It is so very easy to get caught up in the unimportant and inconsequential in life — in its trivialities – isn’t it? As young people, we are often filled with a sense of foreboding around exam time. This apprehension is further fueled by our parents, our teachers, and even our classmates. We seemingly are all focused on some mythical goal, the perfect test score. Herein lies nirvana, the passage to a higher celestial plane. Many a young person is driven to distraction, some even to suicide, (1) by something of virtually no value at all.
Countless studies have shown that high scholastic achievement is absolutely no guarantee of prosperity, whether spiritual, psychological or even material, later in life. That result is much more a product of good luck and hard work than a nebulous outcome. (2) This striving towards some fictitious success benchmark has the expected consequence, unfortunately — bitter young people, many of whom grow up to be even more resentful adults. Why? The answer: we take ourselves and the life we lead far too seriously.
By this, I mean that we need to place our piece of existence in perspective. I will live a finite period of time in this reality. I can safely assume that I am not intellectually awake until I am around 20 or so. At this point, I should discover that I am alive. The “I think therefore I am” of Rene Descartes (3) — I cannot guarantee that you are cognizant of life, but with me, there can be no doubt. Then why would I consciously want to live the rest of it in misery?
If we believe Aristotle’s dictum that the purpose of life is to be happy, (4) then we should focus on what will accomplish this goal. That, of course, is the reason I am put here on this earth — the focus of my achievements, in other words, my life mission. This will make me happy. How do I find this purpose, my personal aspiration? To place this “in a nutshell” – work! But, forewarned is forearmed: to create a positive foundation on which to assemble the building blocks of my life, I must avoid unnecessary frustration and anger. They will only slow down my self-development. Now, emotion is a basic requirement for just being alive. If I didn’t experience the highs and lows of daily life, I would not exist, would I? I am discussing the triggers that exasperate an already unfortunate situation. These are controllable.
How many times in my life have I said something in anger that only deepened an already tense situation and made it worse? Even better, the other morning, I was running late. As I reached to look at my phone, I inadvertently spilled my coffee all over my notebook. It was only age and experience that allowed me to calmly wipe up the mess and not explode in rage, thereby ruining the beginnings of a fine day.
I was able to downplay the incident, to “laugh it off.” A failed test, a late appointment, a lost friendship – painful, yes, of course! These, however, in the large expanse of a person’s life, are but trivialities that broaden a human being’s experience and gratitude for the gift of life. Mark Twain (5) leaves us with a thought: I have spent most of my life worrying about things that never happened.
(Parts of this essay were first published in 2021)
A closing thought: The struggle for self-control is an arduous and, at times, frustrating journey. It can have fruitful consequences, nonetheless. I only have to recall the David and Goliath story from the Old Testament (6) to be reminded that a journey begun in hubris and arrogance can have unforeseen consequences – many times quite negative ones for the individual clothed in anger and with a lack of thought.
Goliath was a huge, vain, and powerful man in full body armor. David was a slight adolescent with only a slingshot for offense or attack and his intelligence for strategy. And we all know the results. So, as I begin my new year, I can reflect on my life and avoid the trivialities that will hinder its growth in the upcoming year: Happy New Year to all.
To sum up: This week, we spoke about how to place the trivialities in life in perspective.
To be noted: From the Buddha (7) — You will not be punished for your anger; you will be punished by your anger.
Just for fun:
This week on your introspective walk, please ponder how you can dismiss the trivialities in your own life.
Every day look for something magical and beautiful.
Quote: I must focus on the things that truly matter.
5) Mark Twain