What’s really worthwhile? What’s the point of all this effort and energy we expend day in and day out? Where’s the goal line?
Or, to put the question another way: What’s the purpose in our lives?
Many of us are so inundated with the flood of events, information, and obligations of everyday living that we hardly have the time to ask ourselves these questions, much less answer them.
Enjoying a lazy morning and a cup of hot tea on the porch while contemplating why we’re here on planet Earth is a luxury most of us simply can’t afford. When we must meet deadlines at the office, for example, and we are falling behind or running in place rather than sprinting ahead to reach our goals, it’s tough to look at the bigger picture of our lives. Problems flare up like the Hydra’s heads: cut one off, and two grow back.
Some—family or friends, therapists, or self-help gurus—may advise us to slow down, but the hard, cold truth is that slowing down is rarely an option. When we’re in the middle of a rat race, to pause or to reduce our pace is an impossibility.
To return to “What’s the purpose of my life?”: perhaps that inquiry is too broad a generalization, too vague and fuzzy in scope for any sort of coherent answer. In fact, if confronted with that question, most of us might react with a baffled silence.
But what if we narrow the question down? What if we instead ask ourselves, “What’s the purpose of this moment in time, this day? What am I to do with the next 24 hours the universe has given me?”
Here we find a rock to stand on, a solid foundation that holds a possible and satisfactory solution to this conundrum of purpose. For the contractor with a wife and children, for instance, one purpose of his day is to once again go out into the world, do his job as best he can, and return home in the evening with money earned to provide for the needs of his loved ones. For his wife, the purpose of her day is to see to the education of her children and make a home for her family.
In other words, our days are a framework of duties, obligations, joys, worries, and sorrows that in and of themselves define our purpose. When we live in the present, our purpose becomes clear as glass.
When we approach each of these days with thought and care, taking a few moments on waking to remind ourselves of the higher motives and objectives behind the details of the day, we are following the advice offered by wise men and women down through the ages: “Live in the present.”
Furthermore, if we live each of those days intentionally, practicing the virtues, following the Golden Rule, loving those around us, taking time to appreciate the beauty of our world, and fighting for the right when necessary, by the end of our lives we will have stacked up thousands of purpose-filled days. We will have no need to wonder, “What is the purpose of life?” We will instead have lived out the answer to that question.
“Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be,” the Roman emperor and stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius once said. “Be one.”
This same logic applies to the question of purpose.
“Waste no more time contemplating the purpose of life,” we might say. “Fill each day with purpose, do your duty, love friends and family, and you have answered the question.”
And someday, when we go to our rest, those we leave behind will remember us as having understood and fulfilled the purpose of life.