What is the Purpose of Life?

“You Are Here on Earth to Unearth Who on Earth You Are.”
Eric Micha’el Leventhal

A long time ago, a Prince in a distant land fetched his bow and arrow as was his custom, mounted his favorite horse, and set off for the forest. After coming to a clearing, he dismounted, tied the reins to a branch, and entered the bushes in search of prey. After a moment, he heard a rustle behind him. When he turned to look, he saw a stag. But before he could draw his bow, the magical stag spoke to him, saying, “What on earth on you doing for Heaven’s sake?”

“I’m hunting,” replied the astonished Prince.

“That’s not what I meant.” said the stag. “Heaven has given you the gift of life. Now that you have received it, what are you doing for Heaven?”

The above is an adaptation of a Sufi story. In it, the magical stag is trying to explain to the Prince that there is more to life than hunting or having fun. We have been given the gift of life for a reason. When we understand that reason, our life becomes infused with purpose and meaning. A Sufi sage, Rumi, has this to add to what has been said by the magical stag:

“One thing must not be forgotten. Forget all else, but remember this, and you’ll have no regrets. Remember and be concerned with everything else, but ignore this one thing, and you’ll have done nothing. It is as if a king has sent you on a mission to a foreign land to perform one specific task for him. If you do a hundred things, but not this appointed task, what have you accomplished? Human beings come into this world for a particular purpose, and if they forget it they will have done nothing at all.”

The story of the magical stag, then, reminds us that from time to time we need to stop what we are doing and ask ourselves, “Is this why I’m here?” Purpose brings more than clarity to our lives, for it also brings power. The Hindu sage Patañjali explains why this is so:

”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.”

 We can tell what a person’s purpose is by noting their actions. The Prince, for instance, was only interested in amusing himself by hunting. He may have kept himself busy, but he was still idle, for as Socrates taught, “They are not only idle who do nothing, but they are idle also who might be better employed.” In other words, although the Prince was spending time, he wasn’t using it in the best possible way. Had he thought like Ben Franklin, he might have acted differently. “The noblest question in the world is,” according to Ben Franklin, “what good may I do in it?”

If you haven’t already discovered your life purpose, all you have to do is ask yourself the same question. Here are other questions that will help you discover your mission or purpose in life. Who do I admire? What type of person do I want to be? What are my unique talents and how can I apply them to improve the world? How can I express the best of myself? How can I contribute to the world? How can I make it a better place?

Your purpose is not your job or any of the roles you play. Rather, your purpose shapes and defines everything you do. Choose your purpose carefully because you are only as noble, only as inspiring, and only as valuable as your purpose. It defines, shapes and creates you. Its importance should be obvious. After all, what’s the purpose of living, if you don’t have something to live for?

The story of the Prince reminds us we are here for a reason, and the following story may help us choose the right reason.

In some far-off land, a woman looked out and saw three strangers standing in front of her hut. She went out to greet the strangers who traveled a great distance. “You must be hungry,” she said, “please come in and we will feed you.”

“Thank you,” said the tallest stranger. “These are my companions Wealth and Success. My name is Love. We thank you for your invitation, but only one of us can enter your home. Please ask your husband which one of us he would like to invite in.”

The woman was puzzled, but didn’t want to offend the strangers, so she agreed. “Husband,” she said as she entered her hut, “the three strangers standing outside are called Wealth, Success, and Love. Only one can be invited for dinner. Who would you like to invite?”

“Well,” said the husband as he scratched his chin, “if we invite Wealth into our home, perhaps our fortune will improve.”

“Yes, but,” said the wife hesitantly, “our daughter is starting school. Perhaps by inviting Success, our daughter will do well in her studies.”

“But mother,” her daughter jumped in, “let’s invite Love so our home will always be filled with love.”

“I’m lucky to share my life with two clever women;” said the husband, “especially my daughter who is wise beyond her years. Okay, Sweet One, you are right. Go out and invite Love.”

The wife was bewildered as her daughter led all three strangers into their home. “But you said only one of you could enter…” she said to the strangers quizzically.

“Yes,” said Love. If you were to ask for Wealth or Success, only one could enter. But when you invite Love into your life, Success and Wealth will always follow.”

One’s Life Purpose
“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?

Do We Find or Create Our Life Purpose?
Some people neither search for nor create their purpose. Rather, their purpose is thrust upon them. Almost from birth they are driven to wholeheartedly devote their lives to a personal passion. Mozart is an example. He had no choice in the matter. Life picked him and expressed its grandeur through him.

For most of us, however, our purpose is not immediately understood. That’s because we need to pause and stop acting out of habit. Once we quiet ourselves and ask questions, the answers will appear. Here are examples of questions that can unlock the mystery of our true purpose.

What brings me joy?
What excites me?
What special talents do I have?
How can I contribute to the world?
What do I feel drawn to?
If I had unlimited courage, what would I choose to do?
If I would not fail, what would I choose to do?
What is tugging at my heartstrings?
What inspires me?
What have I been dreaming of doing for a long time?
What do I prefer to do above all other things?
What would I like to have people say about me at my funeral?

The answer that appears is not an intellectual understanding, but a FEELING. For when we answer our call, we are driven by passion, work with enthusiasm, and spread excitement wherever we go.

Why Purpose Is Important
Purpose provides meaning and direction to our lives.

2. Passion transforms us from idle dreamers to purpose-driven men and women of action.

3. It provides the power to overcome pain, suffering, and difficulties.

4. It is the key that unlocks our potential.

5. It fills us with enthusiasm that wins us friends and opens many doors of opportunity.

6. It allows us to discover our power and act heroically.

7. It fills our lives with exuberance, excitement, joy, and happiness.

8. Despite the difficult and challenging times we live in, it fills us with hope.

9. It defines you. It explains who and what you are.

10. It challenges us to do what we never dared to and invites us to do what we formally believed to be impossible.

on Identifying Your Purpose
Ask not one, but many questions to identify,clarify, and intensify your purpose.

2. Seek not what is interesting, but what is important; not what fascinates you, but what electrifies you

3. Don’t be afraid to have big dreams, for they are the ones that will excite you. Small dreams are smoldering ashes; big dreams are raging infernos. Reach out for what is yet impossible for you to imagine doing.

4. It’s not WHAT you do, but HOW you do it that counts. It’s not so much HOW busy you are, but WHY you are so busy.

5. As William J. Durant wrote, “To give life a meaning, one must have a purpose larger than self.” Make your purpose larger and grander than yourself; make it something to aspire to.

What Is the Purpose of Life?
This is almost a trick question because the implication is that there is only ONE purpose of life. I believe the more purposes we can think of, the closer we will come to the truth, so here are eight:

1. To help you discover yourself. That is, to discover your own greatness. Very few realize how magnificent they are. Oddly enough, we are quick to recognize the magnificence of a pod of whales, pride of lions, or herd of horses. Yet, we are slow to understand the greatness of humanity. You see, we are the answer we seek, but don’t realize it.

How do you discover your own magnificence? By acting kindly. By being compassionate. By helping others. By opening your heart. By making a difference. As we do these things, we discover our power and greatness. And life generously provides ample opportunities for us to practice, develop, and polish our skills.

2. To help you learn how you can contribute. We are not here to take from life, but to contribute to it. The purpose of life is to express its splendor through us, but it needs our cooperation. How should you contribute to life? Well, the answer will appear after you take action. First, you must have the right intention and do your best to make the world a better place. Many small acts of kindness equal one very large one, so there is an opportunity for all of us to become involved. The more frequently you practice, the sooner you will discover which of your unique talents are the most helpful and most in demand.

3. To awaken you to its grandeur. Life is a gift waiting to be unwrapped; it is a gift of boundless joy that few discover because they are busy chasing after trivialities. But if you soak in its beauty, leap at its opportunities, and hearken to its urgings, you will experience limitless joy.

4. The purpose of life is to lead a life of purpose. When we have a reason for being, life becomes meaningful. Life doesn’t impose a specific role or purpose on us, but provides us with numerous gifts that we can use as resources to create our own purpose. Life is not a demanding parent telling us what to do, but a partner that delights in our own creativity.

5. Life is here to marvel at. Some of the greatest gifts life provides are wonder, mystery, and awe. It is liberating to accept the unanswerable and embrace the unknowable. Without mystery we cannot have faith.

6. “Life is a great school for the development of character, and all, through strife and struggle, vice and virtue, success and failure, are slowly but surely learning the lessons of wisdom.” (James Allen)

7. “The purpose of life is to unlearn what has been learned and to remember what has been forgotten.” (Sufi saying) What has been forgotten? When we were an infant, we were trusting, courageous, and curious, yet now we are suspicious, fearful, and satisfied with the status quo. Isn’t it time to remember and return to our former glory?

8. The purpose of life is to keep breathing! Okay, I’m joking, but I do have a serious point to make. Isn’t the purpose of life to live? However, many prefer to prepare for the future or for a future life, rather than live right here, right now. Consider these words of Father Alfred D’souza (Australian priest, died 2004):

“For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin-real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be got through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid. At last it dawned on me that those obstacles were my life….

“This perspective has helped me to see that there is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way. So, treasure every moment that you have. And treasure it more because you shared it with someone special, special enough to spend your time … and remember that time waits for no one…”

So stop waiting
until you finish school,
until you go back to school,
until you lose ten pounds,
until you gain ten pounds,
until you have kids,
until your kids leave the house,
until you start work,
until you retire,
until you get married,
until you get divorced,
until Friday night,
until Sunday morning,
until you get a new car or home,
until your car or home is paid off,
until spring,
until summer,
until fall,
until winter,
until you are off welfare,
until the first or fifteenth,
until your song comes on,
until you’ve had a drink,
until you’ve sobered up,
until you die,
until you are born again
to decide that there is no better time than right now to be happy…

I’ve already covered several aspects of a personal life purpose and the purpose of life, so let me wrap things up by saying life without a purpose is like a dull pencil; it has no point. So, let’s do something about that by regularly reviewing, revising, and sharpening our life purpose.

Chuck Gallozzi, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, chuck.gallozzi@rogers.com
A NEW EARTH: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

THE FOUR PURPOSES OF LIFE: Finding Meaning and Direction in a Changing World
by Dan Millman

LIVING ON PURPOSE: Straight Answers to Universal Questions by Dan Millman

THE PURPOSE OF YOUR LIFE: Finding Your Place In The World Using Synchronicity, Intuition, And Uncommon Sense by Carol Adrienne and James Redfield

YOUR LIFE ON PURPOSE: How to Find What Matters and Create the Life You Want           by Matthew McKay PhD, John P. Forsyth PhD, and Georg H. Eifert PhD

THE ART OF BEING: 101 Ways to Practice Purpose in Your Life by Dennis Merritt Jones 

 THE PRIORITY LIST: A Teacher’s Final Quest to Discover Life’s Greatest Lessons
by David Menasche 

How to Know Your Life Purpose in 5 Minutes: Adam Leipzig at TEDxMalibu

How to discover your life purpose in about 20 minutes by Steve Pavlina
10 Keys to Discovering Your Life’s Purpose by Marcia Bench