By Yemisi Shyllon.
I want to share some interesting statistics of life with you. The normal expected life span of man, if one is lucky, is 70 years. This amounts to only 25,568 days. If one lives up to 80years, it would total 29,220 days on earth. For the few lucky ones that may live up to 90 years, they will only live up to 32,873 days on earth. Even those who live over 100 years, will never make 50,000 days on earth. This reminds us of the existential futility in our relentless and endless search for life’s successes and accumulation of wealth without giving and connecting with basic humanity. Most people focus solely on things that have to do with material wealth, like having cars, building and buying properties, accumulating women, buying jewelries and other selfish illusions of life that are generally, not meaningful to life.
Those whose vision about life is influenced by the philosophy of existential futility of man’s struggles are generally aware that happiness in life “doesn’t result from what we get but what we give”. Indeed , giving instead of receiving in life’s pursuit, amounts to living a meaningful life. Positive psychology is the field of human study that engages in expanding the virtues of meaningful living. Some researchers in this field, have, in depth, explored this issue of meaningful living, by trying to tear apart the difference between a meaningful life and a happy one. Their research suggests that there’s more to life than happiness.
Roy Baumeister, a Francis Eppes Professor of Psychology at the Florida State University, in a paper he published in the Journal of Positive Psychology, co-authored with other researchers at the University of Minnesota and Stanford, USA, have revealed from their studies, that, “A happy life, is significantly different from a meaningful life”.
Baumeister and his colleagues surveyed 397 adults, looking for correlations between their levels of happiness, meaningfulness, and various other aspects of lives, including behavior, moods, relationships, health, stress levels, work lives, creative pursuits, and more. Their
findings suggest that meaningful life is separate from happiness. It is not connected with whether one is healthy, has enough money, or feels comfortable in life.
Their research identified five major differences between a happy and meaningful life as follows:
1. Happy people satisfy their wants and needs, but that seems largely irrelevant to a meaningful life.
2. Happiness involves being focused on the present, whereas meaningfulness involves thinking more about the past, present, and future—and the relationship between them. In addition, happiness was seen as fleeting, while meaningfulness seemed to last longer.
3. Meaningfulness in life is derived from giving to other people, whereas happiness comes from what they give to you.
4. Meaningful life involves stress and challenges.
5. Self-expression is important to meaningful life but not necessarily, to happiness.
Polly Alakija’s Example Of Living A Meaningful Life
In general, positive psychologists have concluded that doing things to express oneself and caring about personal and cultural identity are linked to a meaningful life but not necessarily, a happy one. As known to many of us here, Polly Alakija was born in the UK, where she studied and sharpened her skill in visual art. She married a Nigerian in 1990 but relocated to South Africa in 2005. In 2011, Polly moved to the UK, and is now based in Gloucestershire.
As well as pursuing her own art career, she has involved herself actively in community art-related projects and painting. In so doing, she has been contributing meaningfully, through her philanthropic art activities, to the lives of many in our community, state and indeed to the development of our nation. Her canvases are inhabited by gentle giants of nature, whose energy is conserved in a permanent lethargy, where rich colour contrast brushwork, form and texture dominate. Her works are included in numerous private collections in the USA, UK, France, Nigeria and South Africa and in several corporate collections, including Sahara, AVI, and Laurent Perrier.
She has anchored many philanthropical community art projects, notable amongst which are: “philanthropic spontaneity for children of the poor in Nigeria”. She has also transformed our erstwhile public transportation vehicle – molue, into a mobile art for the Eruobodo philanthropy house. She has engaged in residency programs in Nigeria, UK and South Africa and has performed in many philanthropical partnerships in different part of the world. She is currently a member of the Global Energy Pathogens Treatment (GET) Consortium, a nonprofit consortium engaged in field work with some Ebola survivors to save lives. Through GET, she will also be using art as a post-traumatic stress disorder therapy and help to break down the stigmatization of Ebola survivors.
The kind of exemplary contributions to society, by Polly Alakija, are what makes life meaningful. In our parent’s generation, meaningful life was limited generally to getting married with a “good” job, having kids and creating a “nice” home. As time went on, the formula for fulfillment got more complex: Self-actualization was what mattered.
Unfortunately, we have since degenerated into selfish and self-centered, “having it all”-domestic bliss, acquiring properties, owning private jets and yachts, which mostly are through looting public and corporate treasuries with abandon, complete disregard and lack of conscience.
Doing Good, Feeling Good
We’ve all heard that money can’t buy happiness, and various researches by positive psychologists, appear to bear this out. As an example, people who are dissatisfied in their job, think it is because they don’t earn enough, but on the other hand, lots of people who earn very little are perfectly contented.
Researchers in positive Psychology have found that working at something philanthropic has a deeper and more lasting effect on wellbeing than the pursuit of pleasure, profit or wealth. Professor Martin Seligman, the father of positive-psychology movement and professor at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, has found a strong correlation between doing good and feeling good. In a class assignment where he had students to do something of fun, such as see a movie with friends, or volunteer to help others, the students invariably found putting others’ needs before their own, was more profoundly satisfying than fun seeking. “Eventually, you need to find a way to use your strength for something beyond yourself or you wind up doing what is called ‘fidgeting unto death,’” he states.
For emphasis about the need to live meaningfully, please let us share Steve Job’s Last Words before his passing away… “I reached the pinnacle of success in the business world. In others’ eyes, my life is an epitome of success. However, aside from work, I have little joy. In the end, wealth is only a fact of life that I am accustomed to. At this moment, lying on the sick bed and recalling my whole life, I realize that all the recognition and wealth that I took so much pride in, have paled and become meaningless in the face of impending death. In the darkness, I look at the green lights from the life supporting machines and hear the humming mechanical sounds, I can feel the breath of god of death drawing closer…….Now I know, when we have accumulated sufficient wealth to last our lifetime, we should pursue other matters that are unrelated to wealth……. The wealth I have won in my life I cannot bring with me. What I can bring is only the memories precipitated by love……. Material things lost can be found. But there is one thing that can never be found when it is lost – Life. When a person goes into the operating room, he will realize that there is one book that he has yet to finish reading – Book of Healthy Life…”
Treat yourself well. Cherish others and I also add, give , and give back to society.
We need to create room to give to those who do not have, empathize with the poor, under privileged and the physically handicapped of the world. We need to leave behind a legacy of selflessness, philanthropism (in whichever way one is best suited) and make meaningful contributions to our immediate community, society and nation. We need to add selfless value added to the lives of those in want all around us.
In conclusion, may I share this story with you, which is a true life story that happened in 1892 at Stanford University: “An 18-year-old student was struggling to pay his fees. He was an orphan, and not knowing where to turn for money, he came up with a bright idea. He and a friend decided to host a musical concert on campus to raise money for their education. They reached out to the great pianist Ignacy J. Paderewski. His manager demanded a guaranteed fee of $2,000 for the piano recital. A deal was struck and the boys began to work to make the concert a success.
The big day arrived. Unfortunately, they had not managed to sell enough tickets. The total collection was only $1,600. Disappointed, they went to Paderewski and explained their plight. They gave him the entire $1,600, plus a cheque for the balance $400. They promised to honour the cheque at the soonest possible. “No,” said Paderewski. “This is not acceptable.” He tore up the cheque, returned the $1,600 and told the two boys: “Here’s the $1,600. Please deduct whatever expenses you have incurred. Keep the money you need for your fees. And just give me whatever is left”. The boys were surprised, and thanked him profusely.
It was a small act of kindness. But it clearly marked out Paderewski as a great human being.
Paderewski later went on to become the Prime Minister of Poland. He was a great leader, but unfortunately when the World War began, Poland was ravaged. There were more than 1.5 million people starving in his country, and no money to feed them. Paderewski did not know where to turn for help. He reached out to the US Food and Relief Administration for help.
The head there was a man called Herbert Hoover — who later went on to become the US President. Hoover agreed to help and quickly shipped tons of food grains to feed the starving Polish people.
A calamity was averted. Paderewski was relieved. He decided to go across to meet Hoover and personally thank him. When Paderewski began to thank Hoover for his noble gesture, Hoover quickly interjected and said, “You shouldn’t be thanking me Mr. Prime Minister. You may not remember this, but several years ago, you helped two young students go through college. I was one of them.” The world is a wonderful place. What goes around comes around!
Let us use this forum to join Polly Alakija, in her pursuit and contributions to living meaningfully, while we also live meaningfully.
Prince (Engr) Yemisi Adedoyin Shyllon (B.Sc Hons Engr, MBA, LLB(Hons), BL, D.Litt, ACS, F.loD, FNSE, FNIM, FCIM, FNIMN, FNIAE, FCAI, COREN, C. Engr, Principal Partner Knightage Attorneys, Ikeja Founder / CEO Omooba Yemisi Adedoyin Shyllon Art Foundation) delivered this speech on 14 November to a distinguished audience of art stakeholders and philanthropists at an exhibition sponsored by UBS Bank in Lagos.