The One Question. Do You Have The Answer?

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”  ~Henry David Thoreau

When it all boils down to our deepest longing, our most fervent desires, and our greatest fears, we all seek the answer to one question.

What is my purpose in life?

This isn't something we think about daily, but it's in our daily actions nevertheless. Everything we do, every decision we make is a striving, a hope to have the answer to this unspoken question. Even the most faithful, the most optimistic, the happiest among us has at some point wondered if the bumper sticker, “Life is hard and then we die,” actually proclaims the truth.

We work to survive, but we also work to express our creativity, to find fulfillment, to serve others, to create a lifestyle, to have power, to impress others, to buy more stuff. And thus we seek purpose.

We have relationships to procreate, but we also form bonds for affection, sex, companionship, prestige, intimacy, obligation, stability, love, happiness. And thus we seek purpose.

We embrace religion because our parents guided us, but we also seek it because of longing, comfort, faith, hope, connection, peace, obligation, fear, desperation, love, confusion. And thus we seek purpose.

In all that we do, whether or not we are aware of it, we are trying to carve out a meaningful existence in a world of confusion.

The awareness of the certainty of death, the lack of physical evidence of an afterlife, the reality of human suffering, the contradictions and hypocrisies of world religions, the randomness of life events — these all conspire to pull the rug out from under us and shake our faith in human superiority and divine intelligence. What makes us different from the lowly ant? We are born. We live. We die.

I have been thinking about these things for most of my adult life. I am a seeker. I have had faith, and it has been shaken. I have sought truths, only to learn that my truth isn't The Truth. I have plunged my stake in the ground of certain knowledge, only to watch the earth move and rumble and the stake give way into the abyss.

I now admit, I “know” nothing, but I cannot give up on seeking.  I no longer seek for The Answer. I seek for the pleasure of seeking. I have learned to embrace mystery, ambiguity, uncertainty. I accept that it may be, it may not be. It is real, it is an illusion. There are nuggets of truth and beauty even in allegories and fairy tales. I can be happy with that. In fact, I think I like it.

So I come back to the question — what is my purpose in life?

My purpose is to use this very moment, this “right now”  —

to serve

to grow

to create

to learn

to love

to connect

to seek

to explore

to sow peace

to simply be

My purpose is to love this moment so much that everything I do is an expression of that love.

If I can do this most of the time, if I can just remember — “this is your moment, this is your purpose right now, so don't let it slip by,” then I will have lived a meaningful life.

What about you? Do you know your purpose?

My friend Peep Laja has dedicated a part of his work life to pondering the one question. He has sought the answer for himself, and now asks the world this question and has created a blog to share his insights and discoveries from others. He has an interesting Life Purpose Assessment on his blog if you'd like to explore your own answers.

Please share your life purpose in the comments section so that we can all learn from one another. If you don't know your purpose, share that too, ask questions, give us your thoughts.

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  1. Hi Barrie,
    Nice post… I find that as time goes by my purpose (or my understanding of it, anyway) gets simpler and simpler. Right now it is simply to enjoy the gift of being alive. When I’m truly doing that, and living in that appreciation, all the other good stuff I’ve thought I needed to strive for appears automatically, as my heart is opened.
    Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      That is lovely — “the gift of being alive.” It is a gift, and that realization alone makes life meaningful. Thank you for sharing.

  2. My life purpose is very simple – it’s to be me, and in the process to discover who I truly am.

  3. Life Purpose:
    To become everything I am capable of becoming, and to do so in an excellent fashion. To become stunning.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      “To become stunning.” That’s incredible Paul. Wouldn’t we all like to be stunning?

  4. I’m not sure. Sometimes I wonder if it’s worth the hassle of even trying to find an answer for your question. Do you think I should know my life’s purpose?

    I’m confused. My purpose could be many things..
    – Become a writer
    – Travel the world
    – Help People (Charity)
    – Bring a smile to my wife and family.
    – Climb Everest!!

    I keep hearing that the answer must be found to lead a meaningful life. But the more I try to understand, the more I’m clueless. So now I’m just observing myself and life around me, hoping the light will come ON.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Keshav,
      Those are all noble and wonderful pursuits. Do they bring you meaning and feel purposeful? You sound like me during my journey. It can be very frustrating. I came to the conclusion that my life purpose is contained in how I live each moment. That is the only thing I can control. Being an observer is a great way to start. 🙂

  5. Hi Barrie,

    Knowing our purpose in life is one of the most basic and fundamental question that each of us must answer. If we do not know the answer to this question, it can lead to lots of frustration in life. The worst part is waking up one day and finding that this is not the life we wanted to live.

    Like you, I too am a seeker. I too have had my faith shakened and destroyed when tested against the reality of life. And we both know it is not a pleasant experience. But from the ashes arises a deeper appreciation and understanding of life. At the end of the day, I believe that we could all learn from Zen masters and focus on the task at hand. In this case, we should focus on living as best as we can. For me, the answer lies in being able to deal with change in a harmonious way. To do so, we need purpose of course. That is the force that keeps us going.

    My purpose is to learn to manage life and to share that experience with others. It is also to gain the means to protect the people I love and to help others as and where I can. So much of what I learned of purpose, I discovered in Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning.

    Thank you for sharing this lovely article! 🙂

    Irving the Vizier

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Irving,
      You are a kindred spirit! 🙂 Can you share more about how your purpose is to manage life? What does that mean for you? Man’s Search for Meaning is an amazing, life-changing book.

      • Hi Barrie,

        I have always been a big fan of the I-Ching or the Book of Changes. change is the only constant in life. Everything changes whether we like it or not. But despite this fact, change is unsettling for most of us. We like the familiar and shun change. As far as I can, I like to live with the reality of things in this world. Doing so means managing life and dealing with the changes that come my way. Only in this manner can I protect the people that I love and care for.

        Irving the Vizier

  6. I suffered from major depression for 2 years and was constantly trying to find my life’s purpose during that time. I thought I’d found it when I got interested in online marketing. However, it wasn’t until I realized that serving others online (read: blogging) was what I loved that I found my true passion in life. If I happen to make some money from it at some point, that’s great. But it’s not my goal – it’s not my passion.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Marnie,
      Isn’t it strange how lack of purpose can lead to depression, and depression forces us to seek our purpose?! I think many of us discover that serving is a purposeful pursuit. Sometimes passion has to grow and evolve from that. Thank you for sharing.

  7. One does not necessarily need to have a “purpose” in their life, but simply and full partake of what each moment offers, for there is no past and no future. All we have is now. I have learned that happiness is fleeting and less fulfilling than contentment, which can be pervasive. Consider the caveman, whose influence on 21st century humans is greater than we may imagine. If he had a purpose, it was to survive in a hostile environment. He also had a more integrated relationship with the natural world, which led to a natural spirituality, which modern man has forgotten while he has searched for meaning within the confines of modern religion. If we can regain our relationship with the natural world and with its attendant natural spirituality, we may then find that elusive purpose in our lives: To enjoy each moment and fully partake of its natural beauty and spiritual essence.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Wow Paul. That is lovely! I fear we are pulled further and further away from the natural world as we become more engaged in the cyber world. We have no compelling need to integrate with nature since our survival isn’t dependent on it they way our ancestors depended upon it. I don’t get to really integrate with nature regularly, except for walks outside and occasional trips. Maybe there is a way to find spiritual and emotional fulfillment in all of our environments. I hope so.

  8. My purpose: To share my heart with others.


  9. Natasha Papousek says:

    My purpose is to serve others through
    –writing — articles, blogs, editing, etc.
    –henna art
    –connecting artists so we see each other as colleagues instead of rivals
    — bending cultural barriers through sharing art
    –making other people feel good by sharing little gifts of myself
    — to love and live joyfully

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      You have a purposeful life indeed Natasha. You have taken creativity and put it to a noble use. If there is Karma, you have accumulated some good credit!

  10. Hi Barrie,

    Really thoughtful post.

    I agree that at some level we are always thinking about our purpose. It doesn’t always take the form of a direct thought in our mind, I’m not even convinced that mulling it over and over in our brains is the best way to sort it out, either. But I believe we carry the intention to find our purpose around with us, in some form.

    My purpose is still in the ‘clarifying’ process, but it definitely has to do with helping people infuse their lives with creativity.


    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Dave,
      I think the clarifying process is ongoing. We experience deaths and rebirth hundreds of times every day. We have the chance to create ourselves in every moment, and thus find purpose in every moment. That resonates with me. Maybe it will for you too.

  11. Mary Jaksch | Goodlife ZEN says:

    Thanks for this beautiful post, Barrie!
    My purpose is help people develop their hidden potential – and then shine.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Mary,
      So great to see you here! Yes, you do that so very well. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t be blogging here. 🙂

  12. Life is interesting, it leaves us to wonder, among wonders – very magical indeed!

    Anyway I believe my purpose in life is to find the limits of my life & to learn more, and learn others about life. I feel more than happy to be alive, to see what life can give and do. I feel like a “twin” I’m my mind, taking are of my body. It feels great to learn things all the time, I honestly love it! And if I manage to live a longer life, I will have time to learn more things, and tell others of what life have teached me well. Due to that I believe aging has become a “sub-purpose” of my life, to reach a higher age and succeed even more at my “primary” purpose.
    Good post by the way, I really enjoyed reading it!


    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Robin,
      Finding the limits of your life is a wonderful purpose. There are so many areas that are limitless. There is so much to explore and learn. What a gift life is. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts.

  13. Thank you for the inspiring post! My purpose is to bloom, and then to help others bloom. My dream is to run creative workshops (dance, writing, pottery, photography, cooking…) that will help people discover their unique voice, heal, and bloom.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Well, you know I love that word “bloom” Leah! Have you started your workshops? They sound wonderful. Go for it. 🙂 What a great service to the world.

  14. Barrie, I love your idea about seeking because you enjoy the journey more than finding the answer. There are so many answers to your question on purpose.

    My purpose, to connect and be me, and to strive for balance between these two. My passion, to coach people to reach their goals through discovering the power of choices.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Marci,
      The power of choice is an incredible power indeed. We can always change, even if it is just our thinking about a situation. You have a passion that will keep on giving.

  15. We the store we tell ourselves & so we create our own individual purpose in life by the stories we tell ourselves

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Yes, we do create our own realities by what we think and believe. Fortunately, we can change that if we are aware enough! Thank you for your comment Paul.

  16. My purpose ? To be happy and to have fun, no matter what.

  17. My purpose is to explore creativity and inspire others…and to keep growing – or better, blooming, like Leah says 🙂

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Cristina,
      I have witnessed you blooming every day! Thank you for sharing the beauty of our world with us. You do it so beautifully. 🙂

  18. Beautiful post Barrie, I felt your fine spirit clearly. I’ve been a seeker all my life too. But I do find there’s a paradox here — it’s quite okay at a certain point to just stop searching and realize that when I am still for a few moments — what I was seeking so firmly and arduously is already present with me. It is my own ageless being and it’s already happy and already free.
    Would love to stay in touch if I may.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Paul,
      Yes, there is definitely a big place for stillness in the midst of all the seeking! That’s where I find the only real truth. Please stay in touch. I’m glad you are here.

  19. My purpose in life is to help other people to “get it.” “It” is that moment when you find what you are looking for. When you feel intuitively on your path. Even if the world around you seems to tell you otherwise.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Paul,
      Yes, sometimes we don’t even know we are off the path until we find it and get on it. What a glorious (and scary) moment that is. 🙂