Updated: Nov 5, 2020
Assuming you've landed on this page, it's safe to say you, and the rest of us, are searching for something. There is a nagging, longing sensation that drives us. It's a whisper that fills your stomach with butterflies and anxiety at the same time. The excitement of potentially finding what we are looking for versus the fear that we may never. We believe that our lives have to mean something, surely we are here for a reason. From the moment we become aware of that question, finding meaning feels so crucial that it becomes the beacon to which we set our course. It is undoubtedly the single, most central question that exists in our humanity - what is the purpose of life?
I am here to break the news to you; that question, as it is stated there, cannot be answered. It's a single question seeking a single answer. By grouping us together and believing that meaning for you and me is even close to remotely the same is foolish! This realisation should not discourage us, as it leads us to the question we should instead be asking - "What is the purpose of life, for me?"
The journey to answers starts with that step. We cannot be grouped together and expect that life has meaning for any of us in the same way. You might feel this is hardly revolutionary, but where do the differences between us really lie? If you asked a German citizen if he believed he has more in common with an Austrian citizen or a US citizen, you would easily guess his answer. But he'd be wrong. The country we find ourselves in, we were raised, accounts for very few of the differences between us. HBR did a massive study on the subject and found 80% of culture gaps between us as humans around found between citizens of the same countries. Only 20% of our cultural differences are due to the borders we've drawn on a map. This means that a middle-class shop owner in Thailand has more cultural similarities with a middle-class shop owner in Canada than with an affluent lawyer in his own country.
If what defines us is more about what we do with our lives than where we are born, our search for meaning should be focussed on those actions. Our actions make us who we are.
How we draw meaning from those actions depends on the lens we use when we consider their purpose. Since most religions have been focussed on answering the question of 'meaning' since inception, maybe we can take some cues from there. The nuances of various faiths are so vast, though, we won't attempt to condense the main concepts here in a way that will indeed do it justice. There are two great concepts we can learn from it, however. The first is that purpose is not a destination. It's not a status we hope to realise at the end of our lives. "My purpose is to become president or CEO." That is not a purpose, that's a goal. As life progresses and we grow, we may change our plans. How we find meaning in our lives should not be as fluid, though. Purpose is constant as purpose is about the actions we take every day.
Secondly, many religions find more purpose in what they put into their actions rather than what they get from their efforts. In many cases, this may be linked to a sense of duty. An example of this is the Hindu concept of Dharma, which is about making the right decisions to live a righteous life. Is the path to finding meaning then limited to taking actions for the benefit of others?
Not at all.
You must have, however, heard the saying "we can't give away what we don't have"? This phrase is as correct for mental, emotional or spiritual aspects as it is for material things. If we serve others through actions that hold no meaning to us, we will all end up living empty lives. In contrast, if we start by giving all of ourselves to our own actions, career, health or our fitness, the value of our efforts will spill over and impact on those around us.
And that my friends, that is purpose.
Purpose is giving all your energy, positivity and enthusiasm to the big bucket items in your life. Every action you take will have meaning. Every day you live will have a purpose.
I found great fulfilment, and even peace when realising that. For once searching for an answer to a challenging question actually made my life not only more enriching but actually more straightforward. The magical part is this doesn't take a lifetime to achieve. It can be done right now by making a few small changes. In closing, I would like to give you an exercise that can increase your sense of purpose in your daily actions. When completing your daily meditation, take 3 minutes and consider what you will be spending your time on for the rest of the day. Fill your mind with gratitude as you have the opportunity to do these things where others might not. Express a commitment in your mind that today I will take the activities on with all my energy and enthusiasm because these activities are my life. They are my purpose.
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