Some people like to go deep. I’m one of them. I’m not sure if it is the times or my reserve that keeps me from cultivating friends who also like to go deep. So, to get my deep fix, I read books. Sometimes it’s fiction, sometimes non-fiction. One of my recent non-fiction finds is Jonathan Haidt’s The Happiness Hypothesis.
If there is controversy about Haidt’s ideas, I don’t know or care. What I do care about is his chapter on the meaning of life. It helped me understand what matters to me.
I’ve shed the idea that we have intrinsic meaning simply because we exist. We may have, but it isn’t the thing that gets me out of bed in the morning. What matters to me is deep meaning. Pleasure isn’t what I’m after, though I don’t turn from it. What I want, what I need, is to create a sense in myself and others that calls forth a particular feeling, an emotion that might be called awe, or wonder, though these are not quite the right terms. No, this emotion– which is centred in the chest — pulls me, takes me, humbles me and includes me as part of a whole. It creates in me a sense of unity. In that moment, I am not outside or separate, I am part of it all—everything.
What sort of things do this? It may be different from one person to the next, but I think that there are instances when a majority of people given the same stimulus will experience this emotion. It is a form of communion, a recognition of ourselves in others who have overcome, who have grown, who have thrived and quietly marked our nobility. For I do believe despite all wretched evidence to the contrary that we have, within us, nobility.
Where do you find this wondrous thing? You hear it in great music, you see it in in Van Gogh’s trees, you feel it when your theorem solves elegantly, and you read it in Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.
This is the meaning of live and though I strive forever I want to create art that will stop the viewer or reader, fill their eyes with tears, and for a moment at least help them feel that they are a worthy and intrinsic part of the universal whole.
So good-bye postmodern cynicism and pop culture triviality. The world hasn’t ended yet. There is time still to go deeper, to mean more.