Your individual life, per se, has no purpose. It’s a meaningless, purposeless venture. As much as it should be a relief, it comes out to be a scary news. This can make you and me depressed. We don’t want to feel isolated, neglected and above all: useless. We find solance in being associated with something bigger than ourselves – a group, a tribe, a race, a nation. This notion of service to a group and propagating its message gives us a sense of purpose.
History of human society is teeming with stories which have done just that. We love to believe in stories that keep us relevant by making us a part of an endeavour bigger than our-self. Stories presenting religious purpose, national duty, societal tradition, familial practices, all the way down to the individual missions.
Your life will go on just fine without a purpose and meaning. You will still breathe as normal, wander but purposelessly and eventually lick the dust, just like the most ambitious person would do. The only issue is that the life will become hard to live in your own mind – one of the only two places where we live.
If you are not strong enough to accept the ‘un-justness of your tortured mortality’ on its face value, having a purpose in your life is indispensable. For starters, the purpose of your life should then be to endeavour to find a purpose. This may take several forms. A career you think is important, a social service you find satisfaction in, carrying forward your group’s motto, herding fortunes if that you think is worthy of being a purpose, marching in solidarity with fellow citizens, chasing fame; anything that keeps you going. One or more of these endeavours will give a renewed sense of life, like the pleasure a curious kid gets by fitting all the pieces of his puzzle in the right places.
Meaning and life are like two islands bridged by hope. Meaning is essential to keep hopes alive, life depends on hope. Lose hope and life becomes suffocating. Drop meaning and life seems blank. Add them and the dull scenery gets illuminated.
“Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.” Victor Frankl
For most of us, a number of our life purposes come pre-defined by our societal and familial upbringing. We are tagged with a religion in accordance with the household we are born into. We are enrolled on the national register automatically. We take up other associations as we go along. Our religion, nationality, culture, upbringing, education, company and the society overall offer us a range of purposes we dearly embrace.
“The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.” Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Choose whatsoever purpose(s) but make sure that first and foremost your purpose is pro-life. A purpose that brings the greatest joy and well-being for the majority of us, without making anyone worse off. Brings welfare and minuses violence. It should not be above criticism. It should be reasonable and rationally defend-able. Things evolve with time. So should purposes, best catering to the needs of the age.
At this point it would be fair to ask if life is such futile endeavour with no inherent purpose to it, then why should our life purposes be conscientious and ethical and not devious and immoral. After all, being ethical comes at a cost of some degree of freedom. Well, history is best suited to answer why. We have seen that throughout annals that several stories have brought nothing but suffering, while others have help advance well-being one small step at a time. Chronicles of superiority and hatred have caused suffering and death while anecdotes of compassion have alleviated adversity.
We might not know what we want. But we all know fairly well what we don’t want. We don’t want pain, suffering and trauma. No one wakes up in the morning and wishes to have a terrible day. We may be clueless as to what our life should be like. But we are almost certain of what we do not want it to be like.
“Our greatest freedom is the freedom to choose.” Victor Frankl
Choice is clear. Choosing a purpose that aligns with compassion and empathy would not only bring you inner joy (which in itself is a good candidate for the purpose of life) but also glee others’ lives. A knavish intent might bring you ephemeral sense of grandiose and achievement, but on the whole, it leaves a society worse-off.
Over generations, purposes and their underlying stories have nurtured. Democracy and dictatorship are two systems of commanding. We have seen – through experience – that dictatorship always bears greater cruelty while democracy – however flawed – results in more equitable sharing of jubilance. The consequences of totalitarian systems have caused more damage than good. Hence, earning democracy a higher place over a dictatorial style of ruling.
“Purpose of life is to generate more love, peace and harmony in the world.” Amit Ray
We humans can comfortably think almost anything except imagining our own mortality whose contemplation we avoid at length. It should be the other way round. Every day we should remind ourselves of the ephemerality of our own existence. Least, to keep us humble in our intents and endeavours. Not to impede the passing of one’s day by creating the fear of our mortality but to revitalize the spirit of life instead. At the cost of slight discomfort, give it a try. What if – which is quite possible anyways – you are not here in this world tomorrow? Will this world end? To your disappointment: No. In fact, your leaving will mostly stay unnoticed. Like the low Richter-scale readings which can be recorded but are hardly felt. Your arrival and departure are only statistics to the wider world. It provisionally will hamper the lives of your loved ones but on cosmic scale your exodus hardly means anything – just like a grain of sand blowing away up in the air makes no difference to the bulk of desert. What if the whole city you live in does not wake up tomorrow? Will the world end then? Again, No. Just like a bucket of water is not going to deprive vast ocean.
The whole civilizations have come and gone to which the universe could not care less, head over heels with its own expansion. The ever-expanding universe means that as you grow bigger, in comparison you are becoming smaller and smaller. Emperors who once mercilessly ruled are long sod. Tyrants who once walked in vanity are now dust. Prophets who once are said to have walked, saints who are believe to have lived; they too are gone. Like an already diminishing pond of lake dries up fully under a scorching sun. What is left of them are stories. Stories to guide the ensuing generations while deciding the purposes of their lives.
There is enough evidence out there to make us realise that the only purpose of life is to live it, needless to say: within the bounds and means, and striving for making this world a slightly better place than you found it in. Your struggle in doing so is the only legacy you can leave behind that would stay, in fact sprout, unlike your genetic legacy while dilutes as it develops further and farther.
“All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man’s life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom.” Albert Einstein.