The other day I saw a coffee mug with the generalized and clichéd inspirational quote of “do what makes you happy.” The letters were stamped on this mug in a fun and quirky style intended to evoke feelings of positivity. However, my first thoughts and feelings were of skepticism and disgust. The creators of this mug have no idea who is going to see it and what it is that makes them happy. A picture formed in my mind of a pedophile or rapist enjoying their morning brew in this mug. I am sure the makers of this mug wouldn’t approve of at least a few of the things pedophiles and rapists take pleasure in. Now, I know that these little nuggets of inspirational vocabulary are meant to appeal to many different people in many different situations, excluding the illegal and unsavory. I also know that my initial response to these sorts of vague sayings tends to be overly critical. It is not my belief that these inspirational quotes should be stopped or that their producers need to add legal disclaimers in small print beneath them. I merely tend to view these generalized tidbits as shallow and relatively meaningless.
After my initial scoffing at this mug I continued about my business and reflected further upon this particular proverb, to my surprise, I began to see some deeper meaning within it. Recently I have been trying to eat healthier and be more physically active. Therefore, when I first saw the mug, another of my critical thoughts had been along the lines of “do what makes you happy” simply enables a person to be gluttonous. However, the deeper meaning I was now seeing in the inspirational quote centered more upon long-term happiness. Yes, the phrase “do what makes you happy” can seemingly indicate that I should go ahead and eat that slice of triple fudge peanut butter silk pie. After all, that would make me happy in the short-term. Yet, “do what makes you happy” could also mean to skip that slice of pie, thus taking one more step toward my goal of greater physical health which would ultimately make me happier in the long-term. It was also at this point that I began to wonder if these types of generalized quotes seemed shallow to me because they were genuinely were, or if it was only because I viewed them from a shallow perspective. I believe the jury is still out on that one, as it is my experience that details and specificity can lend an idea or information a greater amount of meaning. The more general a person tries to make a message, the more meaning that is lost. For now though, I am more willing to take a closer look at inspirational quotes in an effort to find meaning there that I don’t initially see.