The short answer is, “No one knows, exactly.” The longer answer suggests there are at least some parts we can know.
Genetics plays a large and mysterious part: some of us tend towards depression more than others due to chemical levels in the brain, for example. But our genes to some degree can be “tweaked,” so to speak, through behavioral counseling that results in a new perception of our self.
Which brings us to environment and upbringing as key factors in determining who we become. The outlook we accept concerning the nature of life is mainly informed by our parents or close relatives and friends at our earliest ages.
It also seems, sometimes sadly, that depending on ones’ desires or level of trauma at a young age, people can struggle adjusting the mindset imprinted on them. All the more reason to nurture and care for children as best we can.
What we are left with at the end of the day is a self that is made up of a mix of genetics and experiences that are intimately interconnected, with genetics affecting our perception of our experiences and experiences subtly altering the structure of who we are. Our will – our heart’s desires, what we want – flow from this spring. And as a fantastic quote I came across recently states, “What the heart desires, the will chooses and the mind justifies.”
At a basic level, I suggest we are not entirely culpable for the desires that come from our heart – they’re a result, largely, of those genes and experiences. And yet, we are all capable of understanding desires within us that are “good” and “bad.” Defining what makes something “good” and “bad” is a separate topic, but there is a decent argument to be made that most human cultures tend to share the same basic morals.
We are therefore able to recognize within ourselves many desires that are healthy and unhealthy. We disagree on what constitutes “healthy” and “unhealthy” on some issues, but on more basic premises we tend to agree: anger is damaging when left unaddressed; bitterness eats away at us; real love is healing and empowering and so on.
If we are interested in being happy and healthy, we will – with help – begin to confront whatever demons are eating away at us from the inside. That’s incredibly hard and intimidating, but the alternative is to continue “just getting by” in life, which is all we can do on some days, but is a really depressing end-goal.
Eventually the things we distract ourselves with will be out of reach: our jobs, our hobbies, our obsessions. If we dig into the reasons why we crave to be distracted, if we begin to heal from our damage, we will begin to live with joy. And the reasons why we should consider doing this go beyond the selfish – if we care about the people we love, we will seek confrontation with our darkness for their sake, because when we’re honest with ourselves we know our own damage hurts them.
In the next post I will share some personal tales of failure and damage and how that influenced my perspective on life. I am a broken individual, but I’m choosing to turn the desires of my heart to the better and healthier things in life. I think if we really want to see life for whatever truth is to be understood out there, we have to do that – otherwise our rationality, our justifications, and our perceptions will continuously be distorted by our damage.