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Does Life Have a Purpose?

Updated on October 7, 2016
TessSchlesinger profile image

An interest in God and religion dominated Tessa Schlesinger's life for half a century. A decade ago she walked away to become an atheist.

What is the Meaning of Life?

When I was fifteen or sixteen, I wrote to my late father to ask him what the meaning of life was. He wrote back to tell me all teenagers asked that question and that it was a rite of passage. He never did answer the question. Perhaps he said something about the joie de vivre, but I don’t remember. Certainly, there was no answer that I could find in his missive, and so I went throughout my life without an answer to that eternal question, “What is the meaning of life?”

From an Old Woman's Point of View

I’m now 65, and I look back at that question, and I ask myself how it is possible that someone did not understand the angst and despair behind that question. I can answer it now, but it’s not so much that the question has an answer (there is no meaning to life), as it is an indication that the person asking it finds life meaningless. So I want to rephrase that question to make it more understandable.

Words of a solo traveler... Me!

The world is waiting or you. Go find it!
The world is waiting or you. Go find it! | Source

What is the Purpose of Life?

Looking back, I asked the question because I could find no purpose in anything I did. I saw no reason to study at school, to talk to anyone, to do homework, or anything else. It just didn’t make sense to me. As stupid as it sounds, neither of my parents nor anyone else told me that the purpose of doing school work was to get a qualification that would enable me to find work later. I could honestly not see why I was learning Latin, history, math, or anything else. It seemed completely pointless to me.

In retrospect, what I was really asking was “Why am I doing all this stuff?” “What do I get out of it?” And I needed to know the answer to that in order to continue doing those things.

Some might call that depression, but I don’t think it was. I think it was a complete lack of knowledge as to where I was going in life.

It helps to understand that I had never been permitted by my mother to be happy, to laugh, to have fun, or to smile. If I should even begin to laugh at something, she would quote an Afrikaans idiom to me (my mother was Afrikaans) which means ‘From joy comes trouble.” Very Calvinist point of view.

If I played with friends,she would say to me “What do you want with those people?” She would say it in a tone of voice that implied I shouldn’t want anything from them, and so I subsequently would not acknowledge to myself or anyone else that being with people made me happy. That has taken nearly 50 years to own up to.

Add to this the factor that whenever I was interested in doing something or wanted to do something, it would be forbidden. By the time I was 15 or 16, I would never ask my parents for anything, because it was simply refused.

So why did I ask that question about the purpose of life? Because without joy and interest in one’s surroundings and in other people, there is no purpose for doing anything.

We're All Lonely!

There are few more shameful confessions to make than that we are lonely. ... . We face a choice between honesty and acceptability and – understandably – mostly choose the latter....
There are few more shameful confessions to make than that we are lonely. ... . We face a choice between honesty and acceptability and – understandably – mostly choose the latter.... | Source

The Reason Behind the Question

So really, it is not so much the question that needs answering as the reason for the question being asked. The reason, it seems to me, is that the person asking it finds no joy or interest in their life, that life is too painful to live, and therefore they are looking for a reason or a purpose so that they know which direction to take. Life simply makes no sense when there is no joy or interest in anything.

Is There a Purpose to Life?

Some would give it a religious meaning as in “This life is a preparation for the next, so you will suffer all sorts of pain, but you must endure because the reward is coming after you die.”

The problem with that is that it’s a terrible waste to live an entire life on the off chance that there is life after death. There probably isn’t.

Others will tell you that you must find your own meaning, but how accurate is that? Just because I think something subjectively doesn’t mean that it has any objective truth in the greater scheme of things. So I might say the purpose of my life is to save animals from inhumane treatment, and while that is a noble life to live, in the greater scheme of things, does that really explain the meaning of life?

Essentially, just as we have no evidence for life after death, so we have no evidence that there is a meaning to life or what it is.

How Pessimism Can Be a Positive Force in Life

What is the Real Question We Must Ask Ourselves?

Life needs no meaning when we feel joy and satisfaction in our lives. The people who ask that question (myself included in the past) have no joy and satisfaction in their lives, and that is why they ask the question.

The real question we need to ask ourselves is what we must do to feel joy and satisfaction in our lives. While the founding fathers of America thought that was the pursuit of happiness, the reality is that pursuing happiness can be an empty endeavor if one attempts to fill the hole in one’s heart and mind with barbiturates, drugs, drink, or endless sexual escapades.

The Answer to the Question

Fortunately we live in a time when a reasonable amount of research has been conducted into that question. So we know the following things.

  1. We are happiest when we are with others.
  2. We are happiest when we help others as it gives us a feeling of worth. This is the reason why somewhere around 80% of us don’t like our jobs. They mean that we aren’t really helping humanity so much as helping a few greedy bosses to make more profit. At heart, we are a good species. We love to provide real help to others.
  3. We are happy when we do physical activities like dance or play sport, listen to music, and/or create things (invent, art, decorate, problem solve),
  4. We are happy when others approve of who we really are. We will not be happy if we pretend to be something and people approve of who they think we are. We need to be genuine and real, and when we are genuine and real and others approve of us or accept us, it brings us joy (back to first point).

Monty Python and the Meaning of LIfe

Do You Feel Satisfied With Your Life?

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How Status Has Moved Us Towards Depression

How Do We Get To Be Happy?

Life is not fair. Some of us are born into terrible situations with some terrible biology. Wouldn’t it be great if we could all be born with stunning looks, brilliant brains, dollops of talent, into a billionaire household?

It mostly doesn’t work that way, though.

We are stuck, at least for a while, with a situation that isn’t always easy to leave.

Here are some practical suggestions.

  1. Find people who are in similar situations. Misery loves company, It’s not ideal but everyone has to start somewhere.
  2. You’re not going to believe this but the right information is awesome for solving problems. That’s why educating ourselves throughout our lives is so useful. The awkward part is that sometimes we have to sit through a couple of years of education or read a couple of hundred books in order to find the information we need in order to fix our lives. All I can say is that it’s worth it!
  3. When we are miserable, virtually everything we do doesn’t give us joy. It’s a catch 22 situation. In order to find joy, we have to do things we enjoy, but in order to find things we enjoy, we need to be in a reasonable state of mind. That said, music will always perk us up.
  4. I’m not going to recommend therapy because I think therapists are a useless bunch. I will however recommend Lloyd Glaubermann’s HPP methodologies as they changed my life, and without them, I would not be in the place I am today. They seriously fixed up a lot of things inside.
  5. Get physical. Ride a bicycle. Take a dance class. Try kick boxing. Do it for at least an hour. Endorphins kick in and you will feel physically happy. Great stuff! Kill two birds with one stone and try a social activity like dancing, tennis, or team sports. Be wise, though. If you’re a bit of a nerd and you have two left hands, don’t do team sports. Pick something where you can be average or better.
  6. Forego going to a pub or self-medicating in any way. It’s a short term solution that sometimes results in long term damage.
  7. Go help someone who needs help. There is a difference, however, between being with people who are eternal black holes and those where a reasonable investment can help. Personally, I prefer helping people physically like providing a helping hand if they move, offering a ride somewhere, showing them how to do something (knit or fix a mirror, or how to train a dog). You can also volunteer at a science museum, become a docent at an animal centre, or provide a listening ear to a broken heart. Lots of help required out there!

Most people think that spending money:on physical objects which last longer  will make us happier for a longer time than a one-off experience like a concert or vacation. Studies show that they are wrong!
Most people think that spending money:on physical objects which last longer will make us happier for a longer time than a one-off experience like a concert or vacation. Studies show that they are wrong! | Source
Resilience: The Power to Bounce Back
Resilience: The Power to Bounce Back

I truly cannot advocate a better or easier program than Lloyd Glabermann's HPP technology. It works. And it works faster than any therapy. (It's hypnosis.) I turned my life around using these. And so have others to whom I have advocated them.

 

Summing Up: The Meaning and Purpose of Life

We have some four score years and ten to live. We are alive. We can do something with our lives or we can wonder around in despair trying to figure it out. It’s true that there may be a greater answer than those I have presented here, but in the absence of it, there is something to be said for having a deep sense of satisfaction and joy in one’s heart.

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    • Brenda Reeves profile image

      Brenda Reeves 11 months ago

      I agree with you, Tessa. There is no meaning to life. We can find meaning by finding our purpose. When I was four years old, I went to my mother and showed her something I could do. Instead of praising me like any parent with a brain would do, she said it's a sin to brag. I never said or thought a single good thing about myself after that. Recently, I told a friend that I'm am now self-actualized. If I could live my life over, with the knowledge that I now have, I would reject all materialism. The reason Americans must work long hours is because they are paying off the stuff that owns them. That does not give meaning or purpose to life.