Purpose vs. Happiness, Another Take

Sixteen years ago, a friend and I found ourselves talking about purpose. The following is a partial transcript from that conversation. I had just made a comment about how “knowing yourself” always seemed to be the promise of the next stage of life. When you’re thirty, this. When you’re forty that. When you’re fifty…

Paint swatch on white wall. Why did you wander into the room? What's your purpose?
Paint swatch on white wall.

Incidentally, the original Question of the Day was “Tell me about a wake-up call that informs the way you live your life today.”

My words are in bold. Everything else is my friend.

Why did you wander into the room?

At some point you come up with the idea… at least I think I have… um… That basically…. If it’s not an answer, it’s, it’s, it’s a path. You want freedom. I want my freedom. It’s like, I’ve decided that I’m not going to jump through any more hoops, you know. If I get sick I’m going to wander off into the woods and die. You know, I just… I don’t care anymore. I just don’t care. I just… It’s my life. I’m in control. This is my life. And I’m not going to go through any more hoops. You know it’s like…

What kind of hoops?

Well… ahh… about what you do and when you do it. And what’s important… Basically, what’s important. It’s the idea of prioritizing what’s important. Because the fundamental question is staring us all in the eyes. “What am I supposed to do with my life?” “Why am I here?” “Why?” “Why?” It’s not like, “What will make me happy?” You know. I mean, “What will make me happy?” It’s like, it’s that simple. Take a pill, you know. Eat a chocolate bar. It’s, it’s, it’s uh… “What am I supposed to be doing?” “Why am I here?” You know.

You go into a room… You ever do this? You go into a room. You think “Oh my gosh! I forgot why I walked into this room.” I think that’s why we… what… what… the fix we’re in. We walked into this life and we forgot why we’re here. And it’s like, oh my gosh! So you can’t walk back because you don’t know where you came from. You’re stuck. So, at some point you go, “Oh my gosh! It’s absolutely important. I’ve got to figure out why I’m here.”

And some people say, “I haven’t a freaking clue. I’m just going to be as cozy as I can.” Those are the people who get real frustrated ’cause they just go from bottle to pill to vicarious experience to whatever thrill-seeking moment looking for something. Looking, looking, looking. Never finding what they want. And I think the thing is finding contentment in being alive. And contentment would only come with doing what you, what you… remembering what you’re supposed to do. It’s like knowing what you’re supposed to do. Feeling comfortable in doing what you’re supposed to do. Fundamentally, what is that? It’s like, very few of us find out what it is.

Society doesn’t help us… at all… in the discovery process. It’s says “Okay, uh… we’re going to give you some focus. Okay, I want you to stand here, look in that direction and when something comes down, you just give it a shot.” It’s like… I mean they just line us up like people on an assembly line. Whether it’s going through school, as a child, as an adult, as a worker… uh… as a family member, as a spouse, as a child as a parent. And it’s like your roles get defined for you by society. It says, “Okay, we’re going to give you some focus.” And all that does is keep society going. It doesn’t help you in the discovery process. So we’ve become like a whole group of totally confused chaotic people. ‘Cause we still have this fundamental problem. “Why did we wander into the room?” “Why did we come here?” And it’s like… I think that’s why people are totally perplexed about their lives.

Why did you wander into the room?


Don’t know.

What do you make of… um… being certain. “This is what I’m supposed to do!” And feeling confident. Maybe going weeks. And then the inspiration leaving you?

Oh, yeah.

Where does inspiration come from and why does it leave?

I think some people, uh… They’re looking for some kind of like uh… spark of like some guidance or some spark of inspiration. And uh… Let’s say they see something and say, “Oh, that’s great. That’s, that’s for me. That’s it. And they do this for a couple of months or a year or two years. And then, “Oh, I don’t know. I’m kind of disillusioned. I didn’t really want to be a Hare Krishna .” You know. “I didn’t really want to take up…” you know, “pottery. You get all dirty.” You know, “It seemed good at the time, but now what do I do with all of this stuff?” So, I mean people are just looking for these kind of answers. I think a few people actually kind of get close.

Like who?

Who are the lucky ones? Those who know or those who are engaged in finding their life’s purpose?

Well people that they just know from an early age what they’re supposed to do and they do it. And they do it really, really well. “[inaudible]… child prodigies like musicians like five-year-old child prodigies. They were born remembering why they were here. It’s like, there’s no other explanation for a child prodigy or like a child who’s born with just great mathematical genius skills and they’re in college when they’re seven years old doing upper mathematics. I don’t think that’s an accident. I think they were just born remembering. They found themselves. They’re the lucky ones who found themselves.

For the rest of us, I don’t know. It’s like maybe, maybe the discovery process… I think the discovery process is maybe what’s important. Maybe we’re the lucky ones? Because it’s the finding that’s important. Finding ourselves. When you get there, it’s probably okay. But, well, I mean it’s the first goal ahead of you. So, naturally it moves [inaudible]… I just think there would be tremendous satisfaction, comfort peace and joy and uh… a sense of bliss in finally discovering and doing what you’re supposed to be doing. Whatever that is.

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