Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Happiness and Purpose

We're all told that money doesn't buy happiness. That was famously disproved: daily happiness increases with income up to 75k, and overall-life satisfaction continues to improve with income no matter how high you go. While this doesn't necessarily imply money as the cause of increased happiness, the correlation between the two makes sense: we're happier when we don't have to worry about buying food, losing our house, etc.

But economists agree it's not the only thing to happiness. For instance, most people concur that how you use your resources makes a difference. Generosity, spending money on loved ones, and having great experiences are the kinds of expenses that bring us more joy. But some research says even that isn't specific enough. It's also about matching your money with your heart.

Someone who cares about literacy in America will feel much happier giving money towards that cause than towards one they have no connection to. But in order to put their money where your mouth is, you have to know what you're passionate about.

You have to know your purpose.

You can have all the resources in the world, but if you don't know what to do with them, they're practically useless. That's precisely the point of the idle-rich-kid narrative. Some teen or twenty-something can afford whatever they want but ends up listless and unhappy. Ironman, Green Arrow, and all the rest finally find happiness--still as a rich guy, too--when they find a sense of purpose.

We can't go skating through life without answering at least a few of life's questions. What are you going to do with your life? We have to find a drive that keeps us breathing, otherwise we'll feel like a pointless pile of organs and tissues.*

What keeps you up at night? The thing you're afraid of can become the thing you want to solve. What makes you angry? What gets you excited?

You don't have to know exactly what you're going to do about it, but you need to know what your passions are. You need a starting place, something to work with. If your life is a blank page, then you can't start making marks on it until you know what kind of a finished product you want to end up with. That will affect every line you draw.

After I finished draft #5 of The Lonely Dark, I sent it out to a few readers who came back with the same comments: "What does the protagonist Seinara want? She has no inner motivation."

As I thought about it, I realized my readers were (of course) dead on. I didn't know what Seinara wanted besides staying alive, and so she was a reactive character, simply trying to avoid life-threatening situations and hold onto her head. By the end, she has a new sense of purpose, but there's no transformation because she didn't have a purpose to begin with.

Interesting as the plot was, the protagonist was flabby and ultimately uninteresting.

I had to spend several days in her head, asking her questions, trying to figure out what she wanted. She cared a lot about equality, but that alone wasn't specific enough. I had to root around through her past experiences to figure out why she cared about equality and what that passion would lead her to do. Of course! She would try to help the people who are hunting her, even while she fears for her life. That was her drive, her inner motivation.

Without a motivation, we're all just pawns. We're letting life take us instead of determining our own fate. Friends, we have free will for a reason. We're supposed to make choices. In order to do that, you need a paradigm. You need a passion.

Word count: 626.

* The punner in me instantly thought, "They must be playing a dirge."