Has this question ever be asked to you? Do you have an answer?
During the troublesome times of my youth— you know, tragic things like when homework got in the way of a friend’s party invite or I missed the winning point at a sport tournament— I would express my upset in spins of emotion from rage to depression. Instead of getting angry back at the insensible reactions to my teenage turmoil, in the mist of my verbal objections my father would ask:
“Is this the meaning of life?”
It would stop me in my tracks every time. Never once did I find that whatever ailed me was worth my whole life.
As I grew older (dare I say wiser) I once asked my father what should have been the obvious question: “If this (insert singular petty event) isn’t the meaning of life, what is?”. His response was even more insightful than his original statement: “I don’t know, but when you find out I would like to know as well!”
I recently attended a conference, the Art & Science of Health Promotions, in which I was asked to articulate my purpose in life. The question brought tears to my eyes as I recalled the above childhood memories of my father. The context of this discussion at the conference was to explain, articulate and theorize on spiritual wellbeing and how this broader picture of how we each fit into the world triggers our thoughts, emotions, actions and overall health.
Spiritual wellbeing, the untouchable and often unthinkable pillar to holistic wellness! Defined by Brian Luke Seaward as the accumulation of our relationships, values and a meaningful purpose in life. The piece of the wellness puzzle that is easy to loose. Without it, can we truly be whole?
A few days later in this same conference one of our keynote speakers, Victor Strecher, spoke on his extensive research around what having a purpose in life does for our physical, mental and emotional health, and how you can not weed out one from the other. In a nutshell, having a purpose in life IS the meaning of life and the key to health and happiness. Plus, he had studies to prove it.
If you are interested in learning more on this topic and the evidence, I encourage you to read Victor’s book, “Life On Purpose”; I admittedly have not yet read it, as I have just returned from the above mentioned conference, however I have no doubt I, or you, will not be disappointed.
Our ability to dream and rationalize, to create and control, to stay our course when the outside world wants to tempt us into regret, stems not from pure willpower, but from purpose.
As intuitive as it sounds, articulating your purpose is not always easy. What is important to you? What are your morals and values? These are big questions. But as you think about them, discuss them with friends and family, and apply skills and knowledge as necessary to enhance them, your path in life will form in front of you. I have no guarantees it will be a straight path, but it will not be a wall of resistance.
As Victor states, it is important to distinguish a purpose in every aspect of your life, and keep a balance in each; too much focus in any one direction can lead to burnout or regression. For instance, what is your purpose in living a meaningful life for you as an individual? For you as a friend and family member? For you as a co-worker? For you in your community at large?
I encourage you to think on this question— what is your meaning(s) of life; keep them near, refer back to them often and live your life by them to your best ability. It is important to note that this is not a box to put yourself in or a label to stamp on your forehead, but a fluid exercise that should not restrain but expand.
In this stage of my existence I have the courage to state my meaning of life, and it goes something like this:
Be a loving wife, daughter, cousin, niece, and aunt. Do onto my neighbor as I would do unto those I love. Take time for adventure and enjoy the outdoors. Support wellbeing in all those I meet.
I have yet to ask my father what his meaning of life is, but I look forward to the conversation, as he continues to be a huge inspiration and drive for my purpose on this earth.