2021, Apr 04

What is the purpose of our life? Why do we exist? According to Evolutionary Biology, the purpose of life is to pass on your genes. According to the limbic system it is to avoid pain and maximize pleasure. But we won't agree with either - we don't live life just to pass on our genes - we are not looking for sex all the time(well, not most people, anyway). We intentionally put our self through pain to create something of value. Science failed to give us a good answer to this very critical question - so we turn to philosophy.

Philosophy had solved this problem a long time ago. People were made by God - so everyone had a God given purpose(or an Essence as Aristotle called it). No one was confused about the purpose of life. Life was good.

This solution did not last. Along came another philosopher called Nietzche - and told everyone that God is dead. Science happily agreed with Nietzche's conclusion. Suddenly, philosophy was as useless as Science in understanding our purpose. But not for long - philosophy rose up to this challenge - it solved the problem once again. Philosophy, in a very uncharacteristic display of consensus, came to one conclusion - that Life has no meaning. Then in a way more characteristic way, differed greatly on what to do next.

The simplest answer was existential Nihilism. It says there is no meaning to life - and there can be none. But thankfully, there are a lot of other possible answers in philosophy. Most say that even though life has no inherent meaning, you can give it meaning.

You get to decide what your life means. That will give you great freedom and at the same time, great anxiety too. You are responsible for your purpose. You can't just sit back and hope that someone else will take care of it - it's not a group project that you can ignore because you know the nerd of the group will pick it up. This problem is yours and yours alone. Hence, anxiety.

The Shortcut Method

No one likes anxiety - especially not after the last year. With all the pre-existing anxieties that 2020 has given us, who needs a brand new philosophical existential anxiety. Just saying that gives me some anxiety. Thankfully, you get this anxiety only if you think about it - which only philosophers do. Most people just use a shortcut fix - don't think about your purpose - just use an available preexisting purpose. This might come from religions, or ideologies - like communism, or even traditions - like capitalism. If you ask people why they do the things they do, the large majority of the answers can be boiled down to "make more money". For most people, it is just numbers on a screen. Most of us have enough to not worry about survival - all the money we are making is just going into pushing up our bank balance. But we have been told from childhood that those numbers are tied to our survival, comfort and stability. We are told to safeguard those numbers beyond anything else. That is our purpose - even though we never though about it or decided it.

Philosophers don't like this shortcut method of copying an existing solution. Their advice: personally choose what your purpose is - don't adopt an existing solution. They thought of the shortcut method as philosophical suicide. I kinda agree - don't use an existing system as is. But here, I have to deviate from all the big philosophers - in my opinion, it's ok to adopt a solution - as long as you are personalizing it. Take parts of one solution and parts of another. Trash the ideas in the solution that do not make sense to you. You can try one solution for a couple of years before giving it up and going for another. It doesn't have to be the 'one true purpose' - there is no such thing. It just has to be good enough for you. You can have multiple purposes as you move though your life - whatever works for you.

I have some simple metrics for what is 'good enough'. It should motivate you. It should make you happy. It should help you to make important life decisions. This is easier to understand with an example - myself. I have a pretty good purpose in life - I want the world to be as close as possible to my ideal world 200 years in the future. I chose my job in accordance with this purpose - I work at an NGO called Make A Difference. I'm making all this content on philosophy because I want people to be more interested in philosophy in the future. My purpose gives me the drive to do all this - happy slogging away into the wee hours of the night.

Finding your purpose

Now that you have read this article and are an expert at existentialism, the next step is finding your purpose. Philosophy has suggested a few methods to find your life's purpose. But the closer philosophy comes to a solution, the less effective philosophy is. Philosophy is great for finding questions. Answers, not so much. Again, we have to turn to Psychology for a better answer. It will be in the next article.

Before you go, here are some advanced philosophical problems if you think that finding your life's purpose is too easy. That is just personal existentialism. Once you have a good solution to this, you can try solving group existentialism - what is the purpose of the largest group you consider yourself a part of? If you are sufficiently broad minded, that translates to what is the purpose of humanity? And finally, cosmic existentialism - what is the purpose of the universe. If you have answers to all three of these questions, you can call yourself enlightened. PS: I have a 3/3 score in this - if you are curious, ask and I'll share my answer. But you can't just copy those answers - you'll have to find your own answers. These too, have to be subjective and personal.


The meaning of life is different for each person and each person has to find it on their own.You can take parts of a pre-existing purpose that motivate you and make you happy at the time and even change it as you go through life.