“You need three things to have a good life,” says David Brent, the iconic character from the hit TV show The Office. “One, a meaningful relationship, two, a decent job of work, and three, to make a difference. And it was always that third one that stressed me – to make a difference.”
Here’s what I understand by this quote.
1) What does it mean to have a meaningful relationship?
Having a meaningful relationship doesn’t just mean falling in love with someone. We can all have a meaningful relationship with each other: by caring for others, being present, not absent minded, when we meet people and not allowing our egos to dominate us. This is how strong, healthy communities are built. We can also have a meaningful relationship with nature, or if you’re a believer, with God.
In our new age of social media, we are becoming increasingly isolated from each other. We are connected virtually, but disconnected in every other way. The tragedy of the modern world, in the midst of its riches and technological advancements, is that very little remains of the sacred. There is very little to remind us of anything other than the here and now.
Nature’s beauty has been replaced by buildings devoid of any sense of meaning. When we leave our homes, we don’t have that deep breath of spirituality. We no longer have time to look up at the starry heavens, or just pause, reflect and be present in the moment.
2) A decent job of work
Too many students go to university and study something they actually have very little interest in. Then, they get jobs in a profession they hate. Your job shouldn’t be reduced to something you have to do, it should be something you want to do.
Much more time and effort needs to go into helping children and young people realise what they love. Granted, it’s not always easy for a young person to find their passion in life. It sometimes requires trial and error before finding what you love. But we need to make sure young people don’t hastily choose career paths that they will end up regretting. Parents, schools, tutors, institutions and the government all need to do more to help young people come to informed, educated and inspired decisions.
Here’s one suggestion. How about at school, we devise a series of questions about a wide variety of topics. We then ask students to go home and answer the question they feel most passionately about. These questions can be about maths, English, philosophy, politics, economics etc. The student’s task is to develop a cogent answer to a topic of choice. If this task is set repeatedly, patterns will emerge and teachers will be able to understand what their students enjoy most and are best at. Most importantly, so will the students. This can then be the basis through which teachers can encourage a student to pursue a particular career path.
When we create a society in which a critical mass of people do what they love, we will see increased efficiency, productivity and enthusiasm – all good for the economy and for people’s happiness levels. Of course, this is a little simplistic: we are always going to need people to work in all sorts of jobs to create a fully functioning society. But this takes me to my next point.
I’ve seen dustbin men, for example, who seem very content doing their job. (Not that there’s anything wrong with being a dustbin man, but it’s generally seen as a pretty low job). Perhaps those happy doing the more menial jobs in life are not driven by money, nor are they materialistic. A society in which everyone loves what they do, no matter what it is, sounds like an unrealistic utopia. But the more of these people we can create the better. And the less materialistic we can make our society the better. (Did I just start two sentences with ‘But’ and ‘And’?)
40 years of research has recently shown us that materialism actually makes us sad. Materialism has damaged our society for too long – it’s time we see past the illusion that the more we have, the more happy we are. It can’t be a coincidence that our society is less happy now than the 1950’s as we’ve become more materialistic and consumerist. (By the way, this research was done in 2006, before the recession began, so we are probably even more unhappy now.)
3) Making a difference
Young people are the future and our hope for a better world. So we need to make sure we encourage them to positively contribute to society. They need to feel as if they’re making a difference, because this will give them confidence. We also need to allow their creativity to thrive at a young age, not inhibit it as we currently do, with rigid and restrictive systems.
Let’s first start by giving young people respect, and hope they will reciprocate it. Why not talk to them just as we would talk to anyone else?
We need to ask for their input and ideas. The greatest, most innovative ideas often come from young people. In a world moving so fast, it’s important we not only keep up, but out-think and outpace others. Young people, brought up and accustomed to the world of evolving technology, are perhaps more likely to have the entrepreneurial minds to create the ideas of tomorrow.