“If a man hasn’t dicovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.”
-Martin Luther King, Jr.
When people have a purpose, their powerful force of persuasion can make the impossible possible. Without direction, one’s life has no meaning. The power of people with a purpose -no matter which- makes life a celebration. All purposes work.
Pablo Picasso was one of the world’s greatest entrepreneurs. He was so ingenuous that he never carried out any cash with him. He paid everything he needed with a check drawn on a bank account with only $100 on balance. When he bought groceries he paid by check, and when he took a limousine he paid by check. You see, no one ever cashed his checks because his autograph was usually worth more than the purchase. He knew his work, his purpose, was all that mattered.
“When I work, I relax: Doing nothing or entertaining visitors makes me tired.”
Another powerful example of this comes from Viktor Frankl’s famous book, Man’s Search for Meaning, in which he describes his experiences in concentration camps during the Second World War. Frankl observed that the inmates who were most likely to survival were those who felt they had a goal or purpose. Frankl himself spend a lot of time trying to reconstruct a manuscript he had lost on his journey to the camp – his life’s work. Others held on to a vision of their future – seeing their loved ones again or a major task to complete once they were free. Frankl had a purpose. Frankl survived.
I would suggest a number of different reasons why purpose is good for our psychological health. Firstly, it makes us less vulnerable to what I call ‘psychological discord’. This is the fundamental sense of unease we often experience whenever our attention isn’t occupied by external things, and which can manifest itself in boredom, anxiety and depression.
By focusing our attention externally, and giving us a constant source of activity to channel our mental energies into, purpose means that we spend less immersed in the associational chatter of our minds – we feel a part of something bigger, something outside ourselves, and this makes us less focused on our own worries and anxieties. Our own problems seem less significant, and we spend less time thinking about them, and so our sense of well-being increases.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Purpose can also enhances our self-esteem. So long as we feel that we are successfully dealing with challenges and moving closer to our goal, our self-confidence increases. We feel a sense of competence and achievement, an enhanced ability to deal with difficulties and challenges.
Finally, purpose is closely related to hope. Working towards a goal implies that we feel that the goal is attainable, and that our lives will change for the better once we have reached it. It implies hope – depending on our type of purpose, hope for for a better life for ourselves, a fairer and more just society, liberation from suffering and oppression for others, a healthier world, and so forth.
Human beings are naturally dynamic. Growth is an intrinsic part of our nature. Life on earth has always been dynamic, as expressed through the process of evolution. Life has always had innate tendency to grow towards greater complexity, to become more organised, and more conscious.
So when we feel a sense of purpose – and this is particularly the case at higher levels of purpose – we’re really manifesting the creative urge of evolution, becoming its expression, which is possibly why it feels so right when we do it.