Find a purpose to serve, not a lifestyle to live.
Are you doing what you want with your life?
Is your life what you expected? Are you accomplishing what you set out to do?
These kinds of questions are related to a more fundamental question: What are the reasons and motivations behind our life goals?
We all want to live a “good life,” but what does that mean? Success can mean vastly different things to different people, but there are presumably some common reasons that we each take our respective paths.
Some of these might include subsistence, happiness, fulfillment, having a legacy, or making an impact on the world.
What are the reasons for your life goals? What would success look like?
For some, success means power, money, or fame. But are these goals in and of themselves? Feeling powerful, having the means to live in luxury, or being famous are end goals to some. For others, these are measuring sticks of success—ways to confirm how successful they are in relation to others. However, these things may or may not bring them happiness. Just because something is shiny doesn’t mean it’s going to make us happy.
When rich people start riffing on their great lives and stuff, I think about what is going through their minds. Do these things really make them happy, or is there some underlying angst about security or a need to establish their success in the eyes of others? Do they have a fear of being poor or powerless? Does their self-esteem rely on others knowing about their success?
For some, success means accomplishment (see Dreams). These people are driven to achieve, to reach milestones, to become experts in their fields. Accomplishment can be quite fulfilling, but it too can be either an ultimate goal or a means to an end. Do our accomplishments involve being very good at something or knowledgeable about something? If so, why do we want that? Does it contribute to a desired outcome?
Or are our accomplishments the end goal—something that we want to achieve for its own sake? Neither answer is better or worse than the other, but knowing the answer can help us understand our motivations and act accordingly.
I try to establish my goals based on their contributions to three outcomes: health, happiness, and a net positive influence on the world. It keeps it simple (for the most part), helps me to keep things in perspective, and helps me to maintain a healthy life balance.
Of the three, health is the most fundamental. Without health, I wouldn’t be able to achieve the other two. If my health is good, I am much more likely to be happy and make those around me happy. Being healthy also helps me keep a balance between my mind and body, making both more efficient and thus making it easier to be a positive influence on the world. Wanting to be healthy is also as basic as wanting to feel good and have energy and focus.
Happiness is the easy one (at least in theory), and I use that word in the broadest sense. I want my own happiness and the happiness of my family and friends, but I also consider whether or not I leave a “wake of happiness.” Do I make those I have come into contact with more or less happy? I’m not always successful, but it’s a good goal and a good measuring stick at the end of each day.
Being a positive influence on the world is also a good measuring stick and a good reality check. For me, this goal raises the question: Is the world a better place for having me in it? We can use this as a filter for all kinds of decisions we make. We can use this filter on different scales: personal, local, and global. We can use it as a life-force filter. This goal will mean different things to different people, but if used in a positive spirit, it should always lead to a life better lived.
Ultimately, our goals are related to our motivations—what we want from life and what we can contribute. If we can be honest about our motivations, our goals will likely be more honest, more fulfilling, and better for the world. They will also be much more likely to provide lasting contentment, pride, and happiness.