If so, you are familiar with the panicky feeling that can accompany such questions – that feeling that makes us worry that we are missing vitally important information that can change the way we live our lives.
The dictionary defines purpose as follows:
2. An intended or desired result; end; aim; goal.
3. Determination; resoluteness.
4. The subject in hand; the point at issue.
5. Practical result, effect, or advantage: to act to good purpose.
Viktor Frankl, M.D., Ph.D. was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist as well as a Holocaust survivor. Dr. Frankl was the founder of Logotherapy, which is a form of existential analysis and his work has helped people understand the role of meaning and purpose in their lives. He suggested that our inherent drives are not the only force that creates the direction and fulfillment of our life paths.
Dr. Frankl wrote in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, “There is nothing in the world that would so effectively help one survive even the worst conditions as the knowledge that there is meaning in one’s life.” And he would know from personal experience, as he survived being imprisoned in 3 of the worst concentration camps during World War II.
He contributed his ability to survive such horrors to an intense sense of meaning and awareness of his purpose – to help others free themselves of the internal prison of their mind-set through the power of our ability to make an inner decision to change ones self when the external conditions cannot be changed. As German philosopher, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche said, “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.”
So, a sense of purpose and having meaning for our lives can actually save our lives in extreme situations. But what about when we are just feeling stuck, discontent or a bit lost? When our lives are not being threatened, can identifying our purpose still help us change our lives for the better?
Apparently, yes. Dr. Frankl said, “Life can be pulled by goals just as surely as it can be pushed by drives.” What is powerful about this statement is that it offers freedom from the idea that we are simply a product of our biology. As it turns out, a conscious sense of purpose can just as strongly direct our life path as our subconscious programming. It’s great news that each individual life is more than a pre-programmed psychological and biological blueprint!
Yet, even with this good news, we still feel stuck and perplexed much of the time. Dr. Frankl refers to this state as the existential vacuum. What gives?
Human beings are goal-oriented creatures. However, human beings are also subconsciously programmed to protect themselves from threats to self-esteem, love, and security. These subconscious drives can operate on auto-pilot and cause us to create patterns of behavior that keep us functioning at rather low levels of contentment because they are simply about surviving – not thriving.
We can get stuck between our subconscious programming for survival and our emotional drives for fulfillment. The missing ingredient that can act as a bridge between these two states is identifying the sense of purpose that resides in the depth of our being that gives meaning to our lives.
When we harness the power of our purpose, we create a sense that our lives have meaning to be lived and this purpose meets the 6 emotional needs that we are constantly seeking.
Purpose is different for every individual. Some of us have a sense of a Divine purpose – a spiritual mission greater than our human selves. Others have a sense of personal purpose – something that they feel they are here to do, create, experience and share that will contribute to a well-lived life. And then there is the purpose of the moment – sometimes our only purpose is to be the best version of ourselves in a given moment to make the most of it, survive it, or create the change we wish to see in the world at that moment. In this case, the purpose is to simply be totally present to the moment at hand.
Next week’s article will examine how we can actually discover our purpose!