THE FOUR PURPOSES OF LIFE
Finding Meaning and Direction
in a Changing World
Living on Purpose
I think the purpose of life is, above all,
to matter; to count, to stand for something,
to have made some difference
that you lived at all.
— Leo Rosten
With the pace of life accelerating, in a world of change, it’s not easy to maintain our balance and sense of direction. Yet we strive to do so, because a sense of direction, toward a meaningful goal, may be the better part of happiness. In this pursuit, the journey may indeed matter more than the destination — but without a destination to aim for there is no journey; we can only wander.
We humans are goal seekers from infancy, drawn by the objects of our desire. But somewhere along the way, most often in the dilemmas and angst of adolescence, a sense of confusion obscures the simple desires of childhood. What we want is muddied by expectations about what we (or others) think we should do. We begin to doubt our desires, mistrust our motives, and wonder where we’re going and why.
In my first book, Way of the Peaceful Warrior, the old service station mechanic I called Socrates suggested that all seeking — for knowledge or achievement, for power or pleasure, for love or wealth or even spiritual experience — is driven by the promise of happiness. But the search only reinforces the sense of dilemma that sent us seeking in the first place. So he advised me to replace the search for future happiness with the practice of “unreasonable happiness” in each arising moment.
When my seeking ended and the practice began, I came to understand that what we all need, even more than a happy feeling, is a clear purpose — a meaningful goal or mission that connects us with other human beings. As Viktor Frankl wrote in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, this fundamental need for purpose and direction may be as important to our psychological growth as eating is to our biological survival.
But the duties of our daily lives leave little time to contemplate life’s larger questions, except on rare occasions, in the silent hours or in times of transition or trauma, when we are compelled to ask: What do I really want? How would I know if I had it? What would happen if I got it? Is getting what I want going to take me to where I want to be? And finally, What is the purpose of my life?
Maybe you’ve wondered why you’re here on Earth or what you’re here to do — what the French call your raison d’être, your reason for being, an organizing principle and sense of direction that gives shape and meaning to your life. History provides numerous examples of iconic figures like Joan of Arc, Mohandas Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and the Dalai Lama, whose clarity of purpose drew others to their missions like moths to the light.
This book, which contains elements from my previous works, presenting them in their full context for the first time, was inspired by my own quest for a purpose in life. I once believed that my purpose was all about work, and I searched through my twenties and well into my thirties for a career and calling. It took another decade of exploration and introspection before I understood that career is only one of four primary purposes in life.
But why four purposes? Some might argue that our sole (or soul) purpose is learning to love — that whatever the question, love is the answer — or that spiritual awakening or surrender to God is our ultimate aim. Others point out that our primary biological purpose is family — bonding with a mate, and bearing and caring for children. Still others might propose three or five or more purposes, or even suggest that there are as many purposes as there are people. Yet just as we divide all the days of the year into four seasons, and points on a compass into four primary directions, sorting our experience into four fundamental purposes helps us to create a sense of structure to better organize lives. These four purposes also prepare us for, and point toward, the ultimate or transcendental awakening promised by all the great spiritual traditions.
The first of four purposes we’ll explore in this book — learning life’s lessons — centers around the premise that Earth is a school and daily life is our classroom, and that our daily challenges (in the core arenas of relationship, work and finances, and health) bring learning, growth, and perspective. The value of our life experience resides in what we learn in the process. Difficult days may provide the most important lessons, helping us develop the awareness and self-reflection that lead to higher wisdom.
The second purpose — finding your career and calling — underscores the critical importance of self-knowledge, as well as integrating both logic and intuition, in making the wisest possible life decisions. This section also shows how the service you provide in the world can become a meaningful path of personal and spiritual growth.
The third purpose — discovering your life path — addresses a hidden calling you’re here to explore, a personal path that for most people remains obscure. The information in this section sheds light on the strengths you possess and challenges you face, highlighting a deeper mission you’re here to fulfill.
The fourth purpose — attending to this arising moment — brings the first three into sharp focus and down to earth, enabling you to integrate all the others with awareness and grace, here and now.
I wrote this book for anyone seeking deeper insight into themselves and their lives, but especially for those at a crossroads, facing a challenge or change, when “business as usual” no longer applies. Join me now as we explore the four key purposes that provide meaning and direction in a changing world.