"I think the purpose of life is to be useful,
to be responsible, to be honorable, to be compassionate.
It is, after all, to matter: to count, to stand for something,
to have made some difference that you lived at all."
For most people interested in personal development, the question of life's purpose is often on their minds. There are so many answers, but that one question always remains. When I opened my email this morning and read this quote, I found that I could really relate to Rosten's words. He's really on to something with this statement. Though I think we all have different purposes for our lives, I do think that Rosten addresses some of the basic elements of life's purpose that connect us all. While I cannot speak for everyone, I do know that many people would agree with Rosten's statement and believe that they are living for all of these reasons (and more!). After reading Rosten's quote for the third or fourth time, I began to break it down in my mind, to see all of the various parts he'd put together to make his statement whole. When I took a step back from the quote and looked at divided, I realized that Rosten really did bring some important things to light in terms of what most of us want from life. Here, let's take a look...
We want to be useful. Maybe not everyone feels this way, but I know a lot of people want to be useful. When thinking about life's purpose, they want their lives to be something that will have a good effect on the rest of the world -- or at least on those living in their little corner of the world. Some people seem more into this idea in relation to life's purpose than others (such as those who dedicate their lives to teaching or caring for others), but I think, deep down, we all want to know that our lives have a practical usefulness to them. It's hard to say what usefulness is because it is such a broad term, but I think that we're all useful. We're useful in our jobs, in our actions, in our relationships. We all serve different purposes, but all of them are of use and that's what makes them so important to consider when thinking about the purpose of life.
We want to be responsible. This is a very interesting one for me because for so long I felt like I didn't want to be responsible for my life. I wanted people to do things for me; I wanted things to happen to me. The older I get and the more I know, the more I want to take control of my life and be responsible for it. Not only do I want to be accountable for my actions, but I also want to be accountable for the repercussions of my actions. I want to know that what I'm doing is the right thing, that I'm not acting out of selfishness or haste. When I think about how much responsibility we all have (whether we want to admit it or not!), I realize that this is really one of the purposes of life. I am -- we all are -- meant to be responsible for our lives and even though it's hard for some to get to a place of responsibility, I do think that autonomy and accountability is something we all inevitably seek.
We want to be honorable. When I read this one, I wasn't sure how I felt. Do people really want to be honorable? Of course, it's clear that some do, but there are so many people that act in dishonorable ways that it was hard for me to believe that a purpose of life was to be honorable. But then I thought about it this way... We all really do want be respected and given credit for the things we do. For everyone, these things may be different. Honor might come in the form of negative things for some people and positive things for others, but I think that desire to be honored (even on a small level) is something most people crave. We want to be thought of as worthy of respect (and, in some cases, this can be a negative kind of respect) and we want to know that what we are doing has worth.
We want to be compassionate. This one also struck me as interesting. Do we want to be compassionate or do we want to have compassion in our lives? I, for one, know that I definitely want compassion in my life. I want people to care about me and to feel things for me when I am feeling, but to say that my own purpose in life is to be compassionate seemed off at first. And then I realized that, in fact, I really do want to live a life of compassion because it is one of the best ways to connect with others. At a very basic level, humans want to connect with each other (even when we don't think we do!), and being compassionate is one of the best ways to do this. I don't know about you, but when I am able to connect with someone else in a compassionate way, it feels great. It makes sense, since the need to understand one another is so basic, that it would be part of the purpose of life.
We want to matter. To me, this is one of the most important of all the things Rosten brought up. While I can't speak for everyone, I'm pretty sure most people want to matter. Some people want to matter in a big, grand way. Some people want to matter only in the lives of those who are closest to them. But either way most of us really seem to want that -- to know that our lives count, that we're here for a reason, that we have purpose. And we don't want to matter just to ourselves. We want to matter to others (again, back to the theme of connecting with other people) and some of us want to matter to the world. No matter what (or who) we want to matter to, most of us really do want that recognition, or at least the knowledge, that our lives count in a way that is meaningful.
We want to stand for something. When I was in college, some of the guys I used to hang out with would call me "Beliefs" because I was always going off about some topic I felt passionate about (feminism, animal rights, etc...). They would get a kick out of me sharing my beliefs all the time, and I got a kick out of them calling me "Beliefs." Why? Because this confirmed for me that I stood for something, that I cared about things enough to bring them up and share my thoughts on them. (It also helped to confirm that I had something substantive to offer other than appearance, which I really loved...) I loved (still do!) love believing in things, standing for things, and for that reason I believe that this is something that really does add to my purpose in life.
We want to make a difference. Another tricky one... Does everyone want to make a difference? I know I do. In fact, I probably want that more than anything. When I get emails from people telling me that I've made a difference in their lives, I feel happier than I could even imagine. It's the best feeling. But that's just me. I don't know if everyone wants to make a difference in the world. I know that most of the people I surround myself with make a difference in the world without even knowing it because they make my world a better place. Even people I hardly know make a difference when they leave a comment on my blog or send me an email. Whether or not we want to make a difference, I think our mere presences here impact the world and, like it or not, create the foundation for life's purpose.
I must admit that sometimes I don't like to think about the purpose of life. Sometimes that phrase is just too overwhelming. It puts the pressure on, making me wonder, "What am I doing? Am I really living the life I'm supposed to be living??" Reading Rosten's quote sort of forced me to think about it and I'm glad it did. The purpose of life is a very unique thing. I believe everyone has a different purpose, some of which overlap and some of which don't. Sometimes it's hard to understand the purpose of others, but there is a purpose for everyone and everything. Writing this post has really made me think about what I consider my personal purpose to be. The purpose of one's life is likely to change. If someone had asked me what the purpose of my life was ten years ago, my answer would be quite different I'm sure. Today I'm going to write down the things I want to be, the things that add up to my life's purpose. Someday I will come back to this post and look at these things and I will see how well I've done with them or maybe realize how much they have changed. Here are some of the things I think I'm here for...
To write words that make others think and feel.
To create things that challenge me and/or make me smile.
To accept people and situations for what they are.
To experience life and share my thoughts with others.
To love people and animals with my whole heart.
To be at peace with myself and those around me.
To make others happy through my own quest for joy.
To smile and laugh as often as I possibly can.
To work hard at what I love to do to reach my goals.
To cultivate and sustain meaningful relationships.
To push myself out of my (many!) comfort zones.
To challenge myself and others to embrace positivity.
To live in the moment (even when it's a tough one).
To look for and celebrate the good things in life.
I'm sure if I sat here all day, I could have a list a mile long. Now that I've started thinking about what my purpose is in life, it's actually quite fascinating to me (and a lot less overwhelming!). Putting it in writing makes me realize that life's purpose can be a tangible thing. It doesn't have to be some abstract concept that you can't quite put your finger on it. It can be a list. It can be a whole long string of words with all of the things you want in your life filling in the blanks. It can be anything you want it to be. I know it seems like a grand task -- writing down the purpose of your life -- but as someone who was overwhelmed to even think about it and who went on to create this extended (albeit not comprehensive) list, I'd strongly recommend you give it a go. And, if you're feeling extra brave, feel free to post your list in the comments section! I know, I know -- it seems daunting to think about your life's purpose on a random Tuesday, but when I started writing this post I had no idea it was going to lead to me thinking about my own purpose and I'm so glad it did. Give it some thought... You might be surprised by what you'll find...
What did you think of Rosten's ideas of what life's purpose is?
Have you given some thought now to your own purpose? What IS your purpose?