As I waited at the bus stop one morning last week, watching both school kids and adults waiting to go to their places of education or work to spend the day, I was once again struck by the thought of meaning in life.
The kids were waiting there to go to school to work out what they want to do with their lives, what career path they want to follow. Then there were the adults who had gone through it all years before. It was the expressionless or just plain unhappy looks on the faces of the adults – who used to be just like the school kids next to them – that hit me. They seemed to convey the thoughts of millions of workers across the western world – a wish that they didn’t have to spend another day at this job, that if only they could win the lotto and ‘life could be a dream’ as one recent ad put it.
As I saw this scene played out before me, as it is every day of the working week, I wondered again – is this all there is? Is all those kids have to hope for just about getting their qualifications, landing a job, maybe having a family, living 80 or 90 years and then dying? Is that it? Are they destined to spend the next 50 years just going to work every day and making money? Where is the meaning? Where is the purpose?
I believe there has to be something more. Life is more than the accumulation of possessions and wealth, which we lose when we eventually kick the bucket anyway. I remember a pastor of mine telling me years ago of a funeral she conducted for a friend. A close relative of the friend looked at the body in the open coffin, reflected on the person’s life, and made the strong point that “there has to be something more”. It couldn’t have just ended with the death of her body. Something seemed to be telling her that people are made for more than this. Soon I hope to be able to purchase a new book by Dr. Stephen Ilardi called The Depression Cure. This work looks at the massive increase in depression in the western world in the last 100 years from, not just a cognitive-behavioral point of view, but also from an anthropological angle.
Fortunately this message is slowly getting through in even the business pages of some media. The Age last week ran an article reminding us that the measure of GDP is just one way to measure a society’s wellbeing. Paul Jelfs, the author of the article, explained how the Australian Bureau of Statistics has a number of other indicators, including the Measure of Australia’s Progress (MAP) and the Generic Social Survey. And many readers will probably be aware of Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness indicator. Interestingly, according to American Public Media, since “Bhutan glimpsed the rest of the world seven years ago with the arrival of TV and the Internet…happiness [has become] an increasingly rare commodity”. Yet again I am reminded of the relevance of Luke 12:13-21 and the other old words of Jesus – what shall it profit you if you gain the whole world but lose your very self in the process?