The purposeful life


One thing I’ve noticed of late is how humans and working dogs share a common trait: ie: wanting to be involved in something they consider important. Whether it be a retired person, a child, a scientist, or a Labrador – each gains immeasurably from the internalized notion that what they do is important and has purpose.

In her book – “The Life of the Mind”, Hannah Arendt wrote:

To be alive means to live in a world that preceded one’s own arrival and will survive one’s own departure. On this level of sheer being alive, appearance and disappearance, as they follow upon each other, are the primordial events, which as such mark out time, the time span between birth and death. The finite life span allotted to each living creature determines not merely its life expectancy but also its time experience; it provides the secret prototype for all time measurements no matter how far these then may transcend the allotted life span into past and future.

Thus, the lived experience of the length of a year changes radically throughout our life. A year that to a five-year-old constitutes a full fifth of his existence must seem much longer than when it will constitute a mere twentieth or thirtieth of his time on earth. We all know how the years revolve quicker and quicker as we get older, until, with the approach of old age, they slow down again because we begin to measure them against the psychologically and somatically anticipated date of our departure.

In a manner similar to this time frame shifting, our shared passion for doing something of value also has elastic properties which are relative to time, place, and participants. We can chose to die for some cherished other; but would not lend a hand to assist an other in a different frame. Without purpose, life never rises higher than the lowest level of Maslow’s theoretical construct, according to spiritual principles. The urge “to do” is both internally and externally focused – with an appreciated acknowledgement of effort expended.

The purposeful life, as propounded by the ‘To Do’ Institute focuses on one hindrance:

Living purposefully means staying focused on what’s important and not being distracted. That is more and more difficult in a society which is increasingly designed to distract us (television, shopping malls, the Internet, etc.). Distraction is one obstacle to a purposeful life. The other is a desire for comfort or pleasant feelings. Both lead us away from a life which offers fulfillment and meaning – a life we can look back on without regrets.

But another more personally directed view was offered by George Bernard Shaw:

“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one … the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”



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