You must create your own life purposes if your life is to have purpose. The life purpose that we suggest that you adopt in natural psychology is the ongoing effort to make value-based meaning. But however you name and frame your life purposes, the onus remains on your shoulders to reject the idle question “What is the meaning of life?” and to personally answer the pertinent question, “How do I intend to live?”
In natural psychology we accept that creating life purposes and making value-based meaning amount to difficult business. They require that we live very intentionally, that we deal mindfully with circumstances and with the facts of existence, that we exert ourselves in ways that human beings do not regularly like to exert themselves, and that we accept a certain view of life, a naturalistic one, which to my mind is beautiful but which strikes many people as too cold, sad, and insufficient. It is this last problem that often pulls the rug right out from under the enterprise of creating life purposes and making value-based meaning.
People who see life as cold, sad and insufficient, who feel cheated by life and can’t get over wanting life to mean something more than it does, something “spiritual” or “intrinsically meaningful,” tend not to believe in the life purposes that they themselves create. Their reasoning goes something like the following. “If all I am doing is nominating this or that as my life purpose, how valid or important is that? That’s just me playing a certain kind of game in the face of genuine nothingness and it is a game that I can see right through. I’d really just as soon read a book, have a glass of wine, tend to my roses, or watch a little television than bother with these arbitrary and sort of phony life purposes that I’ve elevated to some high-and-mighty place. No, who cares about my life purposes—me included. Life is too hard and intractable and pointless and my little game of acting like I have some purpose is pretty pathetic.”
There are many variations on this narrative and each one amounts to a different face of self-abnegation and self-destructiveness. One narrative will be filled more with irony, another more with sadness, a third more with anxiety. But in essence they are all the same: it is the person announcing that if life purpose only amounts to something that she names for herself, something that is without cosmic significance, then it amounts to too little or even nothing at all. This is a hangover from the belief system that life should be meaningful in some other deeper, more important sense. If life isn’t deeper or more important than what it appears to be, then it is just an empty, burdensome thing that we are obliged to endure rather than a beautiful thing as implied by ideas like nirvana and heaven. If it is just this, then it is pathetic.
If this captures something of your mindset and the way that you reject the whole idea of life purpose, I hope that you will change your mind. If you don’t, you’re likely to feel empty and rudderless. You may well endanger yourself and find yourself engaging in risky behaviors, including addictive behaviors, so as to fill up time and soothe yourself. If you don’t, you will almost certainly create a huge opening for sadness and not maintain the deep, abiding motivation necessary to realize your ambitions and fulfill your dreams. Perhaps most importantly, if you don’t you won’t feel the quiet satisfaction of making yourself proud, a satisfaction that is available to you if you organize your life around the idea of value-based meaning-making.
Yes, you will still sometimes “see through” this operation and repeatedly realize that it is “just you” who has done the creating of your life purposes. And yes, you will need a strong, effective rejoinder to the painful realization that life is exactly like this. But you can do both, if you decide that it is in your best interests to do so. You can learn to accept that you intend to live life according to your own principles and values, even if the universe doesn’t care one way of the other, and you can learn how to effectively respond to the repeated realization that life is “exactly like this.”
How do you want to deal with these two potent threats to life purpose? How do you want to deal with the threat caused by our human difficulties in accepting that life is “exactly like this” and how do you want to deal with the threat caused by not having an available rejoinder for those times when you remember that it is “just you” creating your life purposes? Take a moment and consider these two questions and see if you can come up with your own answers.
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Eric Maisel, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist, bestselling author of 40 books, founder of natural psychology. Learn more about natural psychology and access the groundbreaking Natural Psychology: The New Psychology of Meaning at www.naturalpsychology.net. Learn more about Dr. Maisel at www.ericmaisel.com or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.