What Does One Live On?
Where do we derive meaning for our existence and how do we find happiness? Can souls be nourished like bodies? If the world is a window, what do we see when we look in as we pass it by?
If only we wanted to be happy, it would be easy; but we want to be happier than other people, which is difficult, since we think them happier than they are.
Charles de Montesquieu
Humans are the highest of all creatures. It is neither their physical strength nor their beauty of the face or skin that renders them superior to other creatures — it is the mind and the unique will that renders humans precious. This alone provides us with clues about the essence of humanity. The feature that makes humans superior to other creatures is the foundation we should build upon. This foundation is crucial for us to understand human’s past, present, and future. Just like a single person is a universe, so is the union of persons that makes up a society. In both cases, it is of great importance that humans be addressed as a person for us to understand the significance of all humanity.
A bomb can destroy in seconds a palace built by a thousand people after years of hard work. Likewise, a work by a master artisan cannot be made through the collaboration of hundreds of people. A person, therefore, means as much for the society as he/she does as an individual. Just as every value and behavior that will make him/her happy, peaceful and productive is important for the individual, these behaviors are equally important for the society.
It’s for this very reason that we ask the question “What do humans live on?” This question is to focus on that which a person’s soul, heart, and conscience, rather than the body, live on?
Like Sabahattin Ali said, “Man couldn’t have come to world to eat, to drink, to go to bed with someone. There had to be a bigger, a more human thing…”
“If we want to be happy, we have to believe that real life exists not in the body but in the soul,” says Tolstoy. The modern person who has lost direction should make a guide of this statement just like a lost hiker in the forest must embraces the North Star to get the correct bearings.
Contemporary people, who try to find happiness in material things and who sink further down as they struggle, look like the desperate person who tries to quench a thirst by drinking sea water. Like a thing sought in the wrong place can never be found, a person who seeks happiness in the body and peace in money and material things will never find what he/she is after. If peace is found in the body and not the soul, it will be the person’s undoing.
It is for this reason that Friedrich Nietzsche seeks “the superman.” It is an undeniable fact that we as a society have a thirst for the superman, although I find Nietzsche’s arguments for superman status wrong. Nietzsche argued that a person had to strip off all ideological and existential characteristics; belief, morality and systems were unnecessary and these were against human nature, and without getting rid of them, it was not possible to reach the superman. Humans, however, are very precious and venerable, values that are based on their essence, on interaction with every creation.
The main problem is corrupt egos of individuals who are ready to compete with others for property, possessions and positions, feel unbound by any rule, and cause damages to both themselves and the society.
True humanity is that from whose hand and tongue others feel safe. The problem that humans have to address, on the other hand, is how to help the individual preserve his/her essence. This can only happen when persons feel spiritually happy and peaceful. Consequently, for a solution to the problem, it is essential that persons have not started to rot vis-à-vis their physical and spiritual anatomy.
Running water remains alive and still water smells like death. In the same vein, it is essential that humans always keep their soul alive. As long as one keeps the soul young and active, he/she will strip away the body, leave behind its form, and embrace the substance of the soul. And foremost a person will be happy as much as he/she makes others happy. When a person feels happy, the soul will rise like a turtledove.
A teacher stripped of his/her material being will be happy to the extent to which he/she struggles to contribute to students’ lives. A doctors will be happy when they feel certain that they have done their best for patients. Police officers or a judges will be happy to the extent that they are particular about enforcing the law better. And parents will be happy to the extent that they spend more time with their children despite the presence of distractions, such as TV or Internet. Youngsters will gain in self-awareness and reach real maturity when they show compassion to an animal near at hand, rather than abuse or torture it.
In a nutshell, it is what people do for others that render them happy and precious. A study published by The New York Times titled “Unmarried Couples Gain in Numbers, but Survey Finds Married Ones May Be Happier,” will make the argument clearer. Marriage means sacrifice. It means living life on a common denominator. It is spouses’ forgoing their own desires, making their partners happy, and becoming happy as a consequence. Self-control and forgiveness are more common in married people than in unmarried people. More often than not, this attitude almost always makes the pleaser smile rather than the pleased smile.
Owning super luxurious items, having the best cell phone, or wearing the highest quality clothing will not make a person happier, although it improves individual appearance. People who share everything on social media, and seek others’ appreciation and approval are unhappy because they based their happiness on other people’s gazes and recognition.
As stated at the beginning of this essay, French political philosopher Charles de Montesquieu once said, “If only we wanted to be happy, it would be easy; but we want to be happier than other people, which is difficult, since we think them happier than they are.” On the other hand, people who help someone in need in secret will feel happy on the inside not needing the approval or attention from others. This psychological feature of humans reveals that making others happy results in true peace and happiness.
Persons who devotes their lives to others’ appreciation and approval should know that the appreciations and approvals will ultimately vanish. What is important is leaving behind a nice touch in the heaven, and what keeps people living is excitement about and ambition for leaving behind a nice touch in the heavens.
As the poet Yunus Emre wrote:
Water has always run by The river's dried, time's up So many Khans, so many sultans Left their thrones and gone by The world is a window Every corner's seen and walked by.
Selim Dorak was born in Istanbul and now lives in Norway with his wife and child. He holds a master’s degree in business administration and is currently a human rights activist working for Amnesty Norway and writing a novel and book on sexual abuse.