The Purpose of Life

The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honourable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Is the great poet right?

Many say Princess Diana’s public support for the cause of banning landmines was a turning point in the effort- photo by Tim Graham

We know it is possible to live a useful life where you make important contributions to humanity and leave a lasting legacy but aren’t really happy.

Think of the late Princess Diana whose sons have often verbally attested to her love and care for them, who made a difference in the world through her outspoken and visible support of AIDS victims and her advocacy for the banning of landmines.

Yet if her biographers are to be believed she was a deeply unhappy person.

The poet Emerson might be wise to advise us not make happiness the purpose of our lives because pursuing happiness is fraught with challenges. How do we know if we have truly achieved it? Sometimes the things we were sure would make us happy don’t necessarily do so once we acquire them.

I have written before about my mother’s antidote for unhappiness- doing more to help others. There are lots of studies that show people who volunteer in some way are happier. I know Jesus advised us to truly love ourselves and then love others if we wanted to be happy.

So maybe Emerson got it a little wrong.

If we are honourable, compassionate, do useful things, try to make a difference and attempt to live well by building relationships, taking care of our health and being open to new experiences and new ideas I think there is a pretty good chance we will be happy even if that’s not our stated purpose.

Other posts……….

Volunteer and Live Longer

Two Lessons From Mom

Glass Half Empty? Glass Half Full?


Filed under Reflections

2 responses to “The Purpose of Life

  1. Abe Warkentin

    Thank you for your many excellent items!


    Liked by 1 person

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