Know yourself, know happiness

The meaning of Spartan life

Jacob Martin

What do you want? A seemingly simple question which, once posed to you, is challenging, confusing and frustrating because if you’re honest with yourself, odds are you can’t answer it easily.

So I ask: what do you want in life, in love, in the future, from school, from your friends? What do you want to do with your life? Who do you want to be? Where are you going?

These are the types of questions many of my senior friends on the brink of graduation answer right now. They struggle with the reality of being thrust into the real world without the buffer of our college campus safe haven.

I’m not graduating this May, but I’ve recently found myself inwardly asking what do I want, and I don’t believe such an exercise to be a futile pursuit at any stage of one’s life. While it appears to be a simple question, once you think about it, you realize it requires a great deal of self-awareness, personal maturity and a strong introspective character to answer honestly.

And these are qualities which require hard work, experience, patience and the ability to look critically at oneself. Without developing these traits, true happiness will be unattainable. Sure, there will be moments of clarity and enjoyment, but overwhelming and enriching happiness won’t be sustainable.

I keep hearing people say they want to be happy. Happiness is a problematic concept with an abundance of definitions, so I’m not going to attempt to define it. Rather I ask, if we don’t know who we are, what we believe and what we want, how can we be happy? How can we know that what we’re doing in life is right for us if we don’t know anything about ourselves?

College is a time of growth and development, but we often neglect ourselves. For example, we work on homework assignments in order to develop the mind, network and meeting new people to develop social skills and grace and we do a number of activities we enjoy to relax and de-stress.

We consciously work to get better at each of these areas, except we don’t consciously work on making ourselves better people and developing who we are as individual human beings with wants, needs, emotions, dreams, desires, feelings and pain. We are often sloppy with our lives and take everything for granted.

No matter where we all end up immediately after graduation or five, 10, 15 years down the road, we must know if we wish to be happy in whatever capacity we’re in. We must be ready for the unexpected, as well as the possibility of both success and failure.

Speaking from experience, I can say that complete control is a grand illusion that exists within man’s flawed nature. We’re in this high stakes Texas Holdem match with life.

Sometimes we’re dealt amazing cards and win hand after hand without fail. We get proud, and then we think our full house of aces and kings is a sure win and we go all in, but on the flop of that fifth card life fills its royal flush and we lose everything.

This is why it’s important we know who we are and what we want. In order to come back from a baseball bat strike to the knees we need to know we will be okay, a notion which stems from surety of self. Life is not easy and no one said it would be, but the best prep work for dealing with life’s arbitrary absurdity is to explore one’s multifaceted, hyper-personal nature.

What’s most important is to start now. Our minds are at their most supple, receptive and impressionable stage during college and we should be taking advantage of that. We should be spending at least a moment a week reflecting on ourselves and resolving to grow as a human being.

Unfortunately, so many of us do not take that moment. We assume routines that soon become mundane and we stagnate. We continue to develop certain skills in certain areas of our lives, but our personal growth quickly falls behind the rest of our growth.

Isolated incidents of challenging or enjoyable experiences will not produce overwhelming positive results in becoming well-adjusted and flourishing individuals. It takes gritty and uncomfortable yet deliberate and vigilant self-exploration. Fear of what we might discover, laziness and discomfort cannot detract us from this too crucial form of development.

We mustn’t be afraid of what we might find because if we never look inside we can never truly grow. We need to ask ourselves what we want in life and be prepared to get any answer.

For happiness—however we define it—cannot be attained until we know ourselves and what we want.

“So we shall let the reader answer this question for himself: who is the happier man, he who has braved the storm of life and lived or he who has stayed securely on shore and merely existed?”
—Hunter S. Thompson