The evolution of the human mind has been a remarkable one. With history, we are able to look back upon the things our ancestors did and didn't do to learn valuable lessons on how we should live our own lives. The most difficult things in doing this, though, is to first look at history with a perspective unbiased by the social, cultural, moral, and political climate we live in, and second, to attempt to empathize with the perspectives of people living in the past to better understand why things were the way they were. Of course, this is merely using the evidence presented from the writings and artifacts of old to make educated speculations on the conscious and unconscious mind of people we never personally knew, but having the insights that may be extracted from this is much more valuable than no insight at all. To quote George Santayana, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
Consider now, how our era can be compared to previous ones; particularly in a sense of religious belief. There are people around today who practice the same faiths that have been practiced for thousands of years, but due to the advances in science and technology most of these practitioners do not devote themselves with the same fervor to their faith that people in the past have. A large number of people have even shed faith altogether and claimed atheism. This of course is not a bad thing, but I do believe we had lost a part of ourselves when "God died," as Nietzsche so bluntly put it.
What is it that we lost? Purpose. We lost what we believed to be our purpose in existing in this world. When the masses believed in God, particularly that of the great organized religions, they lived to worship and serve God. They did this for the promise of salvation after leaving this world for the afterlife. This was a human being's purpose on earth, whether they consciously realized it or not. Ever since the scientific revolution shook the human mind with ways to naturally explain the world without God, we have been unconsciously scrambling to find meaning in in a cold, indifferent, mechanical universe.
So what have we found to fill this void? We turned to science and technology. We placed ourselves onto the pedestal on which God once sat. There was nothing the human mind cannot conquer, our technology brings comfort to our lives and stands as a testament to our greatness. This was the zealous fervor we had at the beginnings of the scientific revolution. As time went on, we lost this momentum. We began to encounter the problems this mentality brings with it. And there was still a nagging feeling of spiritual emptiness beneath it all. So what did we do? We ignored the problems and began to consume more. Why not, as that is all we can do in our short lives, right? If we compare this to the religious mentalities of old, we have in a sense reverted back to a form of narcissistic, earth worshiping paganism.
The fruits of this lifestyle aside, the problems that the cult of consumerism brings are ever more daunting. Anthropogenic climate change, seemingly constant wars for resources and domination, the stresses of a highly competitive working world, these all are taking their tolls on the minds of people worldwide. We cannot sustain this forever, lest we be forced to live with the guilt of destroying a planet's ecosystem while at the same time oppressing others for the very fact that there are not enough resources on this planet to allow 6+ billion people and growing to enjoy the same lifestyle we do. We cannot revert back to the old religious mentality of serving God, though. To do so would be to cling to an archaic way of life. It may be difficult for some to understand, but the God of old is dead. He is never coming back.
What can we do, then? I will offer you a suggestion. Having wrestled with this dilemma for some time, I came to this conclusion. This is the mantra by which I live my life.
The sense of purpose our ancestors enjoyed through the worship of God must once again be turned to. We must use it differently this time, though. If we consider ourselves to be smarter, we should recognize the idea of a guiding purpose as the tool that gave structure to our existence it once was. We should then personally wield this tool, instead of having it's power centralized in the figureheads of various religious institutions. It is a fusion of the things learned through natural science and the ways of living before that revolution. Humanity cannot only manipulate their environment but can also manipulate their mind.
How can we manipulate our minds? Through learning and gaining different perspectives. That is all that really matters in this world. Unlike material items, you can never take away an idea or thought from someone. This is our purpose - to learn. Being open minded, attempting to empathize with different perspectives, and accepting or rejecting things based on what you already know is the most efficient way to better yourself. It goes beyond what you materially have and don't have, and to preoccupy yourself with the obsessive need for those things stifles your personal growth.
Go into every moment of your life looking to find something new, some new idea or perspective, scenery or art that you find strikingly beautiful, a new rhythm or melody you've never heard, in a seemingly infinite universe the possibilities are endless. See it, appreciate it, understand it, move on. After some time, the quest for money and useless material crap begins to seem a bit childish.