Participants of Rice Universityâs 2011 commencement ceremony and readers of the New York Times became unknowing recipients of a compelling new piece of advice from New York Times columnist David Brooks: Itâs not about you.
Brooks is exacting in his observations of society, this instance in his descriptions of the varying degrees of happiness. In his Rice commencement speech Brooks outlines three means of achieving happiness, and urges Rice graduates to strive for the third:
- Hedonism: indulging in personal, somewhat selfish, pleasures
- Money, beauty, and status: something that Brooks says âis an oddity of our culture that most of our collective fantasies seem to revolve most around this kind of happinessâ
- Friendships and relations: happiness measured by asking the question: âHow deeply is that person enmeshed in deep passionate commitments?â
To become enmeshed, Brooks suggests following Holocaust survivor and author of Manâs Search for Meaning Viktor Frankl âs philosophy which âemphasizes that we are not primarily questioning life, we are questioned by life. We are summoned by the concrete realities around us.â To recognize this summons, Brooks suggests truly observing the place we reside in, questioning through critical thinking, and reading avidly so that we will notice when we are pulled in a certain direction. Then, he warns, there is one final question:
âDo you have the ability to throw yourself against the currents of our culture and recognize that you are not the center of your life? The tasks and summonses are the center. Your happiness and your worth are a byproduct of how you engage them. Most of us are egotistical and most of us are self-concerned most of the time, but itâs nonetheless true that life comes to a point only when the self dissolves into some larger task and summons. The purpose in life is not to find yourself. Itâs to lose yourself.â
To those who make careers out of service, who devote their lives to nurturing a joyful marriage and a healthy family, or who are actively involved in their communities, Brooksâ advice rings as clearly as a bell. These individuals have answered the call ofÂ a summons which allows them to lose themselves, career path or not. Brooks compels us to ask: how can we rise to this challenge? What can we do to decide if we are up to a difficult yet rewarding task, and how do we recognize the right opportunities?