Many people think that the essence of human life, its meaning and purpose, should be rooted in no other thing but to be as happy as possible. If human beings succeed at this, they bask in selfish, inherited or constructed happiness; if they fail to do so, they claim that their social situation has prevented them from thinking about anything else other than survival.
There are others who believe, on the contrary, that a life is only worth living if it is useful to others and if it brings something to the world.
For me, the quest for personal happiness is not enough to justify an existence. The proof is that the world would not be better if a person, happy as he may be, exists; in contrast, the world would be better if this individual’s happiness was not built on the misfortune or exploitation of one or more other human beings.
Personally, I believe that altruism is a good criterion for a successful life, and the only worthwhile life: a life is only successful if the world is, after the life has ended, slightly better because that life existed.
In other words, a life that does not bring anything to others is not a necessary life; in other words: succeeding in life means being altruistic.
Many who seek to give meaning to their lives through solely finding happiness seek it in vain, because they never find an opportunity to be useful to others; consequently, they end up renouncing such quest and taking refuge and consoling themselves in misanthropy. Others, however, find meaning through altruism, and succeed in their lives by passing on to their children what they’ve known for years, or by teaching, caring, helping, creating, innovating, inventing and transmitting, for many years.
Some people do it even faster, when happenstance put them in a position to accomplish, in a few days, in a few hours even, a major feat that alone justifies their passage on this Earth.
This is the case of the 400 firemen who were in a position to prevent the total destruction of the Notre Dame de Paris, and of all those who supported them with their advice, instructions and equipments. Whatever they do with the rest of their lives, these people will be able to say to themselves: my life has been useful to humanity.
This did not happen to them by chance: from the beginning, they chose a life fundamentally devoted to common happiness, during which the probability of being in a situation, at least once, of being altruistic was very high.
Risking your life, however, for causes beyond your control is not the only way to succeed in life. Being altruistic does not require taking the risk of death; it only requires putting one’s own happiness after the happiness of others; or, even better, finding one’s happiness in the happiness of others.
To achieve this requires two internal struggles at the same time: the first aims to seek, in the deepest part of yourself, what constitutes the essence of one’s personality, uniqueness and realization, in a radical “becoming yourself”. The second is to deduce how this personal “becoming yourself” can be put at the service of others becoming themselves.
It is in this double quest that a life becomes meaningful. And it is by promoting it, through schooling, and through all possible means, that a nation creates a common project, making self-realization the condition for building and protecting a common heritage.