In 1977 somebody asked me, "What is your life purpose." I had no life purpose that I knew of - a few goals and desires, some dreams, some hopes. But, a purpose is different. It seemed that everybody should have one and should know what it is. It was a question that had come up before, just an amusing question, one that didn't seem to have any good answer, but a question that, it seemed, ought to be answered early in one's life.
I asked a lot of people, "What is your life purpose". Not one person told me straight out. Mostly, I got long rambling uncertain answers that didn't include any statement of a purpose. We all seem to live well with a few goals and a vague idea of the life we want. Still, people had asked me the question and I had no answer and it seemed like living life without a purpose would result in a life lived for no purpose.
For various reasons you fully understand if you know me, I decided that a purpose was not something to be discovered, but was something to be made up. After the listening I had done to people unable to tell me their purpose but unwilling to stop talking about it, I decided it should be simple. I remembered a phrase that a friend liked to use, "five words a child knows", a phrase which meets its own qualification. He would often ask me to tell him something and to keep it simple. The most complicated response he would accept would contain, "five words a child knows".
I looked at the word "purpose". The dictionary says, "... an end to be attained", but that won't do for a life, I thought. I don't want a purpose with an end. If I attain it before I die, it wasn't big enough. If I don't, I failed. Looking more closely, "... an end to be attained", might not mean "a goal to be reached". It could mean "a condition to be created". For example, the purpose of a bookend is to hold up a row of books. Once it does that, it's job is not done. The books still need to be held up some more.
For years the question went unanswered. I almost never thought about it but when I did it was troubling that I had no answer. For reasons I don't remember, it was about ten years later when I found myself thinking about it quite a bit for a week or so. I had a friend, Cindy, who was the kind of friend most of us never have. Her interest in bringing me closer to being the person I want to be consumed her whenever we were together. I have been fortunate to have a few such friends over the years. I came up with an idea and by the time I got it down to five simple words, it had changed a lot but it still seemed to be what I was after, maybe even closer after being simplified. It felt right but a little scary. I told Cindy, "sharing health, wealth, and joy", and she said it was perfect for me, fit me well and yet gave me a lot to do. I found that to be true - a comfortable fit and yet something to live up to.
I hung it on my wall and went on. Not once has it seemed off center even a little, nor have I ever considered changing it. Having a purpose for my life has been a sleeper. I don't think about it much. I don't notice it much. I think it has made a big difference but I can't point to anything specific. Another surprise is that it doesn't show. I doubt that my friends could guess it from just knowing me. I'm sure nobody would tell you that I changed around 1987 - I didn't.
That's half of what I want to tell you. That's the "what it's all about" and "get yourself one" part. The rest is the "what it means" part.
Let's look at each word. Sharing does not involve sacrifice. Sharing means giving to others and getting from others so that we all have more. Health, wealth, and joy can be big words. That's the way I mean them here.
Health doesn't mean simply being free of illness. I know you knew that. Health means having a body and mind ready to accomplish what you set out to do. How do you feel when you consider walking five miles, climbing five flights of stairs, driving five hundred miles, writing a page like this one? There's some physical and mental energy, some attitude, ... what else?
Wealth is the tricky one for me. Could it mean having a lot of money? It's too big a question to answer here, but surely financial independence (having enough income or money that you can make choices about what you do) is part of one's wealth and being able to spend money for others is part of wealth. Having family and friends that "enrich your life" - that's part of wealth. There's more I can't think of now. Yes, this is the tough one for me.
Joy is just what it seems to be - being thrilled to be alive - loving the moment - appreciating the opportunity and challenge that life is. Joy is generated from within, not caused by circumstances - we say we know that, but we seldom live it.
Health, wealth, and joy seem to overlap and joy seems to fill any gaps
in the other two. All together they include everything needed to
live a wonderful life. I think that one can have this wonderful life
without having a purpose. Is there any value in having a purpose?