why

The natural Purpose of life is Sustainable survival

Life without purpose makes little sense and is unlikely to yield long-term happiness. It is like taking a step forward and then two steps back. Without purpose we may be busy, but end up not accomplish much.

We should not postpone thinking about our purpose because later may be too late. Time passes in one direction and you can’t simply press reset and start over. You only have one shot to live your life well. You don’t want to wake up one day to find out you wasted your life, do you?

Many people have various goals in life that they call “purpose”, but purpose is higher level than goals. Goals stem from a purpose. Most religions propose or even instill some purpose of life, but such purpose is based on belief and therefore cannot be justified by facts and logic.

The natural rational purpose of life of any living organism including human is sustainable survival and humans are no different. Survival has three horizons. In the short horizon, instinct guide our own survival. In the mid-horizon, we have children to ensure survival of our genes and memes. And in long-horizon, we need to ensure our next generations can survive. Long survival horizon requires long-term priorities which conflict with our incentives and therefore is the most endangered.

We seek happiness on top of survival, yet there is no happiness without survival.


Life without purpose makes little sense

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.

Life without purpose

 

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.

Life without and with purpose

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”.

  1. 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