This is a question that even the 82 year old Kurt Vonnegut was asking. In his A Man Without A Country: A Memoir Of Life In George W Bush’s America, (Bloomsbury), his son and pediatrician Dr. Vonnegut gave a pretty good answer: "Father, we are here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is."
I sometimes think that we are unhappy with our lives because we try too hard to live it the way someone else thinks it should be lived. Unfortunately there are so many people - some of them family and friends - who like to dictate to us how to live life.
As children we are in a position where we can't really be too rebellious toward the views our parents are imposing on us but in your 30s and 40s do we still need to be so easily affected by what others say and what they think you should do?
I noticed this a few years ago when some people got upset when they asked me where I went on holiday and I said I'd not gone anywhere. It seems there is this expectation that one must go on a holiday and boast about the things they did. Some of them even launched an attack on the way I lived my life saying: You need to go on holidays.
In my opinion this is just as narrow minded as saying: You need a man.
So, what is it that people demand you do?
In the case of girls: You need to be beautiful, have perfect skin, the body of a model, wear designer clothing, perhaps have a diamond or two, have lots of friends who you go out clubbing with all the time, meet and marry a guy who not only looks like Juan Garcia Postigo (Mr. World 2007), but has a great job with a great company and the salary and benefits that come with it. You'll travel with him to exotic locations in the world and have some kids who grow up to be just as perfect as you and Juan.
If you don't subscribe to these you will invariably meet criticism. If you do, people will say bad things about you anyway because they're jealous. So, you can't really win.
Actually the ideas of what you should be doing are even more specific. For example, take the holiday. You're not only supposed to go somewhere cool, but you have to say you went to this restaurant and that and stayed at this hotel and that. You might even come back from a holiday that you personally thought was fun until you told a friend who said: That doesn't sound like too much fun.
But at the end of the day it's the same as the overall way you live your life. Some people will have bad things to say no matter what because there's this competitive edge to people that makes them say negative things about what you do just so they feel good about themselves by reaffirming that: My life is better than yours.
Who needs friends like that?
But a lot of people tolerate such friends because successful people are supposed to have lots of friends and to have lots of friends you have to tolerate a lot of crap. I find this more prevalent amongst younger people and when people get older they do generally seem to wisen up about this a bit. Notice that older people seem to have fewer friends as a rule? But then again maybe some people are happy about being around people who are always trying to get one over them and insulting them constantly - if it makes them happy, fine.
In your life time you will meet very few really nice friends...but you'll find that when you tell these few friends about things you did in your life they will most likely say: So long as you enjoyed it, it's great.
Maybe they don't approve of what you're doing or approve of your guy or your girl or your new outfit or new house - but at the end of the day your happiness about these things is more important to them than finding fault in these things to make themselves feel good about themselves and their lives.
And these friends will help you get through life whatever it is we are trying to do here.
Kurt Vonnegut RIP