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更新时间:2017-9-9 11:51:18 来源:纽约时报中文网 作者:佚名

You’ll Never Be Famous — And That’s O.K.

Today’s college students desperately want to change the world, but too many think that living a meaningful life requires doing something extraordinary and attention-grabbing like becoming an Instagram celebrity, starting a wildly successful company or ending a humanitarian crisis.


Having idealistic aspirations is, of course, part of being young. But thanks to social media, purpose and meaning have become conflated with glamour: Extraordinary lives look like the norm on the internet. Yet the idea that a meaningful life must be or appear remarkable is not only elitist but also misguided. Over the past five years, I’ve interviewed dozens of people across the country about what gives their lives meaning, and I’ve read through thousands of pages of psychology, philosophy and neuroscience research to understand what truly brings people satisfaction.


The most meaningful lives, I’ve learned, are often not the extraordinary ones. They’re the ordinary ones lived with dignity.


There’s perhaps no better expression of that wisdom than George Eliot’s “Middlemarch,” a book I think every college student should read. At 700-some pages, it requires devotion and discipline, which is kind of the point. Much like a meaningful life, the completion of this book is hard won and requires effort. The heroine of the novel is Dorothea Brooke, a wealthy young gentlewoman in a provincial English town. Dorothea has a passionate temperament and yearns to accomplish some good in the world as a philanthropist. The novel’s hero, Tertius Lydgate, is an ambitious young doctor who hopes to make important scientific discoveries. Both hope to lead epic lives.

或许乔治·艾略特(George Eliot)的小说《米德尔马契》(Middlemarch)最准确地表达了这种智慧,我认为每个大学生都应该读一读这本书。它大概有700多页,需要全心投入和自我约束才能读完,而这两点也是本书的主旨。要读完这本书的确很难,需要努力才能做到,拥有一个有意义的人生也是如此。小说的女主角名叫多萝西娅·布鲁克(Dorothea Brooke),是一位出生在英国地方小镇的富有淑女。多萝西娅有一种激情洋溢的气质,渴望做一个慈善家,为世界带来点美好的东西。小说的男主人公特蒂斯·利德盖特(Tertius Lydgate)是一位胸怀大志的年轻医生,希望能获得重要的科学发现。两人都渴望过着英雄史诗般的生活。

Both Dorothea and Tertius end up in disastrous marriages — she to the vicar Mr. Casaubon, he to the town beauty Rosamond. Slowly, their dreams wither away. Rosamond, who turns out to be vain and superficial, wants Tertius to pursue a career lucrative enough to support her indulgent tastes, and by the end of the novel, he acquiesces, abandoning his scientific quest to become a doctor to the rich. Though conventionally “successful,” he dies at 50 believing himself a failure for not following through on his original life plan.


As for Dorothea, after the Reverend Casaubon dies, she marries her true love, Will Ladislaw. But her larger ambitions go unrealized. At first it seems that she, too, has wasted her potential.

至于多萝西娅,卡苏朋牧师去世后,她嫁给了自己的真爱威尔·拉迪斯拉夫(Will Ladislaw)。但她更大的抱负并未实现。乍看上去,她似乎也浪费了自己的潜力。

Tertius’s tragedy is that he never reconciles himself to his humdrum reality. Dorothea’s triumph is that she does.


By novel’s end, she settles into life as a wife and a mother, and becomes, Eliot writes, the “foundress of nothing.” It may be a letdown for the reader, but not for Dorothea. She pours herself into her roles as mother and wife with “beneficent activity which she had not the doubtful pains of discovering and marking out for herself.”


Looking out her window one day, she sees a family making its way down the road and realizes that she, too, is “a part of that involuntary, palpitating life, and could neither look out on it from her luxurious shelter as a mere spectator, nor hide her eyes in selfish complaining.” In other words, she begins to live in the moment. Rather than succumb to the despair of thwarted dreams, she embraces her life as it is and contributes to those around her as she can.


This is Eliot’s final word on Dorothea: “Her full nature, like that river which Cyrus broke the strength, spent itself in channels which had no great name on the earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”


It’s one of the most beautiful passages in literature, and it encapsulates what a meaningful life is about: connecting and contributing to something beyond the self, in whatever humble form that may take.


Most young adults won’t achieve the idealistic goals they’ve set for themselves. They won’t become the next Mark Zuckerberg. They won’t have obituaries that run in newspapers like this one. But that doesn’t mean their lives will lack significance and worth. We all have a circle of people whose lives we can touch and improve — and we can find our meaning in that.

大多数年轻人无法实现他们为自己设定的理想主义目标。他们不会成为下一个马克·扎克伯格(Mark Zuckerberg)。他们的讣告不会被登在《纽约时报》这样的报纸上。但这并不意味着他们的人生将会缺乏意义、没有价值。我们身边可以接触到许多人,他们的生活是我们可以改善的——从中我们可以找到自己的人生意义。

A new and growing body of research within psychology about meaningfulness confirms the wisdom of Eliot’s novel — that meaning is found not in success and glamour but in the mundane. One research study showed that adolescents who did household chores felt a stronger sense of purpose. Why? The researchers believe it’s because they’re contributing to something bigger: their family. Another study found that cheering up a friend was an activity that created meaning in a young adult’s life. People who see their occupations as an opportunity to serve their immediate community find more meaning in their work, whether it’s an accountant helping his client or a factory worker supporting her family with a paycheck.


As students head to school this year, they should consider this: You don’t have to change the world or find your one true purpose to lead a meaningful like. A good life is a life of goodness — and that’s something anyone can aspire to, no matter their dreams or circumstances.