The Eighth Greatest Mystery of All Time:  What is the Purpose and Meaning of Life?

Life-Purpose-2013Once upon a time in a far far away land, there lived a little old lady in a shoe.  It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.  You know it’s going to be a good read if you start with a famous opening line, so I thought starting with four famous opening lines would be a sure winner.  If nothing else, did I get your attention?  If so, maybe the meaning and purpose of my life has been fulfilled?  On the other hand, is there more to life than just this?  What is the purpose of your life?  What meaning does your life have for others and for yourself?  Let’s start with the first part of this mystery, what is the purpose of life?  (Listen to Jill Zadeh’s What On Earth Am I Here For?)

“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”  ― Eleanor Roosevelt

The purpose of life is actually a rather senseless question if viewed from any perspective but that of a human being.  For example, dogs and cats do not sit around pondering the purpose of their lives.  Chickens, geese, goats and cows do not wonder why they are born or what they are born for.  Only people seem to worry about “why am I here?”  Purpose derives from an expected allocation of effort.  My purpose today is to mow my lawn.  Your purpose might be to take care of your children or to go to work and develop some new software programs.   When we expect something from either ourselves or others, we call this a purpose.  Webster’s defines purpose as:

  • The reason why something is done or used : the aim or intention of something
  • The feeling of being determined to do or achieve something
  • The aim or goal of a person: what a person is trying to do, become, etc.

Dogs and cats don’t need to justify their existence.  Humans seem to have a built in desire or even obsession with defining a purpose for their lives.  It is not enough for us to merely exist; we must be driven by a “divine” purpose or at the very least by a set of stupendous goals.  A very popular book was called the “The Purpose Driven Life.”  The author Rick Warren states that:

“If you have felt hopeless, hold on! Wonderful changes are going to happen in your life as you begin to live it on purpose.” ― Rick WarrenThe Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here for?

Those who have no purpose in life are excoriated and blasphemed as rudder-less losers who will never amount to anything.  The highest good in life is to have a purpose.  The higher your purpose, the more important you become.  If your purpose in life is to become a janitor that ranks much lower than being President of the United States of America.  Wanting to become a janitor will probably not get you elected “most likely to succeed” in high school.  The more your purpose benefits others, the more impressive it is.  I am going to save the world, eliminate hunger and eradicate disease is much more impressive than I am going to make a lot of money, become famous and have ten Ferraris in my garage.  Thought it does seem that most of us choose the latter purpose and forget saving the world; it is still a much more admirable objective than “I am going to go fishing and golfing every chance I get.”

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make the-purpose-of-life is to be happysome difference that you have lived and lived well.”  ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

So the first part of the eighth greatest mystery of existence can be answered very simply.  Your goal or purpose, should you choose it, is to have as much dam fun as you can while you live, but don’t tell anyone else that this is your real purpose of existence.  Tell everyone else that you “want to make the world a better place for your children and your children’s children and to do this you will become a politician and help to bring peace to the world.”  On second thought, skip the politician role and make it a great theologian who will spread the word of God.  On third thought, skip the theologian role and become a famous comedian.

Next we move on to the meaning of life.  This is almost as silly an objective as finding your true purpose in life.  There is no meaning of existence.  I take that back.  Other people will tell you the meaning of your life long after you are dead.  History will tell you the meaning of your life if it ever has any.  If you are lucky, or unlucky, books, critics, reviewers, biographers and liars will tell the world what the meaning of your life was.  You my friend will never ever know what the meaning of your life was.  The reason is because “meanings” of life are always; yes always, bestowed posthumously.   (Listen to Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life)

“You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.”  ― Albert Camus

the-meaning-of-life-is-to-find-your-gift-tthe-purpose-of-life-is-to-give-it-awayThe meaning of your life will be established after careful review of what you wanted to do and what you actually accomplished.  Just kidding!  But it is comforting to think that is the case.  Actually, the meaning of your life will be established through a random process determined by how many friends and how many enemies you managed to accrue in your lifetime.  In other words, who cared whether you lived or died!  If you had a rather small funeral service and very few cars in the funeral procession, chances are you won’t have enough people who care what the meaning of your life was.  Your survivors and children will probably not care either unless you left a large inheritance and an unclear will. To illustrate what I am saying let’s take a few famous and not so famous people and look at the meaning of their lives.

  • What is the meaning of Julius Caesar’s life?

Answer:  I don’t have a clue

  • What is the meaning of Abraham Lincoln’s life?meaning-of-life

Answer:  To save the union?  To free the slaves?  To give the Gettysburg Address?

  • What is the meaning of Elvis Presley’s life?

Answer:  To make music?  To make bad movies?  To make money?

You will notice that I have a lot of question marks above.  Perhaps I should have paid more attention during my high school history the-meaning-of-life toysclasses.  The truth is I really don’t have a clue.  There are few (if any) famous figures for which I could tell you the meaning of their lives.  As I sit here, I really can’t think of any.  Let’s take a couple of figures who are much less famous but who interacted with my life much more significantly than either Honest Abe or Elvis ever did.  Of course these dead souls of whom I refer are my mother and father.  (Listen to Kevin Max’s Just An Illusion)

  • What is the meaning of my mom’s life?

Answer:  I wish I knew and if I did, I would tell you. She was a good mother, caring friend and never hurt a soul but as to the meaning of her life, I haven’t an inkling.

  • What is the meaning of my father’s life?

Answer:  I once thought it was to make my life miserable.  I am now oblivious.  If the evil that men do lives after them and the good is oft interred in their bones, then I must have missed the meaning of my dad’s life  since I often thought Shakespeare had it just the reverse.  Paradoxically, I now miss him more than I miss my mom.

“There is not one big cosmic meaning for all; there is only the meaning we each give to our life, an individual meaning, an individual plot, like an individual novel, a book for each person.”  ― Anaïs Ninmeaning-of-life

Cogito ergo sum  I think I must find some meaning to my life, so I guess I will go on looking for it.  Everyone tells me, I can’t live without it so I will search until I die for the meaning of my life.  I am sure it is just around the corner and as soon as I find my purpose in life, my meaning can’t be far behind.  Until then, I shall assume the meaning that my dog Arnold seemed to have:  To run, to sleep, to chase, to eat, to lick, to bark, to poop and to die.  He never seemed to worry about much else.

Time for Questions:

Have you found the purpose of your life? Have you found the meaning of your life? Have you been looking?  If not, why not?  What do you think the purpose of your life is? What do you think the meaning of your life is?  After reading my blog, will you continue your search?  Why?  What do you think about the irrelevancy of such a search?

Life is just beginning.

As long as I am breathing, in my eyes, I am just beginning.”  ― Criss Jami

For some very profound thoughts on the issues that I address in this blog, you should listen to What is the purpose of human life? —- Sadhguru — This might just be the most valuable 12 minutes you have ever spent thinking about this issue.







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