Reading a recent comment from Keen Hiker on my blog this evening made me realise it’s been at least a month since I’ve thought too deeply about my greater purpose in life. No matter how much I deliberate on this topic, I’m still absolutely fascinated by the concept that life can be seen as completely frivolous or full of meaning, simply by the way we perceive it. It struck up some kind of strange epiphany as I started getting ready for bed, when I realised that maybe I’ve been looking at it all wrong. I’ve had a very singular focus on life’s purpose, assuming that everyone as individuals should have their own purpose for being alive. But perhaps that isn’t the case. Perhaps our purpose stems from working together as a race, to achieve something well beyond the realms of what a single human can achieve? I’m just throwing ideas out there, and maybe they’ve been expressed a gazillion times before, but I’ve never thought about it in this way.
Does an ant operating on instinct understand its greater purpose? Does any creature on this planet understand why they’re here and what they’re meant to achieve? Why should humans be any different? Despite our intelligence, we don’t seem to have a concrete answer. But these days we operate less on instinct, and more on what we’re taught to think and do. We operate within rules and limitations, suppressing our instincts, making choices based on opinions and the experience of those around us. If we did operate on instinct, what would we all be doing? Creating anarchy and killing one another to stay alive? Or would we have a clearer picture on what to achieve, doing whatever it is to live a prosperous and happy life?
Perhaps this is where indecision stems from. Being unable to distinguish between what we really want and what we think we should have. The world has transformed and developed so much that there’s simply so many options before us. And what comes with options? Indecision. And what comes with indecision? Inaction. Because it’s safer not to make any decisions rather than making the wrong ones, right? Maybe it would help if we understood what to base our decisions on.
I don’t feel as though school really prepared me for the ‘real world’, or that learning algebra, about World War II or the chemical properties of hydrogen really helped me answer what I want to do with my life. No teacher stood at the front of the classroom with a diagram explaining what we should strive to accomplish, providing a breakdown of options on how best to achieve this. They simply gave me a base level understanding of enough information to satisfactorily function within society. They exposed me to enough activities to inspire me to keep living, and then wiped their hands clean leaving the rest up to me. I understand that choosing what to do in life may fall within the category of a ‘First World Problem’, alongside cars breaking down, losing iPhones or buying decaf coffee by mistake. But for me it’s a very legitimate question, and one I don’t think we’re encouraged to find answers to, while studying to become doctors, lawyers or electricians.
Touching again on my earlier concept of a collaborative purpose, if there was a coordinated effort across the planet in which everyone played a part in the bigger picture, how would it look? Like a giant anthill covering the globe with humans scurrying all over the place, working towards a common goal? Would we eradicate hunger, live less introspectively and focus on the good of each other? Or would we simply live to feed the Queen, while trying our best not to squash one another?
There doesn’t seem to be a solid answer to the greater purpose of human existence, nor anyone judging us on our decisions (depending on what you believe). So it’s a pretty sweet deal really. We’re all off the hook! Free to do whatever we choose, limited only by what we decide. So why aren’t we all out there doing the things that we love? Is it because we don’t know what we want, or because we’re too busy complaining about the lack of time we have because of work, or the fact we can’t afford to get away because of that giant mortgage looming over our heads?
I guess it helps to be reminded that despite what our purpose is, we’re all in control of our destiny. If you don’t like your job, change it. If you can’t afford the lifestyle you’ve chosen, adapt. If your friends don’t have the same interests as you, find new ones that do. It took me a long time to learn (and it’s an ongoing process) how to drill into the core of what makes me happy, trust in my instincts and actually follow them. It’s taken me even longer to realise that when my objectives benefit others in some way, I live a much more meaningful and enjoyable existence. And when we enjoy the life we’re living, it’s a lot easier to focus on making positive contributions to other people’s lives.
So yes, once again I guess it all comes back to striving for happiness. And whether we like it or not, happiness is to a large extent a choice. Despite all the decisions that may cloud our judgement, throw us on a detour or completely off the rails, we need to think back to the basic principles of what makes us happy, and steer those elusive reins back in that direction.