"Would you rather lead an unhappy life with a greater purpose, or an ordinary but pleasant and happy one?" I was discussing future career options with a colleague/friend, when he brought this question up. I thought some time before replying to it.
Like the well-worn cliche, my life has been a series of ups and downs. When I try to take a look back and see what it has been like, I remember being worried/sad/frustrated/angry through most of it. In hindsight, many things that I have worried about/been sad about have turned out to be unimportant in the long run. There have been flashes of happiness but few and far between. Most of them have been due to winning races, but since the race never ends but one only changes tracks, it has been mostly a sad journey.
On the surface, it shouldn't be so. I am a pretty successful person professionally. I have a great job at which I am not doing too badly and have good future prospects. My parents love me, I have a decent set of friends (many of with whom I don't interact as much as I probably should), and I have a set of hobbies that I can't spend enough time on.
But the fact remains that if I have to try and record over a sufficient period of time; the %age of time I have been happy v/s sad - it is a sad fact of life, that the answer weighs heavily in favour of the latter.
At some stage, I diagnosed that this was probably due to my own high expectations of myself, my fear of defeats and my constant pushing myself towards something more challenging, and that too not very healthily, not in a positive sense of trying to push my limits, but something more sinister; like a screw tightening the bolt to fit in a slot.
I have tried to turn the tide; most recently early this year; tried to bring myself to face with my strengths and shortcomings and make peace with my own self. It didn't really work out, and I don't really care too much about the details.
A part has to do with the fact that I am an incredibly lonely person. There are three reasons for that:
1. My family is not one that talks about emotions, feelings etc. From the childhood itself, I have never been able to open upto them about these things; and as things have grown more complicated, it has grown more difficult.
2. I haven't really had strong friends. My childhood was spent largely alone, mostly in the company of books, and most friendships I have made have been of a symbiotic transactional nature. The closest I have gotten to real friends was pretty late too - in college and even that was screwed by the third and the biggest reason.
3. For some reason (maybe due to my insularity during childhood or my incredibly competitive nature); I have had very cautious and suspicious instincts against people in general and my peers in particular. It was later compounded by my completely inability to converse in truth which reduced my trustworthiness among others.
My two failed experiments at relationships with the other sex hasn't helped matters. As much as I hope that I am able to get over things, I am too scared right now, and my self-belief in having and maintaining relationships is scraping the bottom of the barrel.
All this has now led to a belief that I am probably pathologically incapable of being happy; and conditions being such, I should probably find a cause/reason to live for rather than try to live a life for myself.
Thus, I replied to my friend,"If the cause is something worthwhile, as in something that affects the lives of people in a positive fashion, and not something like increasing the turnover of a company etc, I think yes, I would be willing to choose a life of purpose over a life of happiness".
As much as I wish my answer changes in the future, I don't think it will.
P.S. This is being written at 12 in the night in an airport while waiting for a 3 o'clock flight. Due to the lack of sleep and general mood of sadness all around me, things might look worse than they actually are. Or maybe as a friend leaving for London said in parting, "Just get a girl, everything will be all right"
For my own sake, I hope he is right!!