Is It Possible to Live Joyfully in a World full of Suffering?
People always bemoan how bad things are. How bad times are getting and how the end of days is very near. But I think people also tend to forget just how far we have come as a human race. We have survived two World Wars, we have cured countless diseases and we have delved deeper into the human psyche than human population has done before. Yet still people are unhappy, people are suffering and there is plenty of pain to go around.
So how do we live joyfully in a world filled with poverty, depression, sadness and evil. I have no easy answers to these questions, but I would like to offer some strategies on how to live joyfully in a world filled with pain.
Gratitude. It is the one value that I prize above all simply because many other values stem from a source of gratitude. From the love we have for our parents, to the love we have for friends, gratitude is the one value that I believe can offer solace, hope, consolation and healing in many of our lives. Being grateful for the food that we eat, the bed that we sleep in, the job that we have, the car that we drive and the people who love us is extremely important because it offers us perspective on our lives and enables us to deal with obstacles in our lives that otherwise may destroy us. Gratitude reminds us that there is joy to found in the simplest of actions, the simplest of experiences and the most mundane of human actions From drinking a cup of green tea to being able to exercise at the gym, there are countless ways to remind ourselves about just how lucky we are to be alive.
Service. The values of gratitude cannot stop with ourselves. It is only through being grateful for what we have that we are compelled to serve those less fortunate than ourselves. Sometimes I feel the word “Service” can overwhelm us and make it seem that we each have to be Mother Theresa but this is not the case. Service comes from giving a piece of fruit to a beggar standing on the corner. It comes from being polite to those people who are on the fringes of society. We serve others when we give tutoring lessons for free to a girl that lives up the road, or when we lend a hand to a soup kitchen without offering anything in return. Humans are social animals and as social animals we thrive on developing and evolving our culture and the way we relate to one another. With the recent student protests across South African universities I believe that a deeper culture is developing. One that places the African agenda at the forefront and one that re-imagines what it means to be African. These type of discussions are important especially for a country still feeling the aftermath of years of colonialism and white patriarchy. Yet, we must also remember that as citizens of a culture we are also called to serve and protest responsibly, and in a way that respects the dignity and rights of all people. Drawing from the protest politics of Ghandi and Martin Luther King, citizens of country have the power to serve and change a society through words of change and actions that send a message of non-violence, tolerance, intelligence and a deep commitment to changing society peacefully.
Connections. We must seek meaningful connections with people. What does that mean? I am talking about the type of connections where two individuals bear their souls to one another. This can be hard in a world optimized for social gratification through social media platforms. These platforms offer facades, and unrealistic standards to which we unconsciously compare ourselves to. But these platforms are (to quote Lady Gaga) perfect illusions. No one’s life is perfect and everyone harbors their own share of guilt, shame, unhappiness and pain. But this is part of the human experience. It is only through sharing our pain with honestly with our closest friends that we can ever hope to truly enjoy happiness authentically. Social Media turns us all into marketable brands and some people are better at marketing themselves than others. These people should not be envied nor should they be hated or put down for being shallow. Rather, what I am advocating for is a move beyond social media as a measuring stick but rather a tool for connection, a tool for meaningful communication, a way to mobilize people around a common cause and an element of humanity that does not detract from being human, but enlivens it. This means not posting to Facebook to show off but to celebrate oneself and others genuinely. Sure, some people may see these thoughts as too idealistic and maybe they are. But if we could gather a sliver of idealism and live by it day by day, we would be all the best for it.