I’ve often asked myself, ‘What is the purpose of life if nothing we pursue has any permanence?’ Only a few people ever consider this vital question. Many are so busy that they do not have time to stop and think about anything important. Time, of course, is a very precious commodity. What we do with it determines the kind of people that we become and the future that we have. Therefore, how is it possible to experience life in all its fulness? That is why I journeyed on a voyage of discovery. It’s a journey that has been travelled by others, in every generation, with varying degrees of success or failure. That being so, why not learn from their experience? All too often, however, people ignore the lessons of history and learn by their costly mistakes in the school of experience whose colours are black and blue.
There are four major routes that are frequently tried to attain the secret of victorious living. These are: education, enjoyment, employment and enrichment.
Education: The main aim for many – especially young people – is to achieve an academic goal. Indeed, some believe that education can answer every problem. How mistaken they are! I have found that although it is good to be educated, the route of education will always fail to produce lasting contentment. There are problems which human ingenuity can never solve.
Enjoyment: From the company of philosophers we can turn to that of pleasure seekers. Eat, drink and be merry is for some the main purpose of life. But this is a mistake, for experience reveals that constantly indulging in pleasure, whether crude or cultural, will not ultimately satisfy. Quite the contrary! Sadly, there are many people today who are seeking satisfaction through drink or drugs, and they are usually miserable because of rejection and fear.
Employment: Some people seek fulfilment through their pursuit of a career, and they will fail. The motivation may be to help others. Or it may be nothing more than selfish ambition. But whatever the driving force, work alone will not lead to total satisfaction. For, like anything else, the fact of death means that all we accumulate or achieve from our labours must be left behind.
Enrichment: Another route is to invest in something that will last after death. It’s the joy of creativity. One may build fine houses, create beautiful gardens, or amass treasures. However, this also fails to satisfy. First, there is the realisation that it has all been done before. History merely repeats itself. Nothing under the sun is truly new. A second aggravation is that one must leave it all behind, for death is the great leveller.
None of the above routes can fulfil our deepest need. How then should we respond? The answer is that education, enjoyment, employment and enrichment when rightly used can be meaningful. But there is always a danger that we try to get much more from them than they can ever give. They can never provide the solution to humanities greatest problem, which is to understand the purpose of living.
A fact of life is that many people associate happiness with prosperity and misery with poverty. This is a false assumption because those who are wealthy are often failures, while those who are poor are masters at the art of living. It is very clear to any observant eye that true happiness bears no relationship to a person’s bank balance. Paul Getty and Howard Hughes, both billionaires died unhappy.
We are wise to remember that our perspective on life is much more important than wealth. The oil magnate and the first American worth more than a billion dollars, John D. Rockefeller, said, ‘The poorest man I know is the man who’s got nothing but money.’ How slow people are to learn this lesson! It is a well-known fact that amassing more and more, whatever the amount, can never provide lasting satisfaction. As useful as money is, it has numerous limitations. It cannot buy us any of the things which make life truly worth living. For instance, it cannot buy us real love, or personality, or health, or immortality. Sometimes wealth can create more problems than it solves.
So far most of what I’ve shared with you is negative, but my journey does have a positive ending. I discovered that if life is to be truly satisfying, it must have a sense of purpose. If life has no purpose, everything is meaningless. Therefore, what is the best response when things appear to be hopeless? Surely, it is to focus our thoughts on things that will last forever. It is to develop a long-term perspective. We need to ask, ‘Will the dead live again?’ Answering this question can be difficult and, not surprisingly, many avoid it. But a proverb reminds us that ‘Not to know is bad, not to wish to know is worse.’ This is sound teaching, for running away from a situation by evading facts is never a positive way forward.
A point in life usually comes when we are forced to contemplate the value of our existence on earth. I certainly was and, using some thoughts on the message of Ecclesiastes, wrote a book called ‘Is Life Worth Living?’ Its aim is to wake up anyone from sleepwalking through life and help discover instead what happiness really is and can be. Are you getting the most out of each day and living life to the fullest?!
Author of Is Life Worth Living?