Your Idea of Purpose and Meaning Are a Distraction From Living a Truly Fulfilling Life

Zack Minott

Uncovering the key to everlasting happiness by living fully every moment.

Photo by Guillaume de Germain on Unsplash

I just watched Pixar’s new animated film, Soul. It is undoubtedly the single movie that has left me walking away more awe-inspired than any other film I’ve ever watched. The beautiful message it paints about life and purpose claims:

The spark of life is not found in purpose or meaning, but rather finding a way to truly live every moment of it.

To you, this may be confusing. To others, this may seem obvious. Let me explain it using my own observations and experiences.

The Trap We Find Ourselves In

Many people like to tease with the idea of escaping their current situation and finding happiness on the other side of success or some pivotal point that may or may not come in their near future.

It’s a comforting thought.

Your mind likes to wander into the mysteries of the future and fill it with an image of utter bliss — that once you reach that one goal, you’ll finally meet the end of a great journey. It will gift you with enough internal life satisfaction that you’ll finally be able to relax, kick-back, and have that margarita on the beach overlooking the vast horizon.

Many like to call this retirement. Others, success. Maybe even some will imagine it to be considered freedom from the imprisonment of circumstance. Most may tether this to their life’s meaning and purpose on this planet.

On the other hand, Harvard-trained positive psychology expert, Tal Ben-Shahar, dubs this way of thinking altogether as the arrival fallacy — the illusion that once we make it, once we attain our goal or reach our destination, we will reach lasting happiness.

He says this is the very reason why some Hollywood stars struggle with mental health issues and substance abuse later in life. To quote Ben-Shahar from this NY Times article:

“These individuals start out unhappy, but they say to themselves, ‘It’s O.K. because when I make it, then I’ll be happy,’” he said. But then they make it, and while they may feel briefly fulfilled, the feeling doesn’t last. “This time, they’re unhappy, but more than that they’re unhappy without hope,” he explained. “Because before they lived under the illusion — well, the false hope — that once they make it, then they’ll be happy.”

Unfortunately, they are simply the same person, with the same attitudes, positioned in a different era of their lives. A pity especially after having your heart filled with the hope that some sort of destination can fill that void just to be met with disappointment.

Thinking this way can be psychologically trapping you in a reality where you don’t truly feel fulfilled or happy right now — that your source of unhappiness comes from a position of lacking. When you make yourself believe that you’re lacking, that’s where you start to see the reality in front of you untether thus throwing you in a cyclical loop of constant desire.

Mark Manson dubs this as The Feedback Loop From Hell in his critically acclaimed book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck. Parallelly, philosopher Alan Watts called this the “Backwards Law” which makes the claim that:

“The more one tries to remove or escape the negative experience of life, the more negative the negative becomes.“

Think of it, once you reach your goal, now what? You’ve reached your goal and now that milestone just becomes a part of your life. It becomes your new baseline and normal. So what then should you do if achieving your goal in and of itself won’t be that thing that makes you happy?

“You’re only here for a short visit. Don’t hurry. Don’t worry “— Walter Hagen

A Myth To Help Better Paint This Picture

In Greek Mythology, Sisyphus was condemned by the gods to eternally push a boulder up a hill only to get to the top and see the boulder roll back down.

French Philosopher, Albert Camus, took this story and used it as a powerful metaphor to address the individual’s persistent struggle through the absurdity of life — that once we reach a goal or our destination, that is by no means the end. We get to the top of the hill just to find ourselves back at the beginning of a new journey with another boulder to push back up the hill with a brand new destination and motive.

At the surface, one would imagine Sisyphus being miserable to live eternity just to see his efforts take him nowhere substantial. That’s why Albert Camus says:

“But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself, forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.

This is how we should live our lives. Not constantly trying to find joy in the destination but rather finding joy in the process of moving towards a goal — solace within the struggle itself. It’s not the outcome that makes people happy but rather focusing on the process that makes people happy and fulfilled.

Escape the Hamster-Wheel For a Fulfilling Life

To learn to enjoy the journey is much easier said than done, but as many philosophers such as Albert Camus and Alan Watts put it, you should engrain it in your mind that the meaning and purpose of life is to simply live it fully.

“If the universe is meaningless, so is the statement that it is so… The meaning and purpose of dancing is the dance” — Alan Watts

Say you were going on a hike that had a gorgeous waterfall at the very end of it. If you were to focus entirely on reaching the waterfall, you might just miss the beauty that shrouds such an adventure. Why can’t the whole hike in and of itself be enjoyable? Maybe slowing down your pace with a few deep breaths to take everything in might bring you more joy than the destination itself.

As the TV writer, Andy Rooney puts it: “Everyone wants to live on top of the mountain, but all the happiness and growth occurs while you are climbing it.” If you’re on a roller coaster, you’re not focused on its ending, but you’re focused and absorbed in the experience of the ride. Try to implement that feeling into your daily and moment-by-moment experience.

Make an honest attempt to find the beauty in every little thing that blankets your existence. Intentionally try to find things to appreciate, to be fascinated by, and to find beauty in. When you hone so much of your focus on the destination, you unintentionally rob yourself of these experiences and lead yourself to forget that happiness is not found in the destination, but rather the process and journey towards that destination.

In Pixar’s Soul, one of the characters found that meaning was not found in the passions that she was told that she needed to discover to make life meaningful, but rather merely living fully in the moment — finding happiness in the enjoyment of a slice of pizza, a leaf falling from an autumn colored tree, or the fascination found within a seemingly meaningless, inanimate object.

How are you going to spend your life?
I’m not sure, but I do know I’m gonna live every minute of it. — Pixar’s Soul

Parting Thought

Meaning and purpose aren’t found in goals and the activities external to you, those passions are merely ways of living and experiencing this world.

Meaning and purpose are rather found in the reality that shrouds you in every single moment — the complex and simple breadth of life and being alive.

For me, living this way has provided my life with newfound energy to discover an appreciation for all the previously mundane tasks I experienced day-to-day. It makes getting things done more enjoyable, more meaningful, and more valuable to me.

Maybe I don’t have control over how I’ll feel in the future or how fulfilled I will be. All I know is that I have the choice to be fulfilled and happy right now for simply being alive and having the privilege to enjoy the experience of living fully in the now.

If there is anything that Pixar’s, Soul, taught me, it is that.

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Santa Ana, CA

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