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A foster cat waiting for the door to open.
Kona, our first foster cat waiting for the door to open. She reminds me of how often I wait for opportunity to knock.

Finding purpose in life

The meaning of life in its simplest form

When beginning a classic adventure, my first recommendation is to set a theme to your travels. Rather than stumbling through Europe with a backpack, why not explore the best vineyards, cathedrals or social customs? Our adventure through life is much the same; it can also have a theme or purpose. Have you ever noticed that every hero has a purpose so strong that it drives them forward in life despite themselves? Have you ever wondered what is your purpose in life? Or what will get you out of bed in the morning? We can call this your purpose in life, your “why,” a vision statement, a lifetime goal or simply your dream.

Whew! This is a big topic. But I think you will find my explanation surprisingly simple. Once we answer this question — what is my dream? — we can then explore how to turn dreams into reality.

If you wonder what my qualifications are to answer this question, I spent years traveling the world on a bicycle seeking the meaning of life. When I started my journey, I felt life had no meaning. I was an agnostic at best and a nihilist at worst. Throw on top of that a genetic proclivity for depression, and life was tough. Well, that’s a long story full of adventures and misadventures. I think you’ll find the answer more impactful if you read my book, Falling Uphill, but, at the risk of trivializing my biggest lessons, here is the summary. Below I describe the first step to being the hero of your own life.

The purpose or meaning of life is like peeling an onion

The outer layers

The skin of the onion is inedible and flavorless. The onion skin is like the analogy that the universe is seemingly meaningless, just a mechanical clock ticking away the seconds. This layer could be called nihilism, thinking life is meaningless, knowledge is impossible and some commonly regarded things don’t even exist. Even if one thinks life is meaningless, one still has to wake every morning and pass the time. So, perhaps their solution is to live a hedonistic lifestyle, living a life for pleasure’s sake because there is no other reason. There are more variations of responding to life as if it is meaningless, but let’s move on.

The inner layers

The inner layers of the onion, or the meaning of life, is often an external answer, like religion. When I traveled the world, I explored the religion of every culture I visited. It may be no surprise that I found a lot of different answers, and all of them provided a great foundation to give people meaning to their lives and hope for the future. But, choosing a religion and following the plans laid out can be difficult, and unless you are gifted with a religious experience, your heart may just not be in it. So, if you are an over-thinker like me, you may conclude that worshipping God is fine, but you still have a life to live.

The core of the onion

The core of the onion is more satisfying. And for the record, whether you are an atheist or a theist, this answer still works. Here it is. Are you ready?

The purpose of life is to observe your creations in a joyful way.

That’s it! To me, the beauty and simplicity of this statement ring true.

Perhaps that statement seems abstract, so here is an example. We recently started fostering kittens. But the kittens themselves aren’t really the goal. It’s the joy of the kittens that is the goal. And it is the joy that we feel helping the kittens that is the goal.

Here’s another example. Let’s say you want to write a book. The goal may be to enjoy writing the book. Or, the goal may be to inspire joy — or any emotion — within the reader. But the end goal is not really the book, which may sit on the shelf unread. And, if your goal is external, like earning money, this may never happen either. To phrase this differently, you may have a dream to tell stories, which makes writing a book just one way to make that dream a reality.

Or, let’s say you want to go on an adventure. You are probably familiar with the quote:

It’s the not the Destination, It’s the journey.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

If you are on a great and grand journey, you won’t want it to end.

Creating meaning to your life

So, I’ve established a fundamental meaning to life: The purpose of life is to observe your creations in a joyful way. On the one hand, it is a helpful answer because there is no need to believe in God or destiny. On the other hand, it still may seem like a hedonistic answer as if all you are here to do is: Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we shall die. But the keyword, in our meaning of life is creations. The purpose of our life, the vision, may remain constant, but how we live our life, and what we create, can take infinite forms.

In part two, of this article, I will explore how to create a purpose to life. In other words, how to set a theme to your journey. But for now, try this shortcut:

To find the meaning in what you are doing, ask yourself this question: When this thing I am doing (creating) is done, what will I remember most?

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