“The meaning of life is just to be alive. It is so plain and so obvious and so simple. And yet, everybody rushes around in a great panic as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond them.” – Alan Watts
Enjoying being alive is surely a worthy pursuit, but even Watts, in pointing this out, was achieving something beyond himself. For otherwise, what are we contributing beyond a few laughs over drinks? Unsaid, I believe, is contributing joyful pursuits that create those ripples that live on beyond your lifetime.
I’ve visited the graves of many notable names in history, and generally it’s a chunk of silent stone in a lonely plot. The best graves betray the personality of the person who resides there. A clever line about how they lived, or what they believed. Or maybe it’s the stone itself that signals the character of the person. Ralph Waldo Emerson lies below a chunk of rose quartz, which stands out amongst the weathered gray stones of his family and peers on Author’s Ridge. Whether you ever knew much about Emerson, you’d surely note the personality emanating from his gravestone.
Of course, Emerson left a big ripple well beyond a rock on a hill through his contribution to the world. Did he enjoy writing and speaking? Certainly. Emerson wasn’t running around in a panic trying to achieve something beyond himself. He just did the work. And so did Watts. And so must we.
“Men live in their fancy, like drunkards whose hands are too soft and tremulous for successful labor. It is a tempest of fancies, and the only ballast I know is a respect to the present hour.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature
There’s a distinction between being alive and achieving something in your life, but they don’t have to be mutually exclusive. And usually the things that make us feel most alive offer more than just a momentary dopamine rush. They’re part of building something beyond ourselves. Family, meaningful work, friendships that transcend convenience, and community. These things aren’t achieved, they’re earned one moment at a time.