JAWED: We can reach fulfillment through personal narratives
Opinions Column: If Not Our Own, Then Someone's
In Emily Esfahani Smith's Ted Talk titled "There's more to life than being happy," she discusses that in her research, she has discovered four things that actually make people fulfilled. Combining her studies in psychology, neuroscience and philosophy, she stated the four pillars of fulfillment as follows: a sense of belonging, finding purposes (not the same thing as finding a job that makes you happy), stepping beyond yourself and storytelling.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the annual U.S. suicide rate increased by 24 percent between 1999 and 2014, from 10.5 to 13 suicides per 100,000 people — the highest rate recorded in 28 years.
"Even though life is objectively getting better by nearly every conceivable standard, more people feel hopeless, depressed and alone. There is an emptiness gnawing on people and you do not have to be clinically depressed to feel it," Smith said.
We often feel as if we do not belong, either discovering that dream jobs are not what they are cut out to be or that volunteering does not make us feel good about ourselves. So, consciously or subconsciously, we have come to realize how the first three pillars contribute to how we feel about our lives. It is the fourth pillar that we do not consider as often: storytelling.
"It is the story you tell yourself about yourself," Smith said. "Creating a narrative from events of your life brings clarity. It helps you understand how you became you."
If we take life as a list of events, we are giving up control of our perspective. We fail to realize that we have the ability to edit, interpret and retell our story within the boundary of facts.
In order to apply this particular pillar to our lives, we need to bend and shape the parameters of our mindsets and the lens through which we view life.
A tragic event can either be used as a crutch to justify one's miserable life, or seen as a means to a more meaningful life. It is about more than being positive or negative. It is about forming a holistic perspective in which you are the winner in the story you tell yourself, even if you have only won a bit of insight.
I feel that this pillar also ultimately combines the other three pillars due to its unique reflective component. A lot of times it is easier not to acknowledge our shortcomings, things we could have done or do better. We realize the unfulfilling form of belonging in which we are only valued for what we believe and who we hate, not who we are. This reflection can lead to an adjusting of our lives in a way that reinforces or even reforms our interactions and connections with relationships that truly value us.
In reflection, we can acknowledge that what is missing in our lives is the key to figuring out what we can do to fix this emptiness. It is in being able to say that even with a great job, a big house and an overall ideal lifestyle, there is something missing: a purpose. An overbearing presence of material things has the capacity to shield us from letting ourselves think that there is more to the world. Admitting that we feel empty also undermines what society has set as the standards of happiness and success. Purpose extends past both of these.
Stepping beyond yourself is what it comes down to. It is only through self-reflection that we realize how self-centered our lives are. After all, it is our stories that we are narrating. Our stories should not only be about what we do for ourselves, but also for others.
It is all about the story you tell yourself, about yourself.
Malaika Jawed is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore. Her column, "If Not Our Own, Then Someone's," runs on alternate Fridays.
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