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Meditation 629
What is my purpose in life?

by: Will Petillo

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For whatever reason, some people (whom I am too lazy to find examples of) have considered this question to be important. Commonly given answers include: “life has no purpose;” “don’t worry, be happy;” and “42.” Let us assume that some people find these answers unsatisfying because otherwise I am wasting my time writing this. So then, what is one’s purpose in life?

I’ve found that if one examines a question closely enough, the answer tends to become rather obvious, so let’s see if that works here…

Starting with the word “purpose,” this word is generally used to describe how one thing serves another. For example, the purpose of a hammer is to drive in nails (it may serve other purposes, but …I’ve moved the ensuing awful pun to a footnote[1], read it at your own risk) because a human or trained monkey uses said hammer to achieve its own end…which involves driving nails into something…hopefully without malicious intent. Another point that this example illustrates is that something’s purpose need not be related to that thing’s pursuit of happiness. For even if some hammers enjoy their work, others probably find it absolutely dreadful but it is still their purpose just the same. Now let us look at this example a little closer and in list form:


  1. Human trains monkey in carpentry.
  2. Trained monkey needs to build a birdfeeder in order to obtain banana-flavored skittles.
  3. Monkey uses hammer to build the birdfeeder.
  4. Monkey gets skittles.
  5. Human watches in amusement.


  1. Human wants amusement, trains a monkey to achieve this end.
  2. Monkey wants skittles, builds a birdfeeder to achieve this end.
  3. Hammer doesn’t give a damn about anything.


  1. Hammer helps monkey build.
  2. Monkey gives human amusement.
  3. Human has no purpose within the context of this example.

Thus we see that to have a purpose, one must help (or hinder) something outside of oneself in achieving its ends. Achieving happiness for oneself, then, is one’s desired end but need not necessarily coincide with purpose.

So let us return to the question of “what is my purpose in life?” now that we better understand the meaning of this question—if we understand it less, let’s just politely smile and nod, this article will be over soon. Who or what do I serve? By “I,” I mean any given person, so the answer could be anything, everything, or nothing. Some common answers include loved ones, political causes, or the wishes of a Supreme Being. In any case, when people go about looking for purposes to fulfill, they tend to go with something as far “greater than themselves” as possible and/or something which they can have as profound an effect on as possible.

I’d like to say with conviction that our purpose in life is entirely up to us, but this may not be the case as it is possible that we are serving something without knowing it. For instance, the monkey in the above example does not know it is causing the human amusement—and if you think the monkey would know it was amusing the human, it’s my example serving my ends so I get to decide what that monkey knows and doesn’t know. That said, we are capable of choosing any purpose that we can be aware of, so go forth and make yourself useful!

Oh, by the way, this explanation of the purpose of life may also apply to the “meaning of life” — I’ve found that quoting the dictionary is not very satisfying to people who ask about this.



  1. This one really hits the nail on the head.


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