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You Have Everything to Live With, Do You Have Something to Live For?

"The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but 

finding something to live for." 

-Fyodor Dostoyevsky

The other day I was struggling with small weeds and tiny wild plants growing along the edge of the walls, concrete structures around my garden. For seasons I had to deal with the back breaking task, pulling the unwelcomed squatters by hand. Cutters and scissors could not reach the base. These intruders were so close to the edge of the vertical walls. Not opting for vicious chemicals, I had to make do with untidy tidying.

You have everything to live with, Do you have something to live for?

That day I decided to rummage my tool box, looking for anything that may relieve me the angst. A straight blade paint scraper caught my attention. It had been left in the tool box for years. There was slight rust forming. Since I repainted my house, it had lost its purpose. It was lying in the tool box, straight, like a decaying corpse. Supposed to die with the death of its purpose.

Since that day, the former paint scraper has been transformed into a garden tool. It cuts those pesky weeds and wild plants clean, thanks to its pliable blade. Its wooden handle regained the shine through frequent handling.

I have found it a new life. I have given it a new purpose. A pivot that saved it from death by corrosion. From being a useless instrument, it is now a tool of choice for gardening. Eureka! I have discovered a new purpose for this old tool. Tools need a purpose to have value. Everything human made has been to serve a need, a purpose.


What about you? Do you need a personal  purpose to live usefully? Yes, no and maybe are all correct answers. Life purpose is not oxygen or water. You can live without it. It is not if you can live without, it is about the way you live without. Don’t worry. You’ll still wake up in the morning. The only difference is; you might not be ‘raring to go.’ You don’t have a compelling driver to. If you do not have a life purpose, and you woke up in the morning raring to go, it might be for a wrong reason. At least, for you.

True. You are energized, powered by a sense of purpose. Someone else’s purpose. Like what I did for my paint scraper, someone would have found you a purpose. Except you would not feel fulfilled at the end of the day, the week, the month or the year. It’s like running on the spot, when you are in a race, feeling engaged but getting nowhere near the exhilaration of crossing the finish line. You kept busy living someone’s purpose. You might enjoy a false sense of contentment. When it counts, when you are down, there is no personal victory to savour. No personal trophies to count. No real fulfilment to lift you up. When you are working on other’s purpose, you are just part of the equation.


     Meet Mel Robbins before you dismiss the important idea of having a life purpose. Mel Robbins, whom I have come to admire as the “attorney for action” is the author of the hard driving book, ‘Stop Saying You’re Fine.’ It is a no nonsense guide to coming unstuck in life. She teaches inner kung-fu, the art and science of seizing the immediate moment to act on your desired change before your dumb and loving brain tells you to stuff it. A fundamental call throughout her book; find your purpose and meaning in life, take action to achieve what you want before your protective brain tells you to cool it.  She says “A sense of purpose is an incredible alarm clock.”

The power of purpose fluctuates accordingly, to the circumstances you are in. From where he felt the power of purpose, legendary psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl thought it was a kiss of life. Frankl carefully recorded how having a life purpose, a meaning to live for, decided who lived or died. He witnessed the phenomena in a Nazi concentration camp where he was prisoner. No laboratory experiment could possibly match the intensity of stress test at Auschwitz, where the will to survive faltered and extinguished for prisoners who had no purpose to cling on. Those who held dear to their inner search for a meaning to life, survived. The survivors were those who had hope of a goal. Those who found an inner meaning to endure the suffering, such as looking forward to their loved ones or finishing a project started before their incarceration, managed to survive despite murderous conditions. Others who had no will to live, no purpose to live with, perished through deteriorating health and even suicide. 


Suicides could have been prevented. Frankl noted, “ may well be that an individual’s impulse to take his life would have been overcome had he been aware of some meaning and purpose worth living for.”

Even in free society, Frankl noticed the phenomenon of “existential vacuum.” He wrote in “Man’s Search for Meaning,” the must- read book for people vacillating on the need for a life purpose, “Not a few cases of suicide can be traced back to this existential vacuum. Such widespread phenomena as depression, aggression and addiction are not understandable unless we recognize the existential vacuum underlying them.”

Nido Qubein, in his motivation book, “Get the Best from Yourself,” shares a story about the tragic suicide of a rich Californian girl.  Her twenty-first birthday cake had 21 candles, each wrapped with a thousand-dollar bill. A few days after the auspicious event, her parents found her body. In one of her hand was a suicide note that said, “You have given me everything to live with, but nothing to live for!” What a parable. ‘Everything to live with, nothing to live for.’ What metaphors.


There are some who believed that just because we are humans, we have a will to survive. And that raw will is enough. We do not need a purpose to live for. Isn’t the will to survive enough to keep us going? Steven Reiss, Ph. D, a professor of psychology and psychiatry at the Ohio State University, answers the question pointedly in Chapter 7 of his insightful book, “Who Am I?” The chapter dwells on the concept of value- based happiness, in contrast with feel-good happiness.

He emphasized the case for the need of meaning and purpose in life, rebutting a reader who challenged Reiss and called him ignorant not to recognize that the greatest motive for living is just the will to survive. The professor argued that if it is just the will to live, then, the fundamental motive is maintaining the biological functions to keep the cellular activity going on for as long as possible. This is just like finding value in living while in a state of coma. ‘Living on purpose’ is a state blessed by excitement and empowerment that comes from value-based happiness. Achieved, through finding a meaning in life

You have Everything to live with, Do you have something to live for?


Despite the affluence we are enjoying, the abundance of financial and leisure opportunities, there is a constant yearning for more. Laura Fortgang , a life coach and bestselling author noted in the introduction to her ’90 Days to a New Life Direction; ‘all along what we wanted from the “more” was fulfilment; feeling satisfied and finding meaning.’

A life purpose drives you to do your best work and rewards you a meaningful life. Driven by a sense of purpose, you will do your best work. Purposeful work is often the result of marrying your natural talents and skills with your passions. You will also find the greatest joy in the process. The purpose that you find will naturally be sourced from your pool of personal interests. Your deepest interests will be aligned to your beliefs and values. Work aligned to your beliefs and values gives you meaning and motivation. It will haul you out of bed in the morning in positive anticipation.

Your best work is solving a bigger problem, making a more significant contribution and using your talents and skills, driven by a passion to make an impact on the lives of others. As Laura Fortgang writes about this beautifully, “Today, we are undergoing a switch from measuring ourselves by external factors such as wealth, fame, public image, and jobs that look good, to evaluating ourselves internally by how we feel, by whether we like who we see in the mirror every day, by what we contribute to our communities and how our work impact others.”

When you are doing work aligned to your life purpose, you will be immersed in the process. As Csikszentmihalyi describes it, you are in “the Flow.” You are totally focussed. There is joy and energy. You will be doing your best work. Dopamine, the feel good biochemical is released in your brain. With good work, you will find true pleasure.

A life purpose provides constancy and a unifying sense of direction. Richard Leider writes in ‘The Power of Purpose,’ about a “unifying sense of direction” which can withstand stress, and is actually strengthened by overcoming difficulties.  The author thinks that purpose provides coherence and focus. It has a way of “ordering values and activities around itself.

 It validates relevancy of thoughts and activities, helping you become more effective in living your life, spending time and effort only on stuff that matters. A clear sense of purpose provides a powerful focus that drives you forward despite risks and roadblocks, and even tragedies.

A life purpose helps you to cope with crises. Viktor Frankl’s story details a life of daily stresses and crises within the concentration camp. The will to live was sustained by the strength of the inner meaning, the focus on a life purpose.

 The Atlantic has an article on the impact of life purpose on health. The focus is on Victor Strecher, a professor of health behaviour and health education at University of Michigan School of Public Health. Strecher shared, he lost his sense of purpose in life after the death of Julia, 19, his daughter. It quoted him saying, “The only way I could regain it was to think beyond myself, beyond my grief; get over my ego.” He created an app ‘On Purpose’ to help people find theirs. It is aligned with the finding of Neal Roese, Ph.D, the author of “If Only.” To recover from a tragic loss, you have to have an altruistic purpose, bigger than yourself such as developing the next generations.

Frederick Nietzsche, the German philosopher hit it on the head when he said, “He who has a why can endure anyhow.”

Laura Fortgang a life coach and author of “90 days to A New Life Direction,” agrees. She observes that finding a purpose accelerates progress to healing a major life transition. She also asks, “Would you like to have your outside world better reflect your ideal inner realm? In other words, do you long for peace of mind? And wouldn’t it be nice to stop wondering if there is more you’re meant to do?”  If you have a purpose, you have your most meaningful work cut out. There is no more wondering. You know what to do and you are excited to carry it out. Your life purpose enables focus. You need not prove anything to anyone. You are on a quest to fulfilment. Nobody can tell you how to do it. And when you are at it, you would be totally immersed in “the Flow.” When you are in that state, you are totally immersed in joy. Concentration. Concentration on what gives you the joy. It creates more joy. Sustained joy. A realization engulfs you. ‘Life is worth living.’

A life purpose allows you to experience your ideal self. George Bernard Shaw, the poly math shares his sentiment: “This is the true joy of life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself in making you happy.”

       You will probably find a meaningful life purpose in giving rather than getting. Purpose is most energizing when it is bigger than yourself, what you want or what you need. Harnessing your talents and skills, making a contribution to influence a change in your field of passion. It should be “larger than your self-interest” It is not a goal to get something. It is about making a positive contribution to a cause, transcending your personal boundaries.

Laura Fortgang observes that recognizing how you impact other people becomes crucial to moving your life in a more satisfying direction. In her book, she encourages us to think of who you want to be, rather than what you want to be. Think about the difference. And the difference it will make to your thinking.

A life purpose gives you a sense of control over your future. You are doing things that makes you feel good, satisfying your need for control of your lives and your propensity to figure out the ideal future. Dan Gilbert writes in his fabulous book, ‘Stumbling on Happiness;’ “Being effective-changing things, influencing things and making things happen-is one of the fundamental needs with which human brains seem to be naturally endowed, and much of our behaviour from our infancy onward is simply an expression of this penchant for control.”
When you are taking actions aligned, to your talents, skills, passion, values and beliefs, you find fulfilment. When these come together, you experience your ideal self.


“The highest reward for a person’s toil is not what they get for it, but what they become by it.”
   -John Riskin

You have Everything to Live With, Do you have something to Live for?

In “The Ancestral Mind” Dr. Gregg D. Jacobs notes that altruism is wired in us. He writes in a subchapter, ‘Helping Yourself by Helping Others;’
 “Altruism is the feeling, developed through natural selection that most directly connects us to a cause beyond ourselves.
Too much preoccupation with ourselves can lead to anxiety and depression by increasing concentration on problems; altruism reduces focus on ourselves and serves as a distraction from worries.”

He further notes that altruism has been the ancestral way of life. Contrary to popular belief, Dr. Jacobs shares that rather than plundering each other, our ancestors were more inclined to helping each other to survive. He cites many positives from altruism such as improved positive emotions, improved attitudes and feelings of greater contentment with what we have, increased self-esteem and a sense of well-being by strengthening belief in our own skills and strengths and, last but not least, reduction in anger and social isolation, bolstering social support.

 To achieve real satisfaction and well-being, you must pursue a purpose beyond yourself; to give rather than to get. The purpose statements of these well-known personalities serve as examples of having a “larger than life mission.”
Mother Theresa: “To show mercy and compassion to the dying.”
Oprah Winfrey: “To be a teacher. And to be known for inspiring my students to be more than they thought they could be.”
Denise Morrison (CEO, Campbell Soup): “To serve as a leader, live a balanced life, and apply ethical principles to make a significant difference.
Amanda Steinberg (Founder, “To use my gifts of intelligence, charisma and serial optimism to cultivate the self-worth and net-worth of women around the world.” 

Dr. Jacobs quotes Allan Luks who surveyed thousands of volunteers documenting a phenomenon, the helper's high. This  phenomenal emotion consists of sensations of warmth, increased energy and euphoria. These  positive feelings can lead to long term relaxation and calm. In that same page, he mentions Harvard psychiatrist, George Vaillant's finding that altruism is one of the qualities that helped graduates cope with the stress from life. He studied the participants for 40 years.

It is found in a major study that men who volunteered for community organizations were 250% less likely to die from any cause than men who did not volunteer. This study involve 2,700 residents of Tecumseh, Michigan. Dr. Jacobs also mentions the studies of Drs. David Sobel and Robert Ornstein, the authors of ‘The Healthy mind, Healthy Body Handbook,’ that helping (others) is associated with boosted immune functioning, fewer colds and headaches, and relief from pain and insomnia.

 Experience Corp, a non profit organization which provides academic help, deployed people of 55 years and older to tutor students from kindergarten to third grade. Grades and morale of the students significantly increased. Depression rates of the senior citizen tutors fell. The tutors' mobility, stamina and flexibility increased. Improvements in executive functioning and memory were detected. 

This type of altruism is identified as “generativity” in Dr. Neal Roese’s book. He describes generativity as giving back to the community with a special emphasis on nurturing the younger generation. It was discovered by Dan McAdam that this altruistic effort is a particularly effective antidote to grief from tragedy and loss, with benefits of improved mental health. General life satisfaction score increases. Recent studies back the positive health claims of having a life purpose. Amongst the benefits, researchers claim, having a purpose in life is beneficial to the health of the central nervous system. Patricia Boyle and colleagues at the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease centre found that of the 900 older people they followed for seven years, those with a high purpose in life were 50% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.


          Having a life purpose is having an uplifting power from within. It generates the excitement and energy to move you forward, towards your ideal self.  It strengthens your sense of self-worth.
           However, a life purpose is not something to be invented or injected. Finding your purpose requires a process of uncovering. There is a life purpose inside you. You have had a glimpse of it when you were working passionately on a piece of work. It takes intention and mindful effort to uncover it.

          Many leave the uplifting power dormant inside them, not uncovering it and bring it to life. They live in what Frankl described as “existential vacuum.”  It is a state where, in the words of the great psychiatrist, “No instinct tells him what he has to do, and no tradition tells him what he ought to do; sometimes, he does not even know what he wishes to do. Instead, he either wishes to do what other people do (conformism) or he does what other people wish him to do (totalitarianism).”

       Like everything that has ever been created, all human beings have a purpose. It is either you enjoy the fulfilment of living your purpose or experience drudgery, being sucked into other people’s purpose. Are you living on purpose? Whose?

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