Humans are curious creatures by nature. We have lots of big questions, like wait, where did I put my phone? What’s that guy’s name again? And the ever important do I want fries with that? Oh yeah, and occasionally what is the meaning of life? Well, I can’t answer the first three questions for you, but I can try to tackle the last one.
So, what is the meaning of life? From what I’ve seen, there are a couple of schools of thought on the answer to this question. One comes from the Dalai Lama, whose words about what makes us human have always resonated with me. I even went to hear him speak when I was 16! According to him, the meaning of life is happiness. Of course, that leaves us pondering another question: what is happiness?
He can’t answer that for us, as it’s definitely up to each person to decide what brings them happiness. And then there’s the fact that you can’t be happy all the time. It’s a fleeting feeling that comes and goes. So, is happiness really the whole meaning of life?
The other school of thought on the meaning of life comes from Viktor Frankl, who wrote a book called Man’s Search for Meaning—so I feel like he has some good insight on this subject! He said the meaning of life is purpose, and I think there’s some truth to that. Honestly, I believe the answer here is somewhere in between happiness and purpose. In fact, I think having a purpose can bring you happiness. And as long as you have purpose in your life, then it has some meaning. If you don’t, that can lead to general dissatisfaction with life.
In 2016, I took a class at Rice University that was called Finding Your North. It spoke to me at the time because my father had just passed away. You see, up until that point, the whole reason I got involved with 3 Men Movers is because my father had a stroke and needed my help with the company. Once I got involved and even bought the business, my purpose in being there went from helping my father to proving to him that I could successfully handle it. Maybe it sounds silly—or maybe you totally get it—but one of my big drivers as a 40-something year old woman was to please my father and show him I could do the job well.
So, when he passed away, I went through a bit of an existential crisis. I kept wondering why am I doing this? What is my purpose now? Basically, why was I pursuing this so hard when my father was no longer here to show his approval? But looking back, I get it. I think losing a parent does make people feel a little unhinged. That constant that’s been there your whole life, since the moment you were born, is suddenly no longer there. It can feel very unsettling, maybe even causing you to lose your purpose and question the meaning of life.
And it doesn’t just happen after the death of a parent. It could be any major life change. For example, in the class I took, I found that about 80% of the people “looking for their north” were women who had just seen their last child go off to school, so they were empty nesters. It was interesting. Most of their focus had been raising children, and once they were gone, they were faced with living the rest of life without that purpose. They had to find a new one, just like I did.
Now, what’s my purpose? Well, it took some journaling—okay, a lot!—but after spending hours writing down what brings me purpose, I realized it all comes down to helping people. At that time, I was fortunate enough to have been able to save money for several years, so I had enough to retire if I wanted to. That meant I had to look at work in a different way. I wasn’t working mainly for the money or to make my dad happy anymore.
So why was I putting in such long hours and striving to make this company successful? It was because I felt an obligation to my employees to ensure they got the work they needed to support their families. I still feel that way. That’s my purpose, and it brings me happiness. Now you have to figure out what your purpose is if you don’t already know. It may take some journaling, but once you get there, you’ll know the answer to the age-old question what is the meaning of life?