Last week’s conversation with a friend over tea, on travel, selfishness and vanity set my mind on the trail to write this. It started with him telling me how much he loved travel but lately has been feeling a little guilty about traveling purely for personal joy and felt he should start traveling with a purpose. As someone who has traveled for no reason except complete personal joy, my spontaneous and almost offended response to him was “There can be no better reason or purpose than personal joy! “, to which he asked “Don’t you think that is a bit selfish?”
This set me wondering on many similar conversations that have happened in my recent past with many people. The common theme was the guilt associated with traveling for self-pleasure and the quest for making up for it by doing purposeful travel. Is personal joy not a purpose large enough?
These are all people who a few years ago were happy doing what they loved with complete enjoyment without a care. So what is it that changes to bring them to question it and start asking the question of “What is the purpose?” As a child have we ever asked “Why should I eat the chocolate just for personal joy? “It is not a wrong question, but I am assuming, most of us just ate the chocolate the minute we laid hands on it, except for may be sharing a piece with our sibling or best friend. As a teenager have we ever asked “Why should I watch movies just for personal joy?” Again it is not a wrong question, but I am assuming that most of us were just glad to watch that movie with our saved up money once in a while for the pure joy of it. At 30, the chocolate and movie may be replaced by that vacation and trip. Why does the attitude suddenly change from just relishing it to questioning the purpose and feeling the guilt? Is personal joy not a purpose large enough?
Now if you have always been happier with donating the chocolate to someone than eating it or gifting the movie ticket to someone than watching it on your own, then that becomes your normal course to personal joy and hence becomes your purpose. It is the exception of suddenly questioning it half-heartedly that is contradictory. I use travel as an example as it is a topic that is close to my heart, but we can replace it with anything and the principle of personal joy being a purpose by itself vs. searching for a larger purpose, remains the same. There is nothing wrong with traveling for the sake of personal joy and self-indulgence. It may sound vain but there is nothing wrong with vanity especially if it is even paid for with our own efforts. Masking the act which gives us joy with an altruistic or external purpose only increases the hypocrisy of it. Ironically altruism also becomes an act of personal joy and self-indulgence, if done in its purest sense.
That chai session ended with me saying “If you would much rather go see that waterfall in Zimbabwe than spend that time and money on teaching at a school Zimbabwe, then go for it guiltlessly as both are equally strong purposes”. In fact even if we choose the teaching over the waterfall, the choice should ideally be made for the reason of personal joy for teaching and not because we felt it was morally a larger purpose. In the end, selfishness should be the driver for either of the choices. Even altruism in its purest sense becomes an act of selfishness and self-indulgence
I hope the friend was convinced that he should travel for whatever reason gives him joy even if it is no reason at all.