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The greater the aim of man the nobler his purpose. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 5, p. 26.
The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for. – Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how. – Friedrich Nietzsche
A hero is someone who has given his life to something bigger than himself or something other than himself. – Joseph Campbell
This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. – George Bernard Shaw
Would you say that the purpose of life revolves around finding happiness?
Since this series of essays deals with our purpose in life, I did a little online research on the subject. Surprisingly, only a scant few websites really deal with the subject of human purpose. I understand—it’s a tough topic, and one that can baffle even the most astute philosophers and theologians. Also, Life’s Big Questions often get short shrift on the web—thank you, cat videos.
Several online surveys, however, do try to measure our most important life goals, which definitely have a close relationship to our highest purpose. Ranker.com has kept a running list of respondents’ most important life goals for some time. Here are the top six:
- Being Healthy
- Enjoying life
- Being happy
- Pursuing ideals and passion
- Achieving intellectual growth
- Having financial freedom—wealth.
To me, this list seems a little underwhelming. The top three—health, enjoyment and happiness—are all pretty temporary, as everyone knows. In this world, you can have happiness in one moment, and lose it in the next. Enjoyment is fleeting. Health can last a lifetime, but invariably departs as each life comes to its natural physical conclusion.
Numbers four and five have a little more substance. Passionate idealism and intellectual growth both indicate some longer-term thinking, at least. Developing the mind, discovering the realities of science and dedicating yourself to an ideal all speak to our devotion to something bigger than ourselves.
Number six—wealth—certainly has its place, but as my wise grandfather used to say, you’ll never see a U-Haul behind a hearse.
So where does spirituality come in? Where do we find a true, permanent, everlasting, higher human purpose in this compilation of life goals? Way down, it turns out, in the thirty-sixth position on the list:
- Achieving religion and spirituality
Kind of sad, right? Perhaps only a small percentage of people see the need for religion and spirituality in this materially-obsessed age—but that doesn’t make it less important. Those who recognize their inner spirits as the source of their life’s purpose have found the secret of true and lasting happiness.
So if you recognize the value of the human spirit, and see its development as your highest goal and purpose, you’re actually far ahead of the crowd. You perceive what really matters. You see this material world in its true perspective, as a fleeting shadow of reality without the ability to give you what you truly seek:
O beloved of God! Know ye that the world is like unto a mirage which the thirsty one thinks to be water; its water is a vapor; its mercy a difficulty; its repose hardship and ordeal; leave it to its people and turn unto the Kingdom of your Lord the Merciful. Thus the lights of mercy and beneficence may shine upon you, the heavenly table descend for you, your Lord may bestow upon you the greatest gifts and favors, whereby your breasts may become dilated, your hearts gladdened, your souls purified, and your eyes enlightened.
O beloved of God! Is there any giver save God? He chooseth for His mercy whomsoever He desireth.
He shall open unto you the doors of His knowledge, fill your hearts with His love, rejoice your spirits by the wafting of His holy fragrances, illumine your faces by the Manifest Light and elevate your names among the people. – Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith, p. 386.
Next: Existential Reality: Living with the Absurd