As human beings, we are naturally goal oriented. Most of us have some short- and long-term goals, but many people haven’t thought carefully about their life goals. In fact, those goals may be in conflict with their deepest beliefs and values. The Fourth Law of Wellness focuses on this crucial issue. It says that if we are to experience the utmost in wellness, we should strive to Live with Purpose and Integrity.
Those who don’t carefully consider their life goals are often seduced by materialism. I think most of us still believe in the American Dream—the idea that we all can lead a comfortable life materially, with a nice home, enough to eat, a decent education, a vacation once in a while, and time to relax and unwind with friends and family. It’s a truly great dream.
But unbridled materialism often transforms the American Dream into the American Runaway Dream. We get the roof over our heads, the car, all the food we want, and a great education. But then we want the boat, the second car, the third car, the huge house that’s way too big, and as much money as we can possibly accumulate. I know—I’ve been there, and I know how little happiness it brings. In fact, becoming lost in materialism for a while was one of my biggest motivators for becoming an expert on all aspects of wellness and bringing that knowledge to others.
I recall when I first came to the United States as a medical student. My first car—a very well-used one—cost me a grand total of $250. What a thrill it was to take the wheel, turn on the ignition, and step on the gas! I felt like the King of the Road in that old Dodge Dart. Years later, after working hard to become a doctor and having some financial success, I was able to buy a new Mercedes. It was a bit more expensive than my first car and very nice. And I have to admit that my first drive in it was quite satisfying. But I think the quality of my pleasure was actually somewhat less than it was when I bought my first car.
I’m not saying that money and having nice things are bad. Not at all. It’s just that too many people focus only on getting ahead materially, which takes them away from other things that are extremely important. Materialism is a side road that leads off the main highway of life. But it’s such a flashy side road that people get confused and think that it’s the main highway. Eventually, they find themselves lost on that side road, not knowing how to get back to the main highway—the one that leads us to a truly rich life full of purpose, love, and meaning.
What Science Says about Happiness
Science tells us that beyond a certain point, happiness increases little with additional material possessions. Happiness depends more on other things, such as our relationships, how active we are in our lives, and our sense of accomplishment.
One factor that science tells us is very important for happiness is having life goals that are consistent with our basic values. Having such goals also promotes health. For example, among Japanese men, it was found that over a thirteen-year period, mortality from stroke and cardiovascular disease was significantly less for those with a strong sense of purpose.
Your Purpose, Your Passion
Your life purpose is the kind of work or endeavor that best suits your unique talents and interests. A life purpose can range from something big, to something quite modest. One person’s goal may be to write the great American novel. Another may find immense satisfaction in being a nurse. Yet another may dream of opening a shop to do small engine repair. What’s important is that your life purpose fits you—your interests, talents, and values. It should engage your whole self and give you true satisfaction. Your life purpose should be your life passion.
Over 150 years ago, Henry David Thoreau said something that you may have heard at some point: “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” Replace the word “men” by “men and women,” and that sentence remains true of countless people. Many find themselves in jobs and situations that don’t fit who they truly are. Yet, they may stay there most of their lives, their song never sung.
People sometimes believe they know their purpose, but they feel trapped where they are and can’t figure out how to extricate themselves. It can take courage to break free and start out on a new road.
Many others don’t know their true purpose. A humorous Zen story tells about a young man who thought his purpose in life was to be a monk. So he joined a monastery where the monks took a vow of silence. They were allowed to speak only two words a year. After one year, the head monk said to the young man, “You have successfully gotten through a complete year at the monastery. What are the two words you would like to speak?”
The young monk thought for a moment or two and then said, “Bed … hard.”
“I see,” replied the head monk.
A year later, the head monk told the young man, “It has been another year. What two words would you like to speak?”
“Food … stinks,” said the young monk.
“I see,” replied the head monk.
After yet another year, the head monk told the young man, “You have been here a total of three years now. What two words would you like to communicate?”
“I … quit!” said the young monk.
The old monk nodded sagely and then said, “Well, I can see why. All you ever do is complain!”
It appears that this young man’s true purpose in life was not to be a monk.
Finding and Following Your Life Purpose
To understand your purpose in life, try not to go off half-cocked like the young monk did. Think clearly about who you are and what you want to be in one and five and twenty years’ time.
To discover your unique purpose—or it may be more than one purpose—it helps to go deep inside and ask yourself some questions.
What work would best suit your interests, talents, and values?
What would give your life its greatest meaning and satisfaction?
What did you dream of becoming when you were a child or teen?
Are those dreams still there, lying dormant, waiting to be fulfilled?
Maybe the answers to those questions will show that you are already fulfilling your purpose. Or maybe they will point you in a new direction.
Whatever path you choose, start by developing clear goals that will help you achieve your purpose. You don’t have to wait until New Year’s Eve or Day to decide goals. You can do it this very evening.
One strategy is to choose three to five goals that will move you toward fulfilling your purpose—goals to achieve over the next several months or the next year. Write them down on blank business-size cards and carry them in your wallet or purse. Each morning at breakfast take them out, review them, and renew your commitment. At night, visualize achieving your goals.
You will also need to develop plans for how to fulfill your goals. Write your plans down in a journal. Remember, goals are reached step-by-step. Each evening, write in your journal what actions you must take the next day to help fulfill your goals. Gradually, you will build greater and greater confidence as you see yourself getting closer and closer to where you want to be.
As you move toward fulfilling your unique purpose in life, the Third Law of Wellness—Make Thought Your Powerful Ally—provides some powerful tools to help clear your way.
Believe in yourself. You will face challenges. To overcome them, it is crucial to believe that you can accomplish your dreams. Recall that powerful saying: Yes We Can…. Well, Yes You Can.
Also, remember that you create much of your own reality. The Law of Attraction says that life will give you what you intend. By believing in your dreams, you are already beginning to create them in reality. The world will help you achieve your goals if you move toward them confidently. Reality follows thought.
Also understand that life mainly takes place in the journey rather than in reaching the goal. Goals are what we set to make life an interesting and wonderful adventure. If you have chosen your life purpose well, and if you believe in yourself and your goals, the journey, even if very challenging, will be joyful and satisfying.
Finally, don’t forget the “integrity” part of the Fourth Law of Wellness. To have integrity means to live with honesty and fairness. Recall what was said by Randy Pausch, a computer science professor who had terminal pancreatic cancer. He gave his Last Lecture to students and colleagues, and it subsequently became a New York Times best seller. Randy Pausch pointed out the importance of living the right way, with integrity and joy in life. When we do that, he said, karma follows, and our dreams will come to us.
As you think about your purpose in life, remember that you are unique in the history of the world. There will always be only one you. You are on a great adventure—your life. Enjoy it. If roadblocks arise, see them as challenges facing a great explorer—you. Life will become an amazing adventure when you feel yourself moving toward goals that have true meaning for you—much more exciting than any movie you’ve ever seen.