Purpose is an objective requirement of happiness. If you don’t have a sense of purpose, life will start to seem pointless and unfocused.
This is why retired people often get depressed. It’s not that retiring is wrong. You just have to be clear on what your new sense of purpose is, even if it’s no longer a requirement to be involved in a career or even make money. Similarly, chronically unemployed people — who give up on work, and don’t seek an alternative purpose — run into problems. Living off of others takes away the sense of control over charting one’s course or destiny in life, and this likewise breeds a sense of futility and depression.
The type of purpose one selects is optional, but not subjective. Not just any purpose will do. You can’t say, “My purpose is to live life in a crack house as a drug addict. That works for me.” Doing anything that systematically undermines your consciousness, your ability to function and ultimately even survive will not work as a purpose.
At the same time, many options are possible. Career and money-making are an obvious choice, an opportunity (especially in a free society with a thriving economy) to merge necessity and personal fulfillment. At some point, if you’ve already made enough money to survive and be satisfied with what you have, purpose is still required. The focus may shift from trying to make a living to simply producing or creating. For some, producing and creating are the purpose itself, for which money-making is just a side benefit.
I’ve talked to people who have the money they need, and perhaps are unable or unwilling to pursue an aggressive career for whatever reasons. It might be due to retirement or health. I still find that people need a sense of purpose. It might involve gardening or becoming a good cook. The value of these pursuits is that they’re concrete, and have a beginning, a middle and an end. In other words, you can see and evaluate the results and improve at the skill over time. This is its own form of purpose.
A lot of people go wrong because they think “purpose” has to involve something detached from or “higher than” life and/or self. This is a huge mistake. A purpose by definition involves a consciousness – your own — and a self to achieve the intentions of the purpose. There is no such thing as a “selfless purpose.” It’s a self-refuting contradiction.
Many adopt the idea that in order to live a life of meaning and purpose, you have to sacrifice or give up your self. Nothing could be more futile or false, and if you hold this assumption you have set up an impossible or unrealistic, self-refuting standard. The futility of it all is what leads to the sense of pointlessness and depression.
In their depression or sadness, some people ask the tougher questions. “What is the purpose of life? What is the meaning of existence?” My answer is: The meaning of existence is what you make it. It should in some sense be personally meaningful, and objectively productive for yourself and perhaps for others who benefit in the process. Even if you’re struggling to survive, or in old age you’re just trying to keep your health and simple activities of daily life going — these are their own form of purpose. There’s no reason to ever think there’s no purpose to life. Your own purpose is always potentially there, waiting to be tried.
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