Why Purpose Is Everything
My Open Letter to My Best Friend About the Meaning of Life
I remember a few nights ago when I asked you what you thought the meaning of life was and you responded with, “Does there have to be a meaning?” It got me thinking and it inspired me to write this to you. In philosophy, we were supposed to learn about the topic of “The meaning of life,” but ran out of time. I wish that we did have time to learn about this unit, I find this topic interesting because just like a lot of people, I don’t know what the meaning of life is, but I do have a few ideas.
Here’s what I know I believe for sure: I do not buy into the theory that we just ended up on earth accidentally and that we are just messing around for the period that we are here for, even though lots of scientific evidence points to it. I also personally believe in reincarnation, so each time we come back to this beautiful planet to learn other things. We have so much to learn and it seems impossible for us to learn all of it in a single life time. After all, Yoda was a pretty wise guy and he was 900 years old when he died. I believe that during our time on earth, we learn lessons and experience different things to help us grow as people and then whatever we don’t learn in this life time, we learn in the next. I believe that we all have something that we can use to serve the world whether it’s your amazing ability to solve impossible math equations and teach math to others, or being a good public speaker and move people with your words or just making everyone feeling loved and seen. Everyone has something that they can share with the world.
“The meaning of life” is a very problematic question. It raises a lot of speculations but not a lot of concrete answers. Many people say that there is no meaning to life, simple as that. But I don’t know if I agree with that. I am not exactly sure what I think, but I recently came across a quote by Joseph Campbell that I agreed with and maybe helped point me in the right direction: “Life has no meaning, each of us has meaning and we bring it to life. It is a waste to be asking the question when you are the answer.”
I recently came across two very interesting Ted Talks about happiness. The first was titled There is more to life than being happy by Emily Esfahani Smith. At first, when I saw the title, I expected it to be a little bit of a pessimistic Ted Talk because I have always thought that they key to a good life is to be happy. As I started watching it, I realized that it was not the case at all and that what she was preaching surprisingly made sense. What Emily Esfahani Smith was getting at was that we are striving for one thing in life, that being the pursuit of happiness, and we become obsessed with finding it. In result, if we don’t feel like we achieve happiness, it may start to depress us. She said that instead, we should focus more on having a meaningful life, rather than striving for happiness. Esfahani Smith mentioned there are four pillars or rules, in her opinion, that we need to follow to live a meaningful life.
The first one being: belonging, those relationships where you feel valued for who you are and where you feel loved. Without feeling like you belong, you tend to feel empty and unwanted inside. When you feel those things, it becomes hard to want to achieve anything.
The second is having a purpose, meaning that using your strengths to serve others helps give you purpose. Without something worthwhile to do in life, people flounder and feel unneeded, and useless. Using your strengths creates a purpose for your life and it gives you something to live for. You already know this but for me, I truly believe my purpose is to tell stories that heal people. Everyone wants to know that they are not alone so if I can tell a story that makes someone realize that whatever they are going through in life isn’t uncommon and they aren’t the only one, I believe I am serving others. I have a purpose because I’m using my love of words for the good of others.
Third is transcendence, which is the feeling of being connected to a higher reality which causes you to be less self-centered and act more generously. For me, I experience this when I take my dog out for a walk when it’s dark outside and it’s particularly nice in the winter months. It feels like another world out there with the snow coming down. Those walks are almost like a reset button and I come back from it feeling calm, optimistic and I experience that connectedness that she talked about. I assume you probably feel the same when you go longboarding in the summer at the craziest hours of the night.
And lastly, story-telling, which means that you should create a narrative from your life. Creating narratives brings clarity to your life. If you learn to retell your life, you can bring purpose from it. So, let’s say (god forbid) you had a bad injury during Rugby, and now you can’t play it anymore, you could say “everything in my life was good before my injury and now I can never play rugby ever again,” or you can spin it more positively.
I really connected to her last pillar/rule because as someone who loves to tell stories, it seems like a really good way to get out of a funk or a negative state of mind. As you know, my friend group is changing quite a bit recently. I feel like I’m kind of losing the people I really care about for reasons that are stupid and that I don’t have any control over. At the moment, I sort of feel like I don’t have any control over anything in my social life. I’ll admit I start drowning in a pool of self-pity. Right now, this means that I might potentially be losing three friends…my mum put this in a very thoughtful way, she suggested that maybe this is good. She said that maybe they were never truly my friends, and this is just all the acquaintances shaking off and I’m being shown who my real friends are. Instead of me feeling sorry for myself and moping, I can tell my story as I used to have people around who really didn’t care about me and now I know who my friends are, and I know I can rely on them.
By learning to rewrite your story, you can learn to forgive and stop feeling sorry for yourself. I think that is something very important to finding your purpose, and magically happiness finds its way back into your life. You are no longer chasing it and feeling sorry for yourself because you’re looking at happiness as some unobtainable prize.
When I was listening to the first Ted Talk, I thought about something very strange. When does being happy become a concern? When you are a kid, you really don’t think about what you need to do to be happy, being happy is just like breathing, you just are happy. But it seems that as one gets older, it becomes something we stress over. Now I still have no idea why we go from being happy children to adults that worry about our happiness, so I can’t answer that for you. But what I can do is give you my opinion on why adults worry about happiness.
In my opinion, I think it’s because we perceive everyone else as living a happy and prosperous life, then we start comparing what others have, to what we have. If things don’t match up, we think something is wrong with us which might create fear and anxiety within ourselves. This made me think about the second Ted Talk I watched called "My Philosophy for a Happy Life" by Sam Berns. Sam Berns was 17 when he spoke. Even though he had a difficult life compared to others because of his Progeria, a very rare disease that only around 300 kids in the world have, Sam Berns assured us that he had “…a very happy life.” He said that one of his rules for a happy life is to be OKAY with what you ultimately can’t do because there is so much you can do.
He explained what he meant by talking about how he wanted to be in the school marching band but couldn’t because of the heaviness of the harness for the instrument he wanted to play. Sam overcame that obstacle by having a harness specially designed for him that only weighed six pounds, a fraction of what the normal harness weighed. Sam never compared what he had to what others had. He explained that he knew what he was missing out on, but he would never let that drag him down. The point of this story wasn’t just to “accept what you can’t do” and walk away but to make adjustments in life and understand that just because you can’t do something the conventional way, doesn’t mean you can’t do it at all. I think what Sam was trying to say was that not everything in life is so black and white, and for you to be happy in life, you must be flexible.
Now, I know what you are thinking…you are thinking, “But you just said that happiness isn’t everything. Purpose and meaning and all those other things that you mentioned were. So, why is this Berns person living a happy a life?” I don’t know for sure, but I have a feeling that the reason why he’s living a pretty happy life is because he found his purpose, which I personally believe is sharing his strength, bravery and wisdom with the world. Purpose is everything and without purpose life means nothing.
So, in conclusion, I don’t think what you need to be asking is, “what is the meaning of life?” because no one has the answer to that. I think what you really need to be asking is “What is my meaning and purpose in my life?” because only you can answer that. Once you know what your purpose is in life, you’ll find that the happiness you were striving for originally will just fall into place.