What’s the purpose of life?

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Kevin Mangelschots

What is the purpose of life? That’s an important question most of us have asked at some point in our lives, and have caused countless sleepless nights.

Well, there’s one overarching biological purpose of life. The survival of the species. And we know that the spoils go to the victor.

This goal might seem kind of simplistic and primal. But in reality, it’s a real clever and useful tool of human nature to ensure survival of not only the species, but also ourselves as individuals.

What is the main purpose of life?

Image of survival gear and a fire outside in the woods.

The ultimate purpose of life was more clear millions of years ago, without all the technology and safety that our modern society in general provides.

Survival of the species and the individual

Survival of the species and self was the most important purpose in life. Everything people did back then from their waking moment till the time they went to sleep was dedicated to survival.

A camp being built in the woods.

From gathering berries, hunting animals, walking to more fertile areas, to building shelter places to sleep. We had to watch out for other wild animals and other tribes who were potentially dangerous and violent to our own group.

All of this was hard enough already without taking into account the random diseases and tragedy of life which humans were suffering from. Survival was a new battle that had to be fought every single day. Never knowing when tragedy would strike. 

However, in modern times, these dangers our ancestors had to battle are almost vanished or at the very least reduced compared to our ancient peers.

A sign with the words, “internet”, “television”, “radio”, “newspapers”, and “magazines” pointing to different directions with the sign, “media”, standing in the top center indicating all others are forms of mass media.

I know it doesn’t always feel this way because there’s negative news in the media every day, which influences our culture and society quite severely. Whether consciously or unconsciously, positively or negatively, and whether we like it or not.

Awful stuff like violence, murder, and rape is still happening all around the world which is a real tragedy and shouldn’t happen or ever be tolerated! These atrocious things get portrayed in the media daily. But let truth be told, there’s never been a safer time to be alive than right now.

The safety that is provided by the government seems like a great thing with many benefits. And I think this is mostly true. But I do think that it brings some disadvantages along too, or at least some questions we need to think about to figure out a solution.

The words “ask questions” written on pavement.

One of the most prominent questions in my opinion is this one: If survival of the fittest was such a big issue in the past, where almost all our time spent awake was ensuring we didn’t die that given day. Then how do we replace that single-minded goal and time spend ensuring our survival now that we live under the general safety society provides and thus, have much more free time?

This is a large and overlooked issue because we’ve never had this much spare time before in existence.

We never had this much safety. We don’t need to live our lives for the sole purpose of survival anymore. Hell, a lot of the time, we don’t even have something to fight against or for any longer. And, in my opinion, is something all human beings desperately need. I’ll explain this down below.

What's the purpose in life?

Image of a man making a fire in the woods.

When I take a closer look at the main purpose in life which is survival, then I see that it can be divided into two elements:

  • We need something to live for

    For our ancestors this was survival of the species, which could be further split into survival of the self, family, and other tribe members.

    These are still valuable goals today, even though we don’t specifically think about it that way anymore. Survival has taken more of a backseat in modern society.

    Yet, I can confidently say that one of my purposes in life is to ensure the safety and happiness of my family and best friends. What good is existing if we have nobody to share those moments with?

  • We need something to fight for, and something to fight against

    A young woman with boxing gloves holding her guard up while staring.

    Fighting against something is only possible if we have something to fight for.

    We have to fight against the tragedy of life and our own mortal vulnerability. An early dead is less probable now since health care has improved so much, and violence has gone down a lot. Yet, we have searched for other things to fight against like dishonesty, obesity, inequality of opportunity, and willful blindness, to name a few.

    So the main goal here is to improve society due to personal development and by giving something back to the community. That’s something worth fighting for, and is something that gives meaning to our lives.

List of possible life purposes

The quote, “authenticity isn't about being the real me, but being true to our purpose and values that drive us” written in black letters on a yellow background. By Tanveer Naseer

We’ve established that the main purpose in life is survival, but that due to the protection of society and technology we now have way more free time on our hands and thus more time to pursue other things.

This is why every individual is free to pursue different goals now. A list of life purposes, so to speak.

Survival related purposes

Some of these goals will be directly associated to the purpose of survival, like weightlifting and practicing martial arts, so you can protect yourself better against potential attackers in the future or to scare them off.

Personal development based purposes

Other goals are mostly personal development based. Like trying to tell the truth, or at least not lying. Other popular personal development goals are getting more confident, learning to say no to other people, and making better decisions.

Although it could be argued that all these list of life purposes also allow modern humans more chances at survival. Even though they might not seem directly related to the purpose of survival.

One rule of life: Life isn't fair

A large, red boxing glove on the left punching a small, blue boxing glove on the right.

The one rule of life, perhaps the most irrefutable, fact in this existence is that life in itself is not fair. It doesn’t care about justness at all.

Life is tragedy and life is suffering. From your waking moment you are born with inadequacies and everyone is oppressed in one way or another. Perhaps you are shorter than other people, less smart, or less beautiful. And yes, this is all true. We are all disadvantaged in one way or another.

To make all of this suffering bearable and worthwhile, it’s best to have a good reason to live for. Something to fight for. Otherwise, what is the whole point of going through all these hardships? This is why we need goals that give our existence meaning and value.

In my opinion, there are mainly two different point of views for how we can look at life.

 

Illustration of different perspectives, and how the truth lies in the middle most of the time.

  1. Life is meaningless

    Nothing means anything because we all die and everything we’ve ever built, or worked for, will be gone eventually.

  2. Everything in life means something

    “Everything I do matters.”

    I can use my personal life to do either good things for myself and society, or I can use it to make other people’s life a living hell and as miserable as possible.

I can say from personal experience that the first option won’t do anything good for you or society. Not only that, but I was unhappy at my job, felt disrespected, felt like I didn’t get the acknowledgement I deserved and in general felt better than most people around me.

I shouldn’t say better, but feeling smarter is a more appropriate way of phrasing those feelings.

Living without purpose led me into a personal hell where I got cynical, arrogant, angry at the world, and wanting to take revenge against all the people who ever wronged me. Of course, this is a vicious circle without an end. But after this year or so of being stuck in the mud, I decided to take another path. The path to improvement and enlightenment.

The quote, “everything you do matters” written in black letters in a white notebook.

I took the second way of looking at life. I treated my life and my job as if both mattered greatly and where I had the influence to change things for the better. At my job, I tried to improve myself without commenting on my colleagues’ work. Something I should’ve done a lot sooner.

As a result, I became happier because I was learning and improving again. I started setting new goals for myself because this transformation was addictive, and I could actually start to see and formulate a better future for myself once more. Other people started to respect and treat me better because I was not constantly nagging on other people and critiquing their work anymore.

It doesn’t even matter if the critique is warranted or not if people don’t want to change. And unfortunately they often don’t, even if it would be in their best interest. The only person you can potentially change is yourself. And even that is only possible by a lot of hard work, dedication, and determination.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Does life have a purpose?

Illustration of a dog thinking, “where am I going? What am I doing? What is the meaning of life?”

Life does have a purpose, namely survival.

That’s why we feel the need to protect ourselves, as this ensures survival of the individual.

It’s also why we feel the need to reproduce in addition to being altruistic and empathic, since this makes us more likely to help and defend others, which increases the chance of survival of the species as a result.

Is it OK to not have a purpose in life?

The quote, “I have no idea where I'm going” written in white letters on a gray background.
 
Many people feel like they have no purpose in life. Yet, most people desperately try to survive, even though we’re not always aware of that fact.
 

We’re even more unconscious of this main purpose of life, since our existence has never been so safe and easy before. The seemingly unlimited access to food, healthcare, and machinery made our lives that much more effortless.

This casual way of existing can confuse us, not to mention that it gives us much more spare time than ever before. However, that’s not always beneficial. The downside is that this increased amount of free time makes us think about what the meaning of life is. This can make us feel unfulfilled since our mind can start running rampant.

Start exploring what your values are, and what you find meaningful. Do something with your passions in order to find your personal purpose in existence.

Conclusion

Image of the word, “conclusions” written on a black backboard with white chalk.

The meaning of life isn’t always clear, nor obvious to us. But what I do know from personal experience is that living without a purpose of existence will lead to sadness, boredom, and possibly even depression.

That’s why we need a continuous improvement mindset in order to keep growing so that we can become capable enough to take care of ourselves and others. It also lets us discover our passions in addition to our values. And what we’re passionate about, we will always do better.