There are probably people in the world who have said or thought that they never wanted to be rich or who believed that celebrity, fame and fortune would bring more misery than joy. But I can't conceive of anyone ever saying that they didn't want to be happy, and the surest road to happiness is knowing what the hell we're here for. We can overcome almost any setback and maintain a positive outlook on the future by knowing our why and discovering our purpose. Discovering that purpose is not something we "find,” it's something we create.
There's a scene in the Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day where he and two townies are sitting in a local bar. If you don't know the film, its premise is that Murray keeps reliving the same day over and over again. He's bored and frustrated by his life's monotony, at which point one of his barmates says, "That pretty much sums it up for me.” He's accepted his fate of mind-numbing repetition, an uninspiring existence without any apparent purpose other than working, sleeping and waiting for the weekend.
Does that sound familiar?
How many of us have trudged through the endless books, CD's and seminars of Happiness Merchants promising to show us the way? Years ago, I endured the self-flagellation of EST, the mystic guidance of Silva Mind Control, read The Secret and The Celestine Prophecy; meditated, contemplated and ruminated on all of it hoping that somewhere was the open doorway to "finding myself.” Hooey.
Then I discovered a book called Man's Search for Meaning by an Austrian psychiatrist named Viktor Frankl, who wrote it after spending years in a Nazi concentration camp. Frankl believed that our search for meaning is the primary motivation in our lives but it would only come after realizing that "Man should not ask what the meaning of life is, rather, he must recognize that it is he who is being asked".
Sitting around by your Buddha statue waiting for the lightning strike won't lead to epiphany. Spiritual revelation is usually limited to saints and people well past their fourth martini. No Zen Master, fortuneteller or self-anointed guru will be able to answer the question "What is the meaning of life" for you. There is no universal answer to life's meaning. It must be individual, created from one's interests, beliefs, goals, ethics and experiences.
But don't let your confusion and frustrations regarding your life's meaning make you crazy, and don't torture yourself by thinking that you're alone in not knowing your purpose or your place in the world. It's all part of being an imperfect human being. There's even a highfalutin, philosophical term for our search for meaning, it's called existentialism.
Perhaps the best way to create your purpose is by looking outside of yourself. By looking outward, not inward, you may discover your why by volunteering or giving regular financial donations to people far less fortunate that you. The celebrated humanitarian Albert Schweitzer said, "I don't know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve others.”
Creating, not finding, is the only way to discover who you are, what your purpose is and what you are meant to be.
If you want to know who you are, don't ask; act. Your actions will define you.
Lawrence E. Owens, M.Ed., is the author of "The Lazy Person's Guide to Happiness: Creating (not 'finding') Your Life's Purpose in 10 Easy Steps" on Amazon.