This sounds like a grim question; probably most of us do not think about it that much. Or maybe we do, but go on living our lives just the same way regardless – or a little more troubled at most.
I was born and raised in a very religious country – an Orthodox Christian Georgia. Being a casual victim of indoctrination, I spent my early childhood believing that there was a clearly defined goal in life – to live according to God’s rules and be rewarded in the afterlife, of course! However, after I turned 13 and started doing a little thinking on my own, I realized that I would not be having it that easy – the religious solution to my early existentialist questions was not at all satisfying.
Probably, everyone has a point in their lives up to which they believe they must be inherently special and outstanding. A very young me thought about the implications of this “being special." Oh, maybe it was about what you leave behind? Your legacy? Would your achievements and deeds, if outstanding enough, not occupy their place on the pages of history? Oh, was it knowing that you will be one of those very few people, whose existence will be reduced to a historical importance rather than some stone at a cemetery? But, after a little time, I realized that all this dramatic thinking was unwarranted – I was one of the seven billion people and no black holes had aligned for me to be born; I was no Newton or Aristotle.
I did a little more thinking, looked at the place of human beings in the larger scheme of things and came to a conclusion: it was awfully arrogant to think that the universe owed me a purpose. I decided that I had to invent my own one; there was so much to achieve – study really well, read a lot, go through education, be really good at what you do etc. I plunged into this sea of objectives; although I encountered hardships at times, I kept believing that I was on the right track – I just had to push a little more. After a while, I pushed quite a bit more, and finally got accepted to a great university.
I realized that this was what I wanted to do – experience this feeling you get when you achieve something really huge, as often as possible. I felt happy, fulfilled, excited – for a whole TWO days. After those two days, I got back to my normal level of happiness, fulfillment or whatever my meter of working towards my goals in life was. I had no idea what was wrong, why did I get so accustomed to a great achievement in such a short time? I consulted the Internet and found out that I was on “the hedonist treadmill”; this meant that, the exciting feeling of fulfillment I had just experienced represented a spike in my normal level of happiness, just like sugar did every time I consumed a chocolate bar. The difference was that, getting into college had taken considerably more time and effort than purchasing a Snickers. I realized that this way, by the time I died, I would have experienced a total 15 days of this “excitement, fulfillment and happiness." I did not like the idea.
Even after a year at Yale, I can attest – it never ends, there is always more to aspire to. And you will always, ALWAYS get used to your status quo – that’s what it means to be human. In my case, ultimately, it was mediation and mindfulness, in general, that led me to the answer to this qualm; there would never be a point when I will be able to say – Okay, I have done enough; or, okay this is good, I can be happy now. Unless, I try to enjoy regular moments of life, pay attention and extract happiness from them; unless I enjoy the process and stop seeking exclusively a destination, that I have already admitted does not exist, I cannot say that I have found “my goal in life” or live according to the one I have defined.
Often, I catch myself automatically following the flow of life; dealing with its difficulties and challenges, I observe that I am merely putting up with those factors, in hopes of reaching a sanctuary of respite and happiness. Every time, I realize a bit more, that happiness is a process and not a place; and every time I hope that I will not go back to the same way of life, feeling just a little more troubled.