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Why finding purpose is so hard?
And some good poetry
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Wondering if this is all there is to life? Let me save you some time. Yes! At least at the moment, you get what you've got.
Perhaps a more interesting and productive question would be, "What could life be instead or in the future?" "Could be" how? In terms of what you have (money, status, achievements), or in terms of life satisfaction? The two could overlap but often don't. So, thousands of people in all sorts of socio-economic walks of life wake up every day wondering the same thing, "Is this all there is?"
Hedonic adaptation makes us get used to whatever we've achieved, experienced, and enjoyed yesterday and want more of it, or more in general. One dopamine hit is never enough. In a way, this makes us do more stuff. It motivates us to excel, explore, and experience. Or it could make us addicts if we ignore where we get our dopamine hits from. More work makes us workaholics. More booze makes us drunkards. More porn breaks the bank and family life. More social media causes us to feel depressed in comparison to other people's perfectly portrait lives. More food leads to obesity. More sitting on the couch leads to cardiovascular disease.
More usually doesn't lead to enough. Unless that "more" is more self-awareness and self-reflection, which could lead to more conscientiously curated endeavors and experiences, and beginning to feel enough and fulfilled.
We live our best lives when we live with purpose however each person defines it for themselves. Having a sense of purpose involves aligning our values, passions, and strengths with meaningful pursuits. It's about understanding why we do what we do and how our actions contribute to a larger goal or vision.
But finding purpose turns out to be one of the most challenging things human beings ever reckon with. Elusive, shifting, and confusing, purpose is like a pink unicorn. Finding one takes time and effort and looking in the right places and in the right way. It asks that we intuit our potential and curb our hedonic desires just enough to make room for what we really, truly, actually want – that pink unicorn!
But why do we value self-awareness and self-reflection less than a 64" TV or a job promotion? Why living on social media trumps living our best lives in real life?
Complexity of Existence: Life is multifaceted, and the search for purpose involves understanding and integrating various aspects, such as personal interests, values, relationships, and societal expectations. Being on top of the evolutionary column does come at a price. A snail doesn't worry about social expectations. People, though, spend most of their energy trying to fit in, impress, and navigate other egos. They form tribes, clicks, and spheres of influence. Only humans live by internal rules, codes, and beliefs, which often contradict each other. Only humans can conjure up an endless list of wants.
Cultural and Societal Influences: Societal norms, cultural expectations, and external pressures can influence how we perceive our purpose. Balancing personal desires with external expectations can create confusion and make finding an authentic sense of self harder. Without an authentic sense of self, no goal or desire ever feels like purpose.
Uncomfortable Personal Exploration: Discovering our purpose often requires deep self-exploration, introspection, and self-awareness. This process can be uncomfortable, painful, and demanding, requiring individuals to confront their fears, insecurities, and past experiences. And that's usually where the search for meaning ends. We've devised an endless supply of distractions to keep us from going deeper and doing this work. We go for quick payoffs, getting buzzed with every social media like and comment. TV series, substance abuse, retail therapy, and self-gratification all serve one purpose – to ease the discomfort of sitting with aspects of ourselves we don't want to know. We don't want to hear the voices in our heads that remind us of our responsibilities, perceived failures, and bad experiences. We don't want to be bored. We don't want to be left behind and miss out on things because YOLO.
Comparison and Self-Doubt: Comparing ourselves to others and feeling inadequate can hinder the search for purpose. It's easy to feel lost when measuring one's achievements against those of others. It's also confusing, in the same way as trying to pick out cereal at the supermarket. We try to select from various, enticingly packaged purposes. In the age of influencers big and small living wildly, glamorously, and self-indulgently, advertising fantastic opportunities for life in the best lane. Too many options hinder our ability to make a choice.
Constant Change: Circumstances always change. What might have felt purposeful and satisfying in one phase of life may not hold the same significance in another. Accepting and adapting to these changes requires recalibrating our sense of focus and redefining what’s meaningful and fulfilling. Sometimes, people lose themselves and must rediscover or reinvent themselves. We see them going off to the woods, taking a year off and traveling the world, embarking on a sabbatical, etc. In a way, this is a decision to disconnect from all the noise and distractions, to step off the beaten path and look around. Sometimes, they come back rejuvenated and transformed. Sometimes, they don't come back at all. They find a path that leads somewhere entirely different.
Fear of Failure: The fear of not living up to our own or others' expectations can lead to avoidance of exploring options for growth and experiences that could lead to the hiding lore of that pink unicorn.
External Validation: Relying on external validation, such as seeking approval or recognition from others, can cloud the pursuit of an authentic purpose. It makes us dependent on other people's moods and attention. Meanwhile, fulfillment is an inside job. Seeking external validation can lead to attention-seeking behaviors, unnecessary and unproductive competition with others, jealousy, and envy, none of which help us find a meaningful existence.
While the process may be difficult, the rewards of living a purpose-driven life can lead to greater happiness, fulfillment, and a sense of inner peace. Reverse engineer the above challenges and you'll get there. You can also explore the following:
Align your life with your values and passions. If you value animal life but work in a meat factory, you may want to reconsider your career choice. Exploring values and passions may lead you in unforeseen directions. But once you come to terms with who you really are, what you value, and what you are passionate about, you just might stumble on your calling or callings!
Contributing to Others Making a positive impact on the lives of others, whether through work, relationships, or community involvement, is a proven path to a meaningful and satisfying life.
Commit to Personal Growth. This in itself could be your very purpose, or it can lead you to help others with their challenges. The wisdom you acquire on your journey could be a lifeline for someone just starting out. There is no downside to personal growth. Only an upside in the form of less suffering and more enjoyment.
Build and nurture meaningful connections and relationships with others. Multiple studies show the many benefits of having a community and close satisfying relationships. You'll get a sense of belonging and feel empowered and supported.
Embrace Challenges: Overcoming obstacles and challenges in pursuit of a larger goal or just because life throws them your way can create a sense of accomplishment and help you redefine your priorities.
Leave a Legacy. Some people find purpose in leaving a lasting legacy or creating a positive impact that extends beyond their lifetime. You don't have to be rich or famous to do this. Many people leave the legacy of their good deeds and kindness that others remember and aspire to for years to come.
I asked my 78-year-old uncle in Bulgaria, “What guiding principles, energies, and motivations have determined your life's choices so far? What have you learned about living so far?”
This is just a sneaky way to ask about purpose. Most people can't tell you what their purpose is. They can articulate things they are focused on or are working towards or goals they've had and achieved. But when asked about purpose, they think you're asking about some kind of a Law of the Universe akin to the Theory of Relativity. In reality, purpose is a moving target. You can have multiple purposes. But living purposeless means languishing.
He said simply, "To do my work well, but also not to overwork." He also said it was important to him to have self-respect, be respected by others, and have balance and enjoyment in life. "And that's all that really mattered," he said.
Then, I asked the same question on Facebook to people 65 and over. Here are some of the answers, unedited.
At 80 yrs I realize at about every 20 years I have had to reinvent myself. I think I have a strong will to survive and that has seen me through some tough times. My philosophy, live and let live, let me be free. Astounding to look back on 80 years and remember the many people who have touched my life, the many experiences I have had. Facing the next 20, I feel I should be smarter, more sure of myself, but I am not. Again, I feel I must reinvent myself.
You must fight the aging process and push yourself a little. In decision making, when in doubt, do nothing…. Wait. Don’t dig up old relationships…no going backwards. Adopting a vegan diet is the best thing I’ve ever done for my body and my conscience. Exercise for your emotional health. Depressed…. Take a walk. Listen to that little voice that signals danger. Remember what people mention, their family, trip whatever and then follow up when you see them again. Smile at everyone ❤️😊
PS. My hardest lesson was accepting that life is not fair.
The older I get, the more interesting my thinking... Was it last night as I was falling asleep, or early this morning? Thinking about connecting the brain and the heart. Thinking and feeling... The thinking part still throws me for a loop. So hard to imagine thinking being an electro-chemical activity. How can chemicals think? Why would they? Or does everything think? Rocks and water and air and fire. If everything is conscious, I guess it could think. And the concept of Earth being conscious, being our Mother, how much is that a part of our awareness? Just a bunch of dirt... This is stuff that never puzzled me growing up. Not the kind of knowledge you need to survive. To eat, have sex, make money, have a place to live... Have friends... Does it matter knowing if a cell of blood has a heart and a brain? It's alive, right? A blade of grass, or a tree. But the brain and the heart part, the part that's interesting is that these are inside of us. Inside of me. And I really don't know very much about them. I actually don't even know where I am. Can't find me. I do find it astounding how very weak I am. Thought all along I was pretty strong; able to drive an 18 wheeler three days and nights non-stop. Strong enough to in my 70's to create a pretty complex, even though pretty small, sculpture garden. Strong enough to work on a structure for three years. By myself... But in the end, I see how incredibly weak. Maybe being able to accept everybody on an equal footing is a good strength. That took a while to learn. Still people I don't agree with and don't like, but they're ok. Just don't have to hang out with 'em.
Supposedly, a caterpillar eats and eats and eats until it can't eat no more, so it builds a cocoon and proceeds to liquify in there. Out of that liquid, it begins to form itself (?) as a butterfly. How the hell do you make a butter- fly out of a liquid? But it does. Then, it's an incredible struggle for the butterfly to get out of the cocoon, which is a very important step, because the struggle sends enough energy into the wings to form them big enough for it to be able to fly. I feel I'm in the liquid phase. The past is gone and the future isn't here yet. That's sort of on the horizontal plane. On the vertical, it's the movement from brain to heart. Good thing there's eternity. It might take a while to know what's what.
And a person posted this poem:
If I Can Stop One Heart from Breaking
By Emily Dickinson
If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.
Another person wrote:
One of the things my mom said to me shortly before she died is don’t say someday. Someday I’ll do this. Someday I’ll to there. Do it because someday may never come. No truer words were ever spoken. Enjoy life now, Do the things you want to do. Make the time. Find the money. Carpe diem , or carpe taco 😊It’s a conundrum. Money is wasted on old people. You save and save, and you end up using that for medication to take care of yourselves. You get to a certain point age wise where you can’t travel yet you planned to and waited too long. Someday never comes… Don’t stop. Keep on trying until dead… Good lessons can be learned from bad examples.
And the poem that started me on this tangent…
By Raymond Carver
And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.
Cheers, amigos! Now go look for a pink unicorn or two 😊
Hope this made you think…
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