Children ask why all the time to understand the world. Adults ask why far less often, partly because we already know a lot, but partly because we suppose we should already know a lot. Asking “why” might sound silly. But we have a lot to learn from the purity of children, especially because some questions we can only answer when we gain the adult perspective on life.
If someone asks you why you are doing any particular action, you can usually give a reason. You are making a call because you want to arrange a work meeting. You are taking on running shoes because you go to do sport. There are clear short-term reasons behind immediate actions. Most likely you will be able to explain why you are doing most of the regular activities that occupy most of your time. You work to earn money and recognition, you do sports to keep fit and have fun. You clearly have some mid-term goals.
Now connect the dots. You are making a call to arrange a work meeting to earn money and recognition. You take on the running shoes to do sport in order to keep fit and have fun. To succeed, we choose appropriate short-term actions to achieve our mid-term goals. In the same fashion, the mid-term goals should be based on our long-term goals and those are derived from our purpose of life. But in case we don’t know our purpose of life, we can hardly choose the right goals and subsequently the correct actions. Without clear direction, we waste energy going back and forth but don’t arrive anywhere. Without a purpose we lack focus and get bogged down in unimportant activities. We then struggle to find out why the joys from fulfilling our goals still do not make us feel entirely happy about our life. Living without a meaning indeed is quite meaningless.
Purpose makes life so much easier. Knowing purpose helps you prioritize. Having purpose keeps you alive when times are tough1. Achieving purpose makes you happy. As Nietzsche said, “He who has a why to live for can bare almost any how”.
- For example Viktor Frankl in his famous book Man’s Search for Meaning points out that jews who had some purpose in life were much more likely to survive concentration camps than those without a purpose ↩