are the people in your life positive?
happiness is an open road

living life with purpose


"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."

Leo Rosten

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?



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I would also add...


I think that alone is the underlying current in everything we do. :)

Thanks again Dani!


Dayne - Great point! I tried to add love into my personal list because I really think that's an important one. Glad you agree! :)

I like when purpose can be expressed as a one-liner. For example, Starbucks is "world's-best coffee" ... Google is "organize the world's information" ... ITunes is "world's best music store."

I think the key is to find a purpose that lights up the following statement:
Give your best where you have your best to give.

When you find that, it's your unique contribution to the world, and when you spend time in your strengths it's your growth, renewal and passion in action.

Dani - Love the quote! I would also add: to learn to love and accept others; to learn how to love better; to grow and to learn. Thanks for sharing. Take care, A. 8-D

This is one of the best blog posts I have read all month! Not only did you so eloquently dissect Rosten's words, BUT you added even more wisdom to them! I think you nailed it - absolutely excellent advice on living a life with purpose!

I also want to say that my favorite one is responsibility. It's essentially the lesson of karma. Our actions DO have an impact on the world. This knowledge can seem daunting, but at the same time it gives us personal power.

J.D. - That's a great point. It's important to have a simple catch phrase to come back to and I love the line you mentioned in your comment. Really well put!

Anita - I love the idea of growing and learning because I always want to be doing that in my life. Thanks for sharing your ideas!

Steven - Thank you!! :) I really appreciate your feedback and I'm so glad you enjoyed reading the post.

I agree with Steven Handel.. there is wisdom in your words! I love how you speak of a personal life purpose, different for each of us and that "it can be anything you want it to be." How if we look on the purpose of life not as this grand intangible thing but as a reflection of our true values and inner self we create our own purpose!! wonderful!!

I think for me it is "to matter" as you said not necessarily in a big way but to count, to matter for the people in my life that i love and care for. Thank you again... i will enjoy pondering over this for time to come :)

That is a great list, Danni. Love each and every purpose. :)


Love. This. List.


I'd just like to ditto what Hayden said :)

Really, this is great stuff. I love your list of purpose for your life. I think if I were to write mine out like that, they'd be very similar.

I think I'll be growing my list as well. Great job!

Stephen Covey said that as humans we have a need to live, love, learn and leave a legacy. I can definitely see how your lists relate to his.

My purpose is to help people have a great time, to connect with people and help other people connect with other people and just to enjoy life for what it is. =)

and to write. ALOT!

haha, trust me Dani you definitely write the words that make people think and feel !

thanks for the fabulous reflection, Dani. LOVE your list and am working on my own, thanks to your nudge.

for today, my purpose is to pay attention.

You know it was the philosopher, Rene Descartes, who said "I think therefore I am." What pepole don't know is that the Dutch philosopher, Jan DeHorst, came up with the same idea (rationalism) years earlier.

Despite this, most folks still put Descartes before DeHorst.

A. Simplicity - I definitely believe that your life's purpose can be whatever you want it to be and that it should be unique to you. We are all so different that it makes sense that we'd have very difference purposes. You bring up a great point about how "to matter" doesn't have to be in a big way. I think we all want to matter, though we probably want to matter in different ways.

Meream - Thank you! I'm so glad you liked the list. :)

Hayden - Thanks!!! It was actually a lot of fun to write this post. I started out thinking I would just be analyzing the quote and by the end I was writing my own ideas down. I'd definitely recommend giving it a try!

Jay - I'm so glad you liked this one. And how awesome that your list would be similar! :)

Tess - Thank you! I'm excited to hear that you'll be working on your list too. It was a great exercise and I'm glad that reading this quote inspired me to think about my own purpose in life.

Rocky - Awesome that you bring up Covey! What a great point! I like what you've written for your purpose. Connecting with people and enjoying life are two of the most important things we can do. Thanks for the compliment... I'm so glad to know I'm living out my purpose! :)

Lisa - You're welcome! Paying attention is such a great one because it forces us to live in the moment (something I still struggle with). I'm glad you brought that one up and I hope you succeed in living in the moment today.

JohnW - Very interesting! I find that when I've researched things I usually find that to be true. One person gets tons of attention for an idea that others have already thought of. We see that a lot today... All of these people writing books on ideas that originated long, long ago and receiving lots of credit for it!

Compassion is difficult to cultivate if you don't have an abundance of it naturally. I love the way my husband expresses similar thoughts: the things that are of true value in life cannot be bought, stolen or given. They are earned. Honor, respect, loyalty, love (yes you give love, but you earn keeping it by your actions, or else they become an empty sentiment.
These are the things we treasure and so few truly value in the world today.
This was very thought provoking and I love that, so thank you!

Stephanie - I agree with you on that one! Compassion can be very hard if you don't have a lot of it. I love what you wrote about earning love. That's such a great concept and I've never thought about it that way before. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

It's so true. I want to be useful, responsible, to stand for something, etc. I'm grateful I'm no longer in a career where I had none of these things. Now I feel like i'm living life honorably because my work matches my values and I am contributing positively to the world in some way, every day. It's a huge, important shift.

Thank you for this wonderful posting! I'm printing it out and like a few other people on here, you've inspired me to create my own list! I am evaluating my career choice and this will be very useful to determine what's next for me. It's been interesting to evaluate my current position against the list of things we want in life. Thank you so much for sharing this!

Michelle - That's so great that you got out of a situation where you didn't have those things because they really are essential to living life to the fullest. It's awesome that your work matches your values! :)

Meroko - You're welcome! :) I'm excited to hear that you've been inspired to create your own list. I really enjoyed doing it and I hope you get something out of it as well. I'm sure it will help out a lot with the career situation!

Rostens purpose for life to me was summarized toward the end of the quote. To Show that we have standed for something. That is the thing that most of us in the world are wanting to do and are doing. Standing for what we believe in.

Very thought provoking post Dani. For me I think my life's purpose revolves around 3 things;

1. Making the world a better place.
2. Laughing, having fun, living my dreams and helping others do the same.
3. Giving and receiving love.

Great article!

Josten - Yes, I agree. I felt that the best part of the quote was near the end. Standing for what we believe in is SUCH a huge thing and I don't think people always realize how important that element is when it comes to life's purpose.

Sami - Thank you! I think the three things you brought up are GREAT things to have your life's purpose revolve around. Thanks for mentioning those because they are so important.

I think that for me the key is the interconnection of all the qualities listed in the quote. For example, I can't just be compassionate, responsible, and honorable - I won't quite have a life purpose if I just have those qualities. Rather, my life purpose needs to include all of the qualities listed to some degree, or I won't feel as though I am fulfilled. These are the most important things in life, however, only a small handful seem to recognize that. Thanks for bringing these up!

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