The purpose of life, then, is to lead a life of purpose and its meaning is to give life meaning.
The purpose of life is a life of purpose (Robert Byrne)
“To me, there is only one form of human depravity – the man without a purpose.” Those are rather harsh words by Ayn Rand. However, I can understand her point. After all, a life without purpose is a life wasted. Kenneth Hildebrand eloquently explains the problem: “Multitudes of people, drifting aimlessly to and fro without a set purpose, deny themselves such fulfillment of their capacities, and the satisfying happiness which attends it. They are not wicked, they are only shallow. They are not mean or vicious; they simply are empty – shake them and they would rattle like gourds. They lack range, depth, and conviction. Without purpose their lives ultimately wander into the morass of dissatisfaction. As we harness our abilities to a steady purpose and undertake the long pull toward its accomplishment, rich compensations reward us. A sense of purpose simplifies life and therefore concentrates our abilities; and concentration adds power.”
The purpose of life, then, is to lead a life of purpose and its meaning is to give life meaning. But what is meant by purpose and meaning? They simply mean the “big picture,” vision, chief aim, or core values that all other goals are subordinate to. For example, our PURPOSE might be to leave the world a better place than the way we found it, or to make everyone we meet happier. Either of these purposes would be noble and achievable. How can we help create a better world or make others happier? Wouldn’t you agree that one way is by refusing to steal, criticize, intimidate, gossip, or argue? Another way would be to treat others with kindness, generosity, honesty, and respect. Our goal should be not merely to be good, but to be good for something. To have value that we offer to the world. Our PURPOSE is the path we follow; it’s a broad paintbrush that colors all areas of our life. When all personal goals (career, family, etc.) are aligned with our PURPOSE, we will be authentic beings with integrity.
Despite the importance of PURPOSE, many of us are still floundering, drifting in an unknown direction. Why’s that? One reason is fear. We’re afraid to state our target because we may miss it. To avoid failure, we avoid having a purpose. But that strategy makes as much sense as an ostrich “hiding” from its enemies by burying its head in the sand. If we don’t stand for something, we may fall for anything. What is the purpose of living if we don’t have something to live for?
Those who lead empty lives sometimes turn to bigotry and hatred for solace. So we need to be careful to choose a PURPOSE that will help us to grow, help our potential unfold, and help us transcend our present limitations. Our potential is staggering. We are co-creators of the universe. God has made us partners in creation. He created the universe. We created music. He created the world. We created the pyramids. He created life. We created language that allows us to reflect on life.
Considering our unique position in the universe, our PURPOSE should be equally unique. It should be bigger than life. Since we are only as strong as our PURPOSE, it should be courageous and uplifting. Buddha offers some advice: “Your work is to discover your work and then with all your heart to give yourself to it.” Charles Mayes also makes a good point: “Make sure the thing you’re living for is worth dying for.”
The Benefits of Living a Life of Purpose
1. Growth. The Indian philosopher, Patanjali, explains: “When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds: Your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great, and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive, and your discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be.”
2. Peace. We are at peace when we know our role and contribute to life. Our contribution is a way of thanking life for life.
3. Power. Our PURPOSE will strengthen all of our other goals by binding them with a common purpose.
4. Coping. Our PURPOSE will help us overcome challenges and bear pain.
5. Happiness. To travel in life without direction is to be lost and unhappy. To know where you are going is to have meaning and happiness.
6. Self-esteem. When we have a PURPOSE, we have value. When we do good, we feel good, and we are good.
7. Transcendence. William James explains: “The greatest use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.”
8. Meaning. Our PURPOSE makes us useful for others and the world, thereby giving our life meaning.
9. Spirituality. When we are aligned with a noble PURPOSE, we are aligned with God; when we lose sight of our purpose, we lose sight of God.
A life of PURPOSE is not without effort. But we must ask ourselves, “Which is the better rosebush, that with the fewest thorns or that with the finest roses?” Toil, pain, and sweat are the birthplace of greatness. Let’s not spend time; let’s use it; use it to make a difference. If we make a difference to the world, won’t we also make a difference to ourselves? If the world is happy that we are here, won’t we feel the same way? Perhaps this is why Zig Ziglar offers the following advice: “Don’t become a wandering generality. Be a meaningful specific.”