Everyone seeks happiness. But early on in life, we learn that we cannot be happy all the time.
With a good attitude, it is easy to find contentment in reflecting on life’s blessings and appreciating its simple pleasures. But as optimistic as we can be, there are daily inconveniences, personal crises and certain stages of life that simply come with certain challenges that we have no choice but to endure. So in spite of the ups and downs of everyday life, we need something that will always sustain us, and what best fits the bill is responsibility.
Responsibility, in its most basic essence, is one of the main things that gives life meaning. Responsibilities are things that we have to do. With no responsibilities, we could do (or not do) whatever we wanted. But in the absence of duty, it is difficult, if not impossible, to find any real purpose for our actions.
This deep fact of life was illuminated to me by the writings and lectures of the eminent psychologist and University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson. As he wrote in his bestselling book “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos”: “Expedience is the following of blind impulse. It’s short term gain. It’s narrow and selfish. … Meaning is its mature replacement. Meaning emerges when impulses are regulated, organized, and unified.”
This lesson is especially applicable to teenagers. Adolescence is often characterized by a tremendous desire for “freedom” and the ability to act according to one’s own volition, even if it stands athwart the values, rules, and social conventions of one’s childhood upbringing. But as many young people ultimately learn, unrestrained freedom, at best, only results in a listless drifting through life without a purpose, and at its worst, teenage “liberation” can end in chaos.
Without responsibility, whim takes its place. If subjective desire is our only factor in choosing what we do, it is difficult to understand why it would be worth doing anything at all. When we complete a responsibility, we fulfill something that needs to be done for its own sake. If personal choice becomes our only true motive of action, we can just as easily choose not to do something, and all action thereby loses any objective purpose.
All of this is not to the disdain of freedom and individuality, however. Freedom exercised within the parameters of responsibility is one of the greatest sources of happiness in human life. True freedom is never in conflict with responsibility, and the two complement and fulfill each other. When freedom is used to utilize your skills, talents, and interests, for the purpose of fulfilling social, civic, and religious duties, you feel that you have really done something worthwhile, and you also contribute to the greater good of society by fulfilling responsibilities that directly impact the lives of others.
Responsibility is what gives us freedom from the dull monotony of life without direction. As Peterson wrote: “If you act properly, your actions allow you to be psychologically integrated now, and tomorrow, and into the future, while you benefit yourself, your family, and the broader world around you. … You may find that if you attend to these moral obligations, once you have placed ‘make the world better’ at the top of your value hierarchy, you experience ever-deepening meaning.” I found that this advice was confirmed by my own experiences. When I first began to take advantage of local volunteering opportunities near me and become more involved with my church, I was amazed at how much my happiness, mental well-being, and overall life improved.
A person’s formative years are the perfect time to start developing a sense of duty in life. By being grateful for the opportunities that have been given to us, it is easy to realize our obligations to give back to our communities in our own unique ways. Recognizing our responsibilities is what will give us motivation to be productive, even during difficult times in life. Start creating a more meaningful life today by cherishing the values you were raised with, fostering deeper relationships, and undertaking as many responsibilities as you can to make the world a better place. This noble goal will allow you to live a life filled with purpose, both now and for many years to come.
Victor Gelfuso is a graduate of Richfield Springs Central School and a freshman at Siena College. Readers can contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Facebook at victorgelfusospeaking.