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Why do I exist? The purpose of life is not happiness, but growth

For over 200,000 years, we’ve looked to the sky and the gods for answers. We’ve studied the stars, cumulated the big bang, and even gone to the moon.

However, for all our efforts, we’re still left with the same existential question. That is: Why do I exist?

Really, it’s a fascinating question. It asks what it means to be human and if answered, should get to the core of how and why we live. However, in an interesting caveat, the answer can only be found within.

To quote the great philosopher, Carl Jung:

“Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”

Indeed, it’s far easier to be told how to live than to decide how to live. However, your purpose is something you need to decide on your own.

And hence, Russian novelist, Fyodor Dostoyevsky has said, “The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.”

Indeed, without vision and purpose, people perish. It is the struggle — the search and drive for something more that gives life meaning. Without a future to strive for, people rot away quick.

Thus, the purpose of life is not to be happy, but instead, to see how far one can go. It’s to be innately curious and to explore your own personal limits.

How do I know? Just look around you; everything on this planet is either growing or dying. So, why think you’re any different?

Interestingly, Dr. Gordon Livingston has actually said that humans need three things to be happy:

  • Something to do
  • Someone to love
  • Something to look forward to

Similarly, Viktor E. Frankl has said,

“Success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.”

Hence, happiness is not a cause but an effect. It’s the effect of living in alignment. It’s what happens when you’re living your daily life with purpose and priority.

This article is intended to help you arrive at that point.

Here we go.

You Need Something to Do

According to Cal Newport, author of So Good They Can’t Ignore You, most people are all mixed up about what it takes to live a life of harmonious passion.

For example, most people mistakenly believe that passion is something they ought to actively seek out. That unless they’re intrinsically compelled by their work, then they can’t love what they do.

However, it’s not what you do that’s important. Instead, it’s what you do for others. As Newport explains,

“If you want to love what you do, abandon the passion mindset (‘what can the world offer me?’) and instead, adopt the craftsman mindset (‘what can I offer the world?’).”

Indeed, rather than selfishly seeking a life you’re passionate about, you should be thinking about developing skills, products, and abilities that benefit the lives of others.

When you go beyond yourself, your skills and abilities are not just an individual sum of parts, instead, they become a part of a greater whole, and it is this that gives life meaning.

When begin to see your work have an effect on the lives of others, your confidence grows. As your confidence grows, you begin to deeply enjoy what you’re doing — you become more engaged with it, and eventually, you start to see your work as a “calling” or “mission.”

And hence why so many people who work in professions that have such a profound effect on other people’s lives, like doctors, psychiatrists, or teachers, for example, love what they do.

Also, why Cal Newport has said, “What you do for a living is much less important than how you do it.”

Or put more simply: Your passion is not something you need to “find” or “follow,” instead, your passion follows you. It’s a result of your mindset and behavior. Not the other way around.

In order to live this reality, however, you must realize that your life is about so much more than just yourself. It’s about giving back. It’s about pouring your all into it. It’s about finding something to love.

Which actually leads to the next point:

You Need Someone to Love

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” – Helen Keller

According to neuroscience research, the more you love someone, the more they’ll love you back. It makes sense; all our needs are the same. It is human nature to desire love and belongingness.

However, a little less talked about is the fact that love is not a noun but a verb. If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.

And sadly, this happens all too often. We take our relationships for granted. We allow the busyness of life to take over and stop investing in the relationship.

However, if you truly love someone, you’ll show it. You’ll stop being self-centered and be who you need to be for that person

This isn’t necessarily just romantic relationships, but all relationships. Love transforms not just the receiver, but also the giver. So, why wouldn’t you?

Although no matter how powerful of a force love is, just having someone to love isn’t enough. You still have to live out your own dreams and desires.

As Grant Cardone has said:

“Remember that one single human being cannot make you happy enough to fulfill the dreams and goals you had before you met them.”

Which takes us to the next point:

You Need Something to Look Forward to

The research is clear: as people, we are happiest in anticipation of an event, rather than living the actual event itself.

Hence, you need a vision. You need something to look forward to. You need a goal in which are you exerting conscious and daily effort.

Keep in mind that it is the vision, not the goal that brings meaning. Hence, once you hit one, you need another. These are something you should never stop doing.

As Dan Sullivan has said,

“We remain young to the degree that our ambitions are greater than our memories.”

However, not get too far ahead, what is your vision now?

Where do you want to go?

Who do you want to be?

What do you want to do?

Who do you want to do it with?

What does your ideal day look like?

It’s powerful to not to think of these in terms of where you are now, but instead, where you want to be. See, many people become limited by the goals they can see in their history.

However, you shouldn’t let your current circumstances stop you from creating something far more powerful.

As Hal Elrod said, “Whatever future may seem like a fantasy to you now is simply a future reality that you have yet to create.”

Indeed, you are both the designer and the creator of your life experience. Each must be bold and powerful.

So, where do you intend to go?

How I Found Meaning

Writing about the purpose of life is not something I’ve always done. In fact, for many years, it never even crossed my mind. I was too busy overindulging in video games and other online media to give it a second of thought.

As Yuval Noah Harari has said:

“Technology isn’t bad. If you know what you want in life, technology can help you get it. But if you don’t know what you in life, it will be too easy for technology to shape your aims for you and take control of your life.”

Eventually, however, I took a step away from the matrix. I unplugged from the screens and took up reading. Reading turned into writing, and writing turned into an audience.

Like Cal Newport said, once I began doing something that benefited the lives of others, I started to deeply enjoy was doing, and writing very quickly became a passion.

At such, my self-concept about who I was and where I was heading in life immediately changed. I began to see myself as a Writer. However, looking back, it became very apparent that I was already meant to be a Writer.

As Steve Jobs has said:

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”

Which actually brings up an interesting point: It’s not merely some outside force that controls your destiny. Instead, it’s your decisions that determine your destiny.

We could say that each living moment is simply the universe asking a question, and our actions determine the answer. Of course, there is perhaps no right or wrong answer.

However, when we back down from a challenge or give into fear, could we perhaps be declining an invitation to live a life that the “universe” or some “higher power” has planned for us?

You know the feeling, you’ve made it through a tough situation, overcome an obstacle, or took a chance, and in the end, everything’s worked out to where it felt like it was “meant to be.”

Could it have, in fact, been meant to be? For example, Ralph Waldo Emerson has said, “Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.”

I think that’s a thought to ponder.

Some Further Ideas to Ponder

Do we live inside a simulation?

In recent times, Elon Musk has popularized the idea that we may be living in a simulation. However, the idea in fact actually came from Philosopher, Nick Bostrom in 2003.

The argument is that given games are increasing at such a rapid rate, there is logic to believe that there could be a time where the games themselves are indistinguishable from reality.

In that, one day, we may be able to create simulations no different to our reality and then populated that world with conscious beings just like ourselves. Hence, there is a possibility that we, too, are living in a simulation created by someone or something else that may have existed in the universe before us.

It’s a logical argument that at current, can not be completely confirmed nor denied. As David Chalmers has said:

“There’s certainly not going to be conclusive experimental proof that we’re not in a simulation, and any evidence we could ever get would be simulated!”

Thomas Metzinger, however, believes the opposite, “The brain is a system that is continually trying to prove its own existence,” he said.

The fact that we have certain realizations in which we say, “I exist.” For example, in life or death situations, Metzinger thus believes that we do exist in a universe beyond a simulation.

However, all of these emotions and feelings very well could exist within a complex simulation. Thus, we are none the wiser.

However, even if we were living in a simulation, what difference would it really make? We’ve already lived for 200,000 years not knowing that we’re in a simulation.

So, the only change would be in our perceptions, while our experience would still be the same.

Another idea to consider:

Are we afraid of death or having not lived?

I watched an interview recently with monk-turned-entrepreneur Dandapani who said that when his guru died, some of the last words he ever spoke were, “What an amazing life, I would not have traded it for anything in the world.”

And why was he able to say that? Because he’d lived a life in alignment with his purpose and priorities. He didn’t leave anything on the table. He knew what he wanted to do with his time on this globe and did it.

He wasn’t continually chasing after happiness or the next thing. Instead, he found something meaningful for his life and then pursued it.

And I think that’s what we’re all looking for. We’re not scared that this experience will end. Instead, were scared that it will never really begin.

That will never find something to completely pour ourselves. And that’s why you need something to do, someone to love and something to look forward to.

It takes you beyond yourself, and instead, puts the focus on others and your future self, which gives life a whole new meaning.

In Conclusion

The purpose of life is not happiness, but growth. Happiness comes after you’ve invested in something bigger and greater than yourself.

Hence, rather than seeking passion, what you want is to be of value. You want the satisfaction of contributing something to the world. To feel that your time on this globe actually had meaning.

Of course, all of this human experience is not objective but subjective. You are the one that ascribes meaning to the world. As Stephen Covey has said, “You see the world, not as it is, but as you’ve been conditioned to see it.”

Hence, only you can decide if you’re living up to “purpose” or “potential.”

Moreover, love is what takes you beyond yourself. It transforms both the giver and the receiver. So, why wouldn’t you?

Finally, you need something to look forward to. Without a future to strive for, people rot away quick. So, where is your vision taking you?

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What do you think?

Notable replies

  1. You ask, “Why do I exist?” If I repeat this question in my mind, am I to ask why I exist or why you exist? What is good is the answer is the same. When the universe was started, the necessary conditions were established that were to ensure the existence of life.

    We have had more than 7 billion people so far, so the process worked. Now, are you asking why a person, you, with your specific mindset exists? The answer to that question is you are the sum of all the decisions that were made on the planet that would have some impact on how you were formed and grew and learned all you know.

    Part of the conditions that allowed life to exist also has limited how long any individual life can exist. Existing experience can make a record of itself and to make improvements to the limited lifespan. Eventually, it will be likely we will live forever unless we die by choice or accident.

    Your purpose is to contribute to the decisions needed for life to solve this problem. Make decisions is all you can do. You absorb what is going on in the world. It is usually different for everyone, and the choices made will have some impact on finding the solution or supporting our existence until this solution is found.

    Do you have any follow up questions?

  2. @reece welcome to Ideapod and thanks for sharing your insights and passion. Yes, we seem to be a verb…

    Whatever we are doing it is possible to find the perspective that we are in fact never alone and always in exchange of our life force with others and the environment.

    This may be part of the essence of interbeing, of living with the #senseof true connections.

    This is the feeling of life at its core. Fleeting as it may seem sometimes.

    I was just sitting here thinking about the word “growth” and how it is under scrutiny these days when we step back and think about it.

    This idea that all growth is good is in question.

    Our basic senses have revealed we do in fact grow… get physically bigger, perceptions change, we evolve.

    This idea of unbridled growth has been the model for our economies, technology and human expansion.

    It may be what is actually heading us down the road to extinction…

    Is that growth?

    As we pass through this portal of growth we wander across the threshold of the liminal and deeper subliminal that affords us the opportunity to ask the question, “why do I exist?”

    What growth am I part of and adding to?

  3. This is indeed a really interesting question that we have surely all considered. It appears to relate to finding some kind of purpose. Existence isn’t a choice we control but purpose can be.
    Many people are protesting these days about humans negative effects on climate change. No doubt they feel that their purpose at this time is to express their frustration for this state of affairs.
    Personally, although I applaud them for displaying the courage of their convictions, I think that supplying everyone with the finances to all personally make change like buying solar panels would be a more productive use of their time.
    I am sharing a new kind of passive income idea that I hope will improve the state of our world and all the people on it but although I consider this my greatest achievement, I don’t consider it to be the only reason for my existence. Who knows what the future might bring? Certainly not I.
    My grandmother taught me that when we do something for others, it makes you both happy. A win win if you will. Wise words.

  4. We are here because we chose to be here. Why would we choose mortality, flesh, pain, death over immortality? We choose this because we are co-creators. All of what is seemingly negative and painful is merely our spirits trying to align with the flesh and time/space reality. The father we are from alignment, the more painful our existence and eventually the transition back to the non-physical.

    I actually believe our individual passages have a larger meaning, for the benefit of the universe. The better aligned we become, our universe flourishes, grows. Maybe one day when everyone is aligned, there will be no more suffering and the transition will be seamless.

  5. Csmith says:

    Thanks for the well written offering and exploration into the question. I like the book of Genesis as a guidepost as to why we are here.
    “In the beginning , God created the heavens and the earth.”
    Anything we observe , read or are told , we have to create a mental framework for in my view.
    In my framework , the earth mentioned is matter (mater) and heaven is the field of potential that it could become.
    As we observe smaller and smaller world’s such as atoms on down to quarks and whatnot, we see movement and patterns. Now you don’t move without having a potential to move towards, or you wouldn’t move. These world’s organize , evolve , manifest into structured present. It seems that we are here not merely as us but them as well. We are mater and the potential of what was as well as moving towards the potential of what could be.
    I suspect that in Genesis , reality was created with the phrase, let there be light, and that meant to say to lifeless mater , ( I purposely misspell for the dual meaning) " let there be potential " and that when mater moved in to potential , it literally created light, sun’s etc…
    Just an exploration I’m sharing, not a hubristic offering of purported knowledge.
    Thanks for the conversation.

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Written by Reece Robertson

I write interesting and practical ideas designed to encourage and inspire individuals to adapt how they think and engage themselves in the world.

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