“What’s the deal with “the meaning of life?” Why do people care? How does having “meaning” really affect anything I do? Why should I waste my time thinking about questions I can never even answer for sure?”
Many people feel like this… and I can’t say I blame them. I mean look out across the universe, read Bill Byrson’s History of Everything, or watch Cosmos… where is there any evidence that any of this “means” anything other than the fact that we simply exist?
And if we can’t ever be sure what it all means, then what’s the point of even trying?
“He who has a why can bear almost any how.”
– Friedrich Nietszche
How would you like to wake-up every morning feeling great about the possibilities of the day? What would you do if you had the energy and courage that to overcome any obstacle that might try to thwart your plans? There is a time-tested way to make this a reality.
Assigning a purpose to our lives, i.e. making the choice to give a meaning to our own existence, is probably the most power catalyst for living a life of thriving and self-mastery.
Life is an incredible voyage. Sometimes it’s smooth sailing, and other times it’s a nightmare. We can’t predict the weather so we have two choices: Stay in port for safety, or brave the seas anyway.
There’s no right answer. Whichever one we choose is a question of values. But the most profound depth of experience happens ‘out there’. Life is an adventure and the danger, excitement, and experiences we find along the way are all part of the ride.
And purpose gives you a reason to confront the elements, be bold in the face of danger, and be strong enough to make the right choice when things get tough.
I’m not saying that we all should be danger-dodging thrill seekers. But to live a full life takes a bit of risk. Eventually all our ships will sink, so we might as well get out there and see what life has to offer.
For example, do you want a loving relationship? Because it’s dangerous to put our hearts on the line, and we can’t play the game of love and remain guarded at the same time. The fun and excitement is that two people put themselves out there together. The point is to expose yourself, trust another with your heart while you hold that of another. Will the other person treat you kindly or not? That’s part of the fun and the danger.
Certainly there are better strategies we can use to play and reduce the chances of getting hurt, but the only way to guarantee safety is to never even play. And that turns out to be the most dangerous option of them all.
What about pursuing a career that inspires you, dedicating your life to a cause that you truly find to be more important than your ‘self’? How does finding new and creative ways to to entertain and contribute to others in bold forms of self-expression suit you? Because you can’t do any of these things if you never put yourself out there.
So meaning matters because a self-prescribed purpose is ultimately the North Star that we use to navigate our lives. It gives us direction when it’s difficult to see which way to go. It gives us the courage in the face of storms to brave our voyage with confidence and determination.
Putting ourselves out there can be scary. But when we have purpose we tend to make the hard decision because we know why we’re doing it, where we want to go, and how we intend to get there.
It’s not about knowing for certain, but rather being brave enough to make a decision in the face of not knowing. Only in this way can we experience the most profound depths of happiness, fulfillment, and ultimately love.
Not to mention, everything we ever do, we do for a purpose. If we didn’t have our reasons, then we wouldn’t do it. Simple as that:
Why do we breathe? -> To live. Why do we work? -> So that we can have the resources to survive and even enjoy ourselves, or maybe out of habit. If living, survival, and enjoying ourselves weren’t important to us, we wouldn’t have to bother with any of this breathing or working nonsense.
***So here’s the deal: life means something to all of us already. The real questions are:
1) Whether we’ve thought about it or not?
2) What do we ultimately care about?
If we don’t directly reflect on what we would like the meaning of our lives to be, then we run into a problem. Arguably this is the biggest underlying problem across the planet:
If you don’t think about meaning, then you’re likely live a life centered around personal pleasure seeking and pain avoidance. In other words, without a purpose you’re likely just to live for yourself -> live a self-serving/self-centered life.
And such an orientation is at heart of just about every problem on the planet.
If you don’t assign a purpose to your life, then you’re likely to just live for your own personal interests. This isn’t inherently wrong in any cosmological sense, it’s just a limited way to experience this one shot at life.
Having a self-prescribed purpose can change the entire way we interact with this world. We easily find reasons and motivation to take care of our health, develop our mind and body, and ultimately do the work that has to happen for our dreams to come true.
So many people feel like “what should I do today?” But when we have a overarching north star to guide our mission, then these questions get easy. If my purpose is to be a loving person who is connected to my community, I have endless options: call family, making something for friends, volunteer at a community center, organize a food drive or community event, or whatever seems most important for your goal.
If your purpose is to become a doctor and contribute health and well-being to people without access to health care, then you probably don’t struggle to get your daily reading in. You know why you have to work. It’s still hard but you just do it because you know why.
Meaning provides fuel for our fire. With it, we can literally make our dreams come true.
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