A long time ago, I read that in ancient Egypt, it was believed one’s admission to the afterlife was decided on the basis of how one could answer two questions. The first was: did you bring joy? The second: did you find joy?
I have said before, and will no doubt say again, that well ahead of all the tree-hugging hippie crap, notwithstanding the metaphysical meanderings and visionary aerobatics of consciousness, I concern myself above all with the practicalities of life. By my criteria, the issues of finding and sharing happiness are the most important aspects of a life fulfilled.
These two questions are particularly transcendent because the scales of joy implicitly carry a counterbalance, so it stands to reason that actively embracing or spreading misery instead is like working with negative integers, as opposed to numbers greater than zero.
Some have said that the measure of success in life is whether one has attained one’s potential, and I respect the validity of such a view. I agree that allocating time to a purposeful activity, thus achieving something that benefits oneself, or others, or ideally both, is a meaningful way to spend one’s life. However, I still see this as simply a more complicated way of saying one has found or given joy.
To be sure, many aphorisms as elegant as this one present troubling complications when examined more closely. For example, what of people whose neurological wiring is so out of order that they only feel truly alive when they are harming others? By the same token, if a researcher or volunteer is responsible for saving or improving the quality of countless lives at the cost of their own happiness, has he or she truly failed as a human?
I’m afraid I can’t offer a comprehensive answer. My best attempt at rationalising such details is to say that even the most trustworthy rules have exceptions, and sometimes we simply have to deal with the fact there is a shortfall between how reality operates and how we would like it to.
In the final reckoning, I believe that keeping the consideration of happiness in the front of one’s mind is a useful path towards finding meaning and feeling alive in the present moment. And as a person who likes things that work, that is good enough for me.