Philosophers, theologians and lay people from time immemorial have been troubled by questions relating to the meaning and purpose of all things.
We humans tend to think that if we don’t know the meaning of something, it is meaningless. If we don’t know the purpose of an object, we believe that it lacks a purpose. Yet, we have all had the experience of discarding something one day, only to find out a couple of days later that we threw away something of great importance. The error, of course, was that we thought that because we did not know the purpose of the object, that it had no purpose. The truth, however, is that not knowing the utility of something does not translate into not any utility.
This concept allowed me insight into an age old teaching going back 2,000 years ago. The sage asked: who is truly wealthy? The answer is: he who is happy with his lot (Ethics of the Fathers, 4:1). The normative understanding of this teaching is that true wealth comes from being content with one’s’ possessions, experiences, and general position in life, rather than from comparing oneself to others.
Yet there is a deeper insight here. Maybe the sages are telling us that a truly wealthy person is one who recognizes what their unique lot, their purpose in the world is, and then lives in a manner that is congruent with their unique purpose in the world. This person then is happy with their lot. Using that definition, a poor man, by contrast, is one who does not recognize his purpose in life and is trying to be something that he is not. He strives to achieve the lot of his fellow rather than to live his own purpose.
This ancient wisdom or teaching is now backed up by recent Social Science research. We now know that people who know their purpose in life are happier, and in better psychological health, than their less purposeful counterparts. We also know that increased purpose in life leads to longevity, happiness and psychological health. Purpose is also associated with a decrease in depression, decreased chances of getting Alzheimer’s disease, heart attacks, and a host of other physical and physiological ailments. My research shows that even reflecting on the concept of having a purpose makes one feel more purposeful.
As the sages say, real wealth comes from understanding and fulfilling our unique purpose in life. Finding purpose is a process that involves deep introspective work and takes time and commitment. Yet, the benefit of having purpose in life outweighs anything money could ever buy.
Levi Brackman is founder of Purposes Inc and creator of a scientifically proven online purpose finding tool Next Stage Purpose. He is currently doing a Phd focused on learning how people can develop purpose and meaning in life. He is also a rabbi and bestselling author.