I was in English class one day when my professor abruptly stood up and announced to the class: “Look, finding the meaning of life isn’t easy. You’ve got to go looking for it every day. So you better come up with a plan right now to help you find that eternal capital-H Happiness or capital-G Goodness or whatever other capital letter you want to find. You all have 10 minutes to figure out what you’re going to do. Or take 20. Or take a lifetime, if that’s what you need, but give this stuff some thought.”
And then, just as abruptly, he sat back down and continued with Great Expectations like nothing had happened. “Margaret, what would you say is the theme of this chapter? Can you explain?”
I certainly couldn’t. Swimming through my mind were all the mottoes and slogans and “life plans” I’d heard throughout the years, ordering and reordering themselves as I thought about what my professor meant. Did I need a plan? Did I want one?
YOLO was born a couple years ago. Carpe diem was born a couple thousand years before. I’d heard that you should live like you’re young, live like you’re old, live like you only have this one day left on Earth. It seems that most people have, if not a “life plan,” then a life philosophy, some guiding principle by which they form their days and years as they strive to find that capital-H Happiness or capital-G Goodness or capital L-Love for which they’ve always been looking.
This, of course, can be more or less subtle. I had a friend once tell me that he firmly followed a policy of calling his mom before every flight, train ride, or drive of more than two hours. He called her to say “I love you,” and to let her know that he was thinking of her. He didn’t consider it a life philosophy of any sorts, and he would have denied it outright had I told him it was. But the fact remained that he held himself to a standard that emphasized the expression of love in his daily life.
Life plans can, of course, be abused. I knew a guy in my philosophy class who came to our final exam still drunk from the night before. When I asked him whether he thought it was a good idea, he hiccupped and responded from behind his sunglasses, “I couldn’t say no, you know? You gotta live when you can. Anyway, I never say no to free beer.” And he hadn’t said no. (He told me later that he did not pass the exam, but did manage to scrape by in the class. He said he didn’t regret it, but that he probably would change his mind a few years down the road.) His life philosophy was always saying yes to fun, regardless of the consequences, in an effort to find that capital-H Happiness he believed was so essential to really living.
I don’t know what my life philosophy is yet, because I don’t know what capital-letter I’m looking for. But I’m giving it some thought.