I am a philosophy major; and as all my fellow philosophy friends know, there are simply no surface level courses offered to us. From the metaphysics of time to the ethics of lying, the academic material we interact with forces us to think deeply about the subject matter we are introduced to. Or, to better phrase it, there is never a time where we interact with material that cannot be challenged and hence while reading and working through this material, we have to understand either why we agree with or why we do not.
As you may know, sometimes it is a lot easier not to think about some things. It is a lot easier to never consider where you stand and why on the way animals are treated. Rather, than having to consider that the rational nature of an animal is, as some argue, is the same as an incompetent human. Why do we treat them so differently?
I am sure, it is much easier to deposit a large check into your savings account, by your fourth pair of Lululemon's, or buy the newest Mercedes Benz on the market without having to think about the 1.4 billion people dying every day due to a lack of basic needs.
Do you know what that means? They die because they do not have access to food, water, and a safe home. Meanwhile, some people consider taking their life when they are not entirely happy after a week of suffering.
The class I took this quarter was about death. The overarching theme of the course, which related to every philosophical question we would in turn raise was: what is life's value in relation to the inevitable fact that we will die. I want to share two valuable lessons this question revealed to me. (A lot of these ideas are ones that Ronald Dworkin puts theorizes. You should check him out if they are interesting to you.)
1. The fact that we will die means that we have a lifespan.
This lifespan naturally makes for meaningful stages of our lives. Think about it this way: the reason why learning how to walk is thought to be exciting for a baby and frustrating for an adult is that our having a lifespan naturally prompts characteristic activities that follow from each of life's stages. As persons, we grow from being children to teens, to adults, and so on. Yet, how we feel about the things we do bears a strong correlation to what stage of our lives we are doing them in.
In every stage of our lives, we have two kinds of interests: critical and experiential. To do my best at giving an intuitive idea of what the difference between these two things are and how they work, think about a Friday night before a very important final you have. Let's also assume that you are someone who has a critical interest in being an attorney and going to law school. On this Friday night, however, you decide to bask in your experiential interest and go out to a party on the night before your final.
Your critical interest is considered to be the interest you have in your life, on a grand scale. It is what makes your life genuinely worth it, in your own opinion. Of course this critical interest may grow and change. Yet, the idea is, this critical interest is your own formulated idea of what must happen in order for your life to go well. When something happens to you, your critical interest is why that thing, is particularly bad.
Your experiential interest on the other hand is what would make you happy in the 'here and now'. It is the craving and desire you have to indulge in pleasure; it is your passion to experience the things around you. Experiential interests are of course a part of our lives. The satisfaction of pleasure, is of course a great, great thing at times.
However your critical interest is what makes you human. It is what allows you to make a deliberative choice for the sake of yourself. The relationships you value so deeply, the places you care so deeply about, are usually the greatest parts of life; these things invoke critical interest.
2. Having a meaningful life is intertwined with having critical interests.
It's not easy to decipher your critical interest when you are in your 20's. But you should really try your best.
When you have a critical interest you will understand your experiential interests, so much better. I cannot emphasize this enough, but once you have thought enough about what really matters to you and what you really care for your life to amount to, the day-to-day pleasures and pains will not be as significant-- they cannot be.
Thinking about your life, what you value, why you value it, is not an easy thing. Yet I want to encourage you to do it. You will be living the rest of your life as the person you currently are. This will person will evolve, develop, experience, and etc. And I do not think you want to wake up at a later stage, too late in the stages of your life, to realize that you have been favoring your experiential interests.
Figure out what your critical interests are so you can live your life in accordance with what you value; or otherwise, so you can be happy.