps it goes back to the fear of the unknown, with parents wanting to protect their kids from perceived uncertainty, perhaps it’s a “we did it, so can you” attitude, but what seems like an infinite amount of options available to an 18-year-old is really quite limited in the big picture.
So many parents are dissatisfied with life, according to this a full 25% of Americans feeling like their life has no purpose, but the cycles are perpetuated endlessly. What if parents instead encouraged their kids to go off and do something completely different? Something that makes their children happy?
I don’t have an answer for that, but I think the world would be a better place and people would be happier. I often wonder if that little voice from within that is constantly yearning for more out of life but is suppressed out of a need to be more “practical” is the heart of what I’m getting at here.
Kids are idealistic and have a good sense of what’s right and wrong, but it’s hard to survive outside the economic/political/social system dozens of life cycles have crafted to be the current reality. But again, there’s so much more out there.
Things seem like they’re changing though. Being so interconnected and having so much information at our disposal gives me hope that, as in the picture below, kids will break free from the cycle and run down their own, unique path toward empathy and compassion and happiness.