To consider the nature of life is to undertake an occupation many before us have assumed. It is perhaps inherent in humanity to at some point manage these divergences of the mind, though the extent to which we examine them is where we each differ; some adopt the sound beliefs of others before them, while others accept the charge of a lifelong study.
Around my fifteenth year, I found myself bludgeoning my own mind with wearisome inquiry after inquiry. One day, I questioned a respected instructor as to his own beliefs on the meaning of life and our reason for living. I can recall his answer clearly: “We live to enjoy time with our families.”
As highly as I respected him, that response would not do. It was too social for my fastidiously independent taste. How could one’s own meaning relate to others whom one may or may not have the privilege to enjoy? I thought on his reply as I left his classroom and took hold of my things, as I climbed up the stairs to the bus and stared out the window at the surrounding houses and passing shrubs. I arrived home and was hit by a burst of realization: we live to be happy.
We live to be happy.
Yes, that melody was much sweeter to my ears; it is the spark that set flame to my own premise for morality. But morality! We must live by some moral code in order to find true happiness, I decided with some immediacy. If not for morality, we would not enjoy our well-deserved sense of pride when it befalls us, and as selfish, higher-thinking creatures we must respect ourselves — no matter how deluded we are in our impression — if we intend to attain our life’s purpose.
But happiness is not a constant. We cannot capture and jar it to store forever. It ebbs and flows as we live and experience, but it is the work toward our purpose, and our adeptness at finding that purpose, that ensure we will experience some happiness. Naturally, we should find our purpose both fulfilling to ourselves and in some way to others. This balance is likely the same for everyone, but does it mean we each internally harbor the same purpose? Our purposes could differ in particulars, of course, but are they all in all the same? When Christians profess, “The idle brain is the Devil’s workshop,” could they simply mean to say the “Devil” is a metaphor for failing to achieve our own purpose, through sloth and inactivity? We could discover that the sin is actually our failure to serve our purpose via failure to keep our minds active in thought.
I once saw someone write, “The purpose of life is (a) purpose.” It bewildered me, or rather, it caused me to think. If this is true, does every person therefore achieve his or her purpose? Do some try, and miss — and even so, still reach their level of purpose? If one’s life serves to elevate another life of greater purpose, was the purpose of the former accomplished? Does this imply intelligent design where I have not intended it? More importantly, is purpose the authentic path to the realization and maintenance of happiness? And furthermore, is any one’s purpose superior to another’s? Does this depend on how many persons are directly affected by an individual? Whatever the case, egalitarianism insists we are of equal value, and so I cannot persuade myself otherwise. However, I cannot help but believe our individual use and significance differ, even while our inherent value is the same. This may support intelligent design, but it also strongly substantiates free will.
Free will ensures we may choose our purpose, or avoid it altogether — which may, in fact, actually mean choosing it, as those who believe in destiny will assert. Nevertheless, we can safely argue that a purpose is the surest road to happiness. If happiness is an emotion that one can only reach on occasion, a purpose must attend to its maintenance. Therefore, we live to be happy, but in order to achieve happiness, we must discover and aspire to our purpose.
It sounds simple, but is there more to it? What about a full life? Is there not something to say for the experience of ardent sorrow at the loss of a loved one? Of the fiery desire of a new romance? Or of the notion of delayed gratification — that hard work will one day make the sensation of happiness so much more worthwhile? We must have a basis of comparison in order to truly recognize and appreciate happiness, which could in part explain the phenomenon of the person who seemingly“has it all,” but does not derive pleasure from it.
It would seem, then, that a full life is an additional factor in living a life of purpose that is rich with happiness. But one must wonder, does ‘full’ entail diversity in experiences, or simply breadth of emotion through a series of experiences, remarkable or ordinary? Is it perhaps a combination of the two? This may depend on the individual.
Despite all of these questions, it is crucial to remember that above all things, we have choice; we have the choice to live our lives with the purpose of our choosing and the fullness we require. We have the choice to procure happiness from both the smallest and least consequential observations and the most extravagant of events. We may choose to feel deeply — to mourn and to feel sorrow, even, in order to sincerely know our own happiness and how to recognize it when it is concealed from us. We can choose all of this because we have free will and ample opportunity to comprehend our own minds if we would only give ourselves the chance. We must take that chance, and live each moment, with each breath we draw, knowing that only we can deliver to ourselves what we need from life.