Little kids are programmable in a certain way. You can teach them to do and say things, more or less on command.
So when Bella was about six, if we were at a party and somebody asked about the purpose of life (yeah, I get in that kind of conversation all the time), I would turn to six-year-old Bella.
“Bella,” I’d say. “What is the purpose of life?”
“To laugh,” she would say.
“And what is our responsibility?” I would ask.
“To make sure everyone else can laugh, too.”
People laughed. Admittedly, as I already said, Bella was somewhat programmable (not so much now that she is nearly 14). The important point isn’t that a kid said it, however, though that was a nice party trick.
The important point is what that little scene points to–the desire for psychological freedom to be who we are and laugh and be playful about life. And the responsibility we have to make sure that freedom is available everyone else, too.
The psychologist Carl Rogers wrote: “It seems to me that the good life is not any fixed state. It is not, in my estimation, a state of virtue, or contentment, or nirvana, or happiness. It is not a condition in which the individual is adjusted, fulfilled, or actualized….The good life is a process, not a state of being…It is a direction, not a destination. The direction…is that which is selected by the [full person], when there is psychological freedom to move in any direction.”
In other words, the good life is the freedom to be yourself which, often for me, is the freedom to treat life as play which is the freedom to laugh.
Now, to have that psychological freedom or even to work for it is an incredible privilege. To not be constantly worrying about feeding your kids or keeping a roof over your head and to be able to think about your spiritual and psychological state is a lucky place to be.
That is where the second half of Bella’s performance comes in. “Our responsibility is to make sure that other people can laugh to.”
But here is the amazing part. As we grow psychologically and spiritually towards the good life, when we are truly free, we also become more empathic and compassionate and the boundaries between self and other fall away.
We see that that it is no fun to laugh alone. It is no fun to play alone. To be in Heaven or Nirvana by yourself is the height of loneliness. It’s so lonely, in fact, that being there alone means that it is not Nirvana or Heaven.
Humanity either enters Nirvana and Heaven together or not at all.
When we are truly free to laugh or play we are also free to feel. We do not need to defend ourselves against the pain of others’ suffering. Feeling their suffering we act to alleviate it.
You simply cannot not laugh as much as you’d like if all others aren’t laughing, too. You can’t be as safe as you’d like if all others aren’t safe, too. You can’t have as much joy as you like if all others aren’t in joy, too.
This is why inner psycho-spiritual growth and working towards ecological and social justice are ultimately connected. Creating justice, we bring about the conditions for growth. Creating growth, we encourage more people to work for justice.
What does that mean for our lives?
Well, in general, I don’t believe in life formulas, but if I had to offer one it would be this one:
Figure out what you need to be free to do. Then work to make sure everyone is free to do that, too.
PS Want to join one of my coaching groups? Each one will have four participants and meet weekly, twelve times for 90 minutes. The cost for the program works out at $125 per session. If you are interested, please contact me.