Last Updated: April 1st, 2019

Two contradictory views of happiness exist in our modern world. One teaches that happiness is to be found in material and superficial things that are often to be found through consumerism, celebrity culture, etc. Conversely, these same sources now tell us to embrace ourselves, that our uniqueness is valuable and to find happiness within. So, how do we come to terms with these contradictory views? And, moreover, why is it important to “know thyself.”

Philosophers and poets alike have been struggling to discover the hidden “self.” The hidden self eludes most of us for many reasons. Either we’re alienated from ourselves by the consumerist culture that clouds our view of our own needs, or we simply do not spend enough time with ourselves to know the difference.

With the speed with which we move through the modern world, I believe the greater culprit is our own ignorance of our deeper desires. Most people explore and discover themselves in their teen years only to lose sight of themselves in their adult years. This estrangement makes perfect sense.

In our youth we’re awarded so much time to find ourselves. School directs young people to follow their dreams, counsellor’s help guide teens’ every move and no one tells them they’re too old to follow their dreams. So naturally young people can explore and find themselves. They can make and break friendships within a week, change hair colour as often as they change their music tastes, and they can try again. But, these same individuals who went through their teen years with so much freedom to explore suddenly lose touch with this curiosity and become estranged to the “self.”

I didn’t know that I was estranged from my hidden self until recently when I decided to go back to school. The thought crossed my mind when I suddenly realized I didn’t know my own interests anymore. I had already spent so many years studying in one field that the thought of going in another direction seemed impossible. I mean, who am I if I subtracted those five years at university? What will those years mean if I take a sharp turn towards another path? This discovery was utterly disconcerting.

I didn’t have the luxury of my youth to rethink my interests, or a high school counsellor to pick my courses for me. This time I had to figure it out on my own. And I was at a loss. It’s so important to know thyself because, as I found out, I couldn’t make a move without knowing myself. I was stuck in limbo. So I decided to reconnect with an old part of me, a curious part. But, I found it very difficult.

It’s difficult to try and tap into a youthful joie de vivre when life teaches us to be cynical and realistic. In the end, my problem was bigger than not knowing what to study in school; my problem was that I found the thought of going back to school degrading. I was no longer optimistic or idealistic about the value of education. I had already gone through the system and knew what to expect.

The plan now is to learn about the “self.” I feel like I can’t make another move in my life until I’ve identified the new “self” and redirect my life with new purpose towards new goals. “Knowing thyself” is hard, especially the older you get or the more life moves you away from your initial desire. One can become so alienated from the hidden “self” that they may no longer even recall the genesis of their journey. The importance of this journey of self-discovery can only be truly felt by the person undertaking the quest. It cannot rely on external sources.

I suspect it’s going to take a lot of meditation, exploring my hobbies, finding my interests and reading old journals to discover the motives that brought me to my current situation and revisit them to identify their value today. Most importantly, it means letting go of who I think I am in order to see what is hidden inside.  I may just discover incredible things about my hidden “self,” perhaps I’ll even surprise myself.

by Tihana Skoric
image: A cat staring at its own mirror reflection via Shutterstock