So many people walk around with a meaningless life. . . . This is because they’re chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to something that gives you purpose and meaning.
Morrie said these words to Mitch on their first meeting after sixteen years, and he repeats them again later. By repeating the phrase “devote yourself” three times, Morrie makes clear that self-sacrifice and looking outward to others, rather than focusing on the self, is the key to being fulfilled. He points out that the people without meaningful lives “seem half-asleep, even when they’re doing things they think are important.” Mitch recognizes himself in that description but does not immediately change his ways. His devotion to loving Morrie becomes the first step toward self-improvement.
We’re so wrapped up with egotistical things, career, family, having enough money . . . we’re involved in trillions of little acts just to keep going. So we don’t get into the habit of standing back and looking at our lives and saying: Is that all? Is that all I want? Is something missing?
Morrie realizes that Mitch feels ambivalent about the choices he has made so far in life: If he died today, Mitch would have many regrets about things he didn’t do. While Morrie both articulates and practices living a meaningful life, his response to Mitch shows that he understands and sympathizes with those who get off track or never do find meaning. He recognizes that “it won’t just happen automatically.” One needs a push. Morrie himself embodies living meaningfully, but in his gentle coaching of Mitch he practices another of his tenets: forgiveness of others and oneself.
[I]f aging were so valuable, why do people always say, “Oh, if I were young again.” . . .
He smiled. “You know what that reflects? Unsatisfied lives. Unfulfilled lives. Lives that haven’t found meaning. Because if you’ve found meaning in your life, you don’t want to go back.”
Mitch mentions the common wish people express to return to their youth. Morrie sees this regret as a sign that the person’s present life feels meaningless. If one lives with meaning and purpose now, one has no need to go back—one feels happy with today. Morrie sees society’s obsession with youth generally as absurd, since so many young people he knew as a professor seemed quite unhappy, not to mention unwise. Morrie blames mainstream culture for this epidemic of dissatisfaction. One has to ignore society both to get away from the obsession with youth and to live meaningfully.
Do the kinds of things that come from the heart. When you do, you won’t be dissatisfied, you won’t be envious, you won’t be longing for somebody else’s things. On the contrary, you’ll be overwhelmed with what comes back.
Morrie explains why he continues to welcome people who want to share their painful experiences. Morrie cherishes his ability to make others feel good, something he can still do in spite of his illness. He advises Mitch to find people to whom he can give his time and skills, assuring him that he will both feel satisfaction and receive gratitude. He contrasts this fulfillment with the hunt for status, which leaves one dissatisfied personally and does not impress others as much as one might hope. Morrie knows, without being told, that Mitch has been pursuing status. He also knows that Mitch feels dissatisfied with his life.
Part of the problem, Mitch, is that everyone is in such a hurry. . . . People haven’t found meaning in their lives, so they’re running all the time looking for it. They think the next car, the next house, the next job. Then they find these things are empty, too, and they keep running.
Morrie explains why most people struggle with being fully present for others, even for a short time. People searching for meaning are always looking for the next potential solution to their problem. Morrie seems, as always, aware of the difficulty of what he is asking others to do, even though the practice comes naturally to him. Mitch notes that Morrie had tried to teach him the importance of being fully present back at Brandeis. Now Mitch sees that he is one of the people “running all the time.” Mitch acknowledges that if a dying man can slow down to connect, he probably can and should too.