It isn’t necessary to find meaning or purpose in your life to be happy and live well.
Right now I can feel virtual tomatoes being thrown at me from the self help industry along with side eye stares from motivational gurus and the like, piercing my back with glares of icicles.
I came to this conclusion after waking up to yet another day feeling like my life lacked direction and purpose. It’s a feeling I have woken up to for over a decade and have tried to quell with New Year’s resolutions, determined commitment and a steady focus on dreams and aspirations. In the end I’m often left with abandoned goals and endeavors that felt like wisps of wind through the fingers of a feverous mind compelled to make something of her life.
This time though, instead of trying to analyse the feeling or quickly get rid of it by immediately jumping into my daily work out, I just sat with it. I resisted the urge to bury its uncomfortable presence and just accepted it. I let the feeling wash over me when suddenly, yet quietly I realized, it was okay. It was okay to feel this emptiness, this meaninglessness, this sense of lack of purpose and the looming dread of what felt like a direction less life. It was a part of my emotional makeup and as the saying goes “You can’t have sunshine without the rain.” I can’t expect to take part in only the feel good feelings of my humanity without experiencing the not so feel good feelings. At that point my routine morning misery no longer felt so threatening and wrong. I sat there some more allowing my current thoughts to sink in when another thought occurred to me, maybe I was looking at my life from the wrong angle.
For so long I have been conditioned to think that I needed to find meaning and purpose in my life in order to be happy. But what if the quest for purpose is what’s truly making me miserable? It’s not the lack of purpose or meaning in one’s life that’s the problem. It’s the underlying assumption that one can’t be happy and live well without a sense of purpose. But this isn’t true. Matter of fact most of us go through a period of purposeless and meaningless happiness that is often called “adolescence”. We did things because we wanted to and we quit when we got bored to go do something else. We didn’t feel guilty about our revolving door of interests or lack thereof. We didn’t feel like losers because we wiled away our weekends hanging out at the mall with our friends or at home playing video games. When we were happy, we were happy. When we were sad, we were sad. We accepted life as it was and enjoyed it without needing to add on this extra layer of complexity with searching for meaning and purpose. We just simply lived.
As we grow into adults we lose this simplicity in living in an effort to be and feel more “grown up”. We make things more convoluted and abstract. We want more from life yet that “more” we yearn for we can never fully define with anything tangible. It’s abstract, a philosophical carrot we place before ourselves to chase after that we can never fully grasp or sustainably hold on to. It’s a conjured illusion that is often our own creation.
When it hit me that having a purpose or meaning for my life wasn’t necessary for me to be happy, to enjoy the things that I’m interested in or to feel at peace with myself, something inside of me broke. It was a chain, a chain that had been tethered to me from this notion that only some defined overarching life purpose can bring happiness and a sense of worth to my life. This decade long morning misery that had been haunting me wasn’t a philosophical “check engine” light warning that my life was lacking something but rather a signal that my life had gone astray from the simplicity of just simply living, it was a warning that I had somehow made my life more complicated and abstract than it needed to be.
I’ve come to accept that Life doesn’t need a reason to exist, it just is and we don’t need a purpose to be happy and live well, we just do.
It’s a bit difficult to wrap one’s mind around because we are so conditioned to have a reason, a purpose or explanation for everything even if what we are trying to explain is ultimately unanswerable. But for the sake of my own sanity, I like to remember the words of Qoheleth, who said in the book of Ecclesiastes 8:10 “There is nothing better for people to do in this world than to eat, drink and enjoy life.” (NLT)