My last column was about regrets. I had asked a few people what regrets they had in life and they gave me some thoughtful answers. For this column, I thought I’d ask people a different question: Looking back in life, what gives you the most satisfaction?
Oftentimes, what gives us satisfaction and pleasure in the short term may not give us fulfillment in the long run. For example, when I buy something new, it certainly makes me happy, but in the long run, that satisfaction doesn’t always last.
I started out by talking with Carmine Prioli, a recently retired professor of American literature at N.C. State whom I had interviewed last time. He said: “What’s been most gratifying to me over the years has been working with young people as a baseball coach, teacher and parent. My hope is that the good I’ve done in those roles has outweighed the mistakes and shortcomings.”
I also asked Pansy Dodson, a 91-year-old friend of mine, and she said: “I think the thing that gives me the most satisfaction is helping other people. Young people have been a great thing in my life, too, working with youth; they’ve always kept me happy and young. I think maybe being with people and serving others and taking care of other people.” This is exactly what I expected she’d say, given her kind personality.
When I asked Chris and Bob Nutter, who co-owns Maple View Farm, what has given them the most satisfaction, Farmer Bob said, “Probably moving to North Carolina.” After moving to North Carolina is when he founded Maple View. His wife, Chris, who helped launch the Friends of Orange County Department of Social Services, replied, “My kids, family, and helping people.” All my life I have been impressed by Chris and Bob’s generosity, including recently when they have come by to visit with and bring ice cream to my grandfather.
My grandfather, Jim Hawfield, who has been living with us for the last few months under hospice care, had a simple answer to my question: his grandchildren. He is a man of few words, but has always made it clear that his grandchildren are the light of his life.
I interviewed my friend Wongong So, a priest at the Won Buddhism Temple in Chapel Hill, whom I had also interviewed for my last column. What gives her the most satisfaction in life is, “First, following the heart. I followed my heart when I chose to be in the priesthood right after high school. I followed my heart when I chose to spend time in learning English during the seminary course. I followed my heart when I moved to America and then to North Carolina to start the Temple, although I did not know anyone here.”
By learning English and moving to North Carolina, Wongong has helped bring enlightenment to many people.
Wongong continued: “Second, I have felt the great satisfaction when I am truly practicing letting go of things – either physical, mental, or emotional things. When I let go of some clothing or other belongings, I have felt lighter and satisfied. The practice of letting go of any judging mind, any feeling of guilt, or expectations for myself or others has freed my mind and allowed me to experience the deep level of satisfaction on my path.”
A theme seemed to emerge from the people I spoke with. Fulfillment can be found in helping others, either directly or through decisions that led to helping other people.
Everybody worries about what they are doing now and whether or not it will give them satisfaction later in life. But one lesson I’ve learned by talking with the people I interviewed is that you can’t go wrong by helping other people.
Since the beginning of time, humans have been asking the question, “What is the meaning of life?” I don’t know the answer to that question but if it doesn’t have to do with helping others, I don’t know what it could possibly be.
Lucas Selvidge is a 12th-grader at Carolina Friends School.