Many people throughout the centuries have argued that your purpose in life is to be happy. I beg to differ.
Is it happiness that really the driving force behind all our actions? I spent several years on combat tours, and I can tell you 100% that there are many things that people will do that will drive them to action much more than other things that will make them happy.
I believe Ralph Waldo Emerson was on the right track when he said,
The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.
Many people endure great hardships in service to others, and sometimes those hardships lead a very unhappy life doing so. Now, some argue that those things that make them unhappy actually make them cheery and joyful on another level – but I believe it’s much more than that. I know people who’ve even laid down their life for others. I’d imagine that even though they would absolutely do it again, they weren’t all that happy about it at the time.
And even if we do suppose for the moment that self-sacrifice did bring them happiness in the end, is it the happiness itself that was so powerful that they’d give up even their own existence to that end? I think not.
Psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl once wrote,
Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.
I think that Frankl and Emerson would have been a great duo to sit down and have tea with. If you combine both their thoughts on life, you can start to feel a purpose. The driving force that is so powerful that it can extend beyond protecting what most would consider our greatest asset – our life.
Journalist and writer, Leo Rosten was once quoted,
THE PURPOSE OF LIFE is not to be happy. The purpose of life is to matter, to be productive, to have it make some difference that you lived at all. Happiness, in the ancient, noble sense, means self-fulfillment — and is given to those who use to the fullest whatever talents God or luck or fate bestowed upon them. Happiness, to me, lies in stretching, to the farthest boundaries of which we are capable, the resources of the mind and heart.
Now THAT really resonates. Life’s purpose isn’t to be just happy, it’s to be fulfilled. So what does that mean exactly?
As Rosten said, your purpose is not just to be happy in today’s sense of the word – it’s much more.
To have true fulfillment in your days on this Earth means you have to have meaning. In order to have meaning, just as the word itself explains, you have to mean something. In order to mean something, you have to have someone or something to mean something to.
You need to fill position in life (or many) and be something important. I believe that this means that in order to have a truly fulfilled life, and live true to your purpose, you need to extend your actions and your desires outside of yourself to make a connection to the world – and as Rosten said, to use our talents to the fullest.
Having meaning outside yourself also doesn’t have to be confined to just other people, MANY people find great fulfillment in being something to animals – otherwise, why would we take the time and energy to have them as pets or to protect them from abusers and scientific testing? There’s a special feeling you get when you look down at a loyal pet and know that they depend on you for their happiness and contentment.
So if you want to truly follow your purpose in life, don’t just go after things that you think will make you happy, such as a bigger house or a faster car – start thinking about ways that you can use your time, talents, and resources to make meaningful connections with other people.
You need to think of not just where you fit in the grand scheme of things – but where you can fit. You need to push the boundaries of happiness in ways that you never thought were possible and give your life meaning. Find out what makes you truly fulfilled in life and you’ll find your life’s purpose.