The Melancholy of Fulfillment

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Happiness and achievement is temporary

Humans are beings who constantly want more. Ernst Bloch called this “the melancholy of fulfillment.” When one goal is achieved or one wish is granted, we experience joy, but eventually the initial gratification wears off and we feel empty again. We want something else. Nothing is ever enough.

The “melancholy of fulfillment” speaks to an experience with which many students are familiar. Many are arriving at college campuses this week with a sense of emptiness. The acceptance letter or scholarship that seemed to be the key to happiness a few months ago is no longer sufficient. Now, the desire for new friends, interesting classes, a comfortable dorm, and a high GPA may be so strong that the initial pride you felt just to get to college or graduate school has almost completely disappeared. Some of you may be struggling with problems such as a sick relative, the recent death of a loved one, a mental or physical illness, or financial concerns, that make previous goals no longer seem important, maybe even petty. A long coveted paper publication or spot on a sports team cannot simply heal a heart broken by tragedy.

As human beings, we will always be people with a thirst that can never quite be quenched. Nothing – not money, not a date with the cute guy or girl in your class, not a 4.0 – will make you completely satisfied. The fact that human life is a life of constant longing for more, speaks to the need for God. It makes sense that the human is destined to find his or her complete and final happiness and end in God, in Someone who transcends this world.

God is greater thanThis is not a plea to go to church. Right now, you may be questioning your faith. You may want a break from the tradition in which you were raised in order to discover yourself and where you belong. That is OK. What I do urge you to remember is that God does not work like human beings. God does not leave if you forget to call and chat, or make a poor decision, or even if you deny God exists. God does not make a loud entry into your life, but rather is with you in silence, and is greater than all of your worries, wants, and needs.

Of course, the fact that perfection is unattainable by human beings is never an excuse to be idle. Rather, it’s a push to do more. Our creaturely state of constantly yearning for more, rather than a curse, can be seen as a blessing. No friend or family member can ever bring you complete happiness, so always open your heart to new people. You are not all-knowing, so do not judge people at first glance. The star football player might be lonely. The confident, bubbly girl across the hall may have struggled with an eating disorder. Your favorite professor might struggle with severe anxiety. The shy, nerdy, quiet guy might be able to make you laugh on a bad day if you just gave him a chance. No one is just a nerd, or just a jock, or just an anything.

Nothing you do will be 100% successful, so do more wherever you can. No fundraiser or humanitarian trip will save the entire world, so keep going. Volunteer at the homeless shelter, but also stand up for the guy being bullied and shunned in cafeteria. Travel to South America if you can, but come home and spend time with an elderly neighbor. Go for that A in your English class, try to score that goal or run that race, apply for that internship, but know that you are not defined by those things, that you can survive without them because they are not and can never be your total fulfillment and satisfaction. Only God is total perfection and satisfaction, and that is more than OK.

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