By believing their lives are meaningless, modern thinkers are failing to act in their own self-interest, as the evidence now shows that people who embrace a spiritual view of a purposeful life (regardless of whether this view is derived from religion or from philosophy) are more likely to be happy and to find fulfillment in their one chance at life (regardless of whether that one chance is given by a Maker or by nature). – Gregg Easterbrook; The Progress Paradox, How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse
Better yet, do you live your life on purpose?
The world is an amazing place and it just keeps getting better. Today, people are more prosperous, healthier and less likely to get caught in war or violence of any kind than at any other time in history. Technology continues to make our lives easier, giving us the ability to do more in less time, and with greater accuracy. Thanks to medical advancements we are living longer with less chronic disease and recovering faster from injuries. Thanks to advances in international relations and trade we are less likely to be called to serve in our national armies and to die in war or other armed conflicts. In just about every metric imaginable, on a world-wide scale, life just keeps getting better and better every year.
Sure, there are some localized issues and climate change is a real concern but the men who died in the trenches of World War I would trade our problems for theirs in a heartbeat. Just over 100 years ago, if you got called into service in The Great War you were just as likely to contract the Spanish flu as you were to get shot in battle.
In 1651, philosopher Thomas Hobbes characterized the natural life of the human animal as, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”. That is, without the existence of a benevolent centralized government. The role of government, according to Hobbes, is to temper mankind’s basest nature and promote a peaceful and prosperous society. Things obviously haven’t turned out quite the way he predicted but for the most part, Hobbes was right.
Today however we live in a time when, despite the fact we have built a society as close to Hobbes’ ideal as possible, people are convinced things are getting worse and life is meaningless. Why is that? Anyone can see that life today is better than it was yesterday. Why are we so easily convinced otherwise?
Personally, I think it has something to do with our inability to live on purpose. We are too easily influenced and manipulated by outside interests and too quick to think the worst when things don’t immediately go our way. We aren’t strong enough to remain focused and persevere through adversity, no matter how small. We’ve gone soft.
Gregg Easterbrook, editor of The Atlantic Monthly and The New Republic, hit the nail on the head in his 2003 book quoted above. People get depressed, and fear the worst, when we lose our sense of purpose.
With a strong sense of purpose, we can weather just about any storm. When business is bad, government regulations make it more difficult to compete or get ahead, and family troubles conspire to steal your focus, it’s purpose that helps us rise above.
So today I want everyone to thing about their purpose. Why does your business exist? There are two times in the future when the answer to that question should cause you to alter course. The first is when you answer, “I don’t know”. When you no longer know why you’re doing something – stop doing it. The second is when you answer with something along the lines of “mission accomplished”. When the reason you’re doing something no longer exists, it’s time to re-evaluate and start something new.
Many organizations fear “mission accomplished” almost more than failure but this is more of vision problem than it is a purpose problem. If your stated purpose is to complete a specific project, what do you do when the project reaches a natural conclusion? Your purpose needs to be bigger than that, or you need to have the courage to shut it down and look for something new.
Here’s to living on purpose.