The purpose of my life

[This next piece is typical of the time from which it dates – early 2001. I had fewer classes than the previous year, and therefore had hours every day to spend on big, ambitious essays like this one. The piece was never finished, and by the time I started putting this project together, too many other ideas have come and gone for me to finish the piece in the same “voice”. I do try, however, after the last paragraph, to clarify the final point.]


An Honest Attempt At Solving A Nasty Problem/A Preliminary Investigation Into The Purpose And Meaning Of Life, And What We Have To Do To Lead Fulfilling And Happy Lives


~ An Ode to the Movies ~

“Real life is not like in the movies where you get a realisation and your life changes the next day. In real life, you get a realisation, and your life changes a month later.” ~ From Postcards from the Edge

A few days ago, at a quarter past one in the morning, I gave myself a deadline: at half-past one, I had to have an answer to the question of what I want to do with my life. I took up position on the porch, and smoked a cigarette. Half-past one came and half-past one went, as expected, with no progress in my investigation. Help, or inspiration, would have been welcomed with an open mind.

A film I had seen a few months ago came to mind as a possible indication of how to look for an answer. The film is about a bunch of software engineers, and how they struggle with the question of the value of their lives. (As it happened, one character is a little more obsessive about the topic.) During one conversation, they discuss the difference between what they are doing with their lives, and what everyone would consider being more ideal for them. In other words, if they don’t have to while away at least eight hours per day, five days per week in office cubicles for an income, what would they do with their time? One character mentions that a teacher once asked them what they would do with a million dollars. The answer, in theory, would have given them an indication of what career they should follow. For example, if one had said he would fix old cars then that was supposed to mean he should become a mechanic. (Don’t you get the impression sometimes that life is a white elephant? Someone gave you this thing we call “life”, but you’re not sure what to do with it and throwing it away is not an option.)

Inspired by this bit of advice, I asked myself the following question: If I had a million dollars, how would I spend my days and nights?

Now, this happens to be a cloud upon which I often fall asleep at night, and preliminary answers are always the same – buy my parents a large house and give them enough money so they can retire, give my two sisters enough money so they’d never have to worry about money again, buy myself an old building, travel for at least six months, see all the places I’ve always wanted to see, build up an international network of lovers … and then I usually fall asleep.

After an hour or so of considering what I would do with a million dollars, I could not come up with a better answer than the usual line-up. I knew these are all short-term goals. If I’m done buying houses and giving away boatloads of money, the goals are no longer valid.

So let’s say my parents and my sisters are comfortable for the rest of their lives, I’ve seen the world, and I’ve built up an international reputation, how will I keep myself busy? Or maybe I should go further and ask, what shall I do to give meaning to my life?

I then thought of another movie where some suburban fellows from a big city reckon it will do them good to chase cattle across the plains. During this adventure, they meet an old cowboy. One of the city folk, who is also contemplating the Big Question, thinks an old cattle man ought to know the answer. The latter ponders for a moment, then raises a single finger in the air. “One thing,” he says. The city guy waits with bated breath for the rest of the answer. When the rancher fails to finish his sentence, he asks him what the one thing is. “You’ve got to figure that out for yourself,” the old man replies.

My own views made me comfortable with the idea, so my sights have increasingly been set on identifying a single thing. In fact, the One Thing Theory has become an almost dogmatic part of my thought processes on the Higher Questions of Life. I was convinced that, whatever the answer, it can only be one thing.

By the time I went to bed (at about half-past four), I had an idea: to start a business that sells documentaries, music videos, travel programs and films on DVD, maybe a mail order business so I don’t have to sit in a store every day of the week. This would cover my interests in history, music, movies and current affairs. I also thought if I had to tell people this is my ambition, the goal I want to pursue, they would find it acceptable; it would sound like the kind of response they would want to give if anyone asked them about their goals and ambitions. We all know people who go on endlessly about a restaurant they want to open, or a coffee shop or a bookstore, even a shoe store. Few of us are in the habit of laughing in the faces of people with such ambitions, and we rarely think their dreams are ridiculous. Such ambitions make sense. They will have something to keep them busy most of the time, and they will probably enjoy being in an industry that serves good food, or they will find it pleasing to stay up to date on the most commercially successful books of the day. And everyone knows this kind of ambition, if successful, will generate income for the owners and their families.

The notion of sufficient capital to fund whatever you want to do had thus brought a preliminary answer. Hoping that the answer would hold until brunch, I drifted off, dreaming of shelves filled with documentaries, music videos, and other interesting items.

The next day (or later the same day) I awoke with a slight suspicion of a point that had recently been reached. The moment I remembered what it was, it was as if someone had knocked me on the head. A shop?! Me, a store owner? How on earth did I stumble on that as a reason for my existence?

The light of a new afternoon had indeed brought clarity. I had to start from scratch.

In a systematic fashion, I decided to look at the possible reasons why I had initially regarded the idea as worthy of consideration, in order to proceed with the next step in the process. People find satisfaction in their jobs, right? And not everyone has a job that others envy! I know people who are happy in jobs others will find incredibly dull. On the other hand, should salaried work necessarily get the credit for happiness in one’s life? Put differently, must you necessarily find a job that makes you happy?

But I’m trying to smuggle in an idea that is entitled to at least a provisional theory: happiness, and why it is so interwoven in our quest to find purpose and meaning in our lives (at least at this time of world history, if not necessarily always the case in bygone eras).

Elementary psychology and common sense teach us that we have certain basic needs. Whether or not the satisfaction of these needs occurs in hierarchical order, we know that they must be satisfied to a reasonable extent to ensure physical survival and to more or less keep your sanity. It also follows from common sense more than anything else, that if our needs are met, we experience a sensation that we usually call “happiness”. If we have enough to eat, we’re relatively healthy, we get six to eight hours of decent sleep every night, we have a suitable hiding place (either in a rented room or a mansion), we love and are loved (in both physical and emotional terms), we have a reasonable understanding of how everything fits together, and we give expression to our creative needs, then we usually feel that life is all right, to say the least.

If any of our basic needs – physical or otherwise – is not met, we experience a sensation of a different nature. Depending on the degree of want and the type of need, we usually announce that we are “unhappy”, or “not feeling well”. In the case of serious emergency or deprivation – or just to be more specific – we give the unpleasant sensations names like “hunger”, “cold”, “fear” or “loneliness”.

But how does the fulfilment of needs fit in our discussion of employment (or unemployment, whatever the case may be)? It works as follows: the paid labour we provide, determines the extent to which most of our needs are met. Enough money means enough food (unless the money is blown on other needs that are less important in relation to the needs that must be met to ensure our physical survival). Heaps of money, again in theory, can provide a million dollar shelter for you and your intimate circle, and first class satisfaction of your other needs. Alternatively: no money, no food; no food, poor health, and eventual death due to complications caused by inadequate satisfaction of basic needs. Between these two extremes lies a spectrum with a thousand points of difference in degree of need fulfilment. All this confirms the basic truth that the income you earn stands in direct relation to the extent to which your needs are met as well as the quality of need satisfaction.

“Masters of simplicity,” is what the historian Alan Bullock called two of the bloodiest dictators of the twentieth century. According to him, Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin refused to be overwhelmed by the complexity of problems they faced. I tend to be exactly the opposite. Not only do I feel overwhelmed by questions about the purpose and meaning of life, at times I suffer acute anxiety about it! The reason is the large number of possible answers to the questions. During the last few decades, many established religions have had to compete for fans (and monetary donations) with hundreds of sects, movements and quasi-religions. Ministers, high priests, low priests, popes, rabbis, holy men, ungodly men, holy women, even the local bartender, all have their answers to the questions we ask. To this list you can add ancient philosophers, pseudo-philosophers, psychologists, self-improvement gurus, actors-turned writers, authors-turned-singers. The list is endless. If you add friends and family as well, you’ll start to feel like a toy robot whose wires have become crossed. You even start running into the furniture, and you hit your head against the walls. And it’s not even always intentional.

A few weeks ago, my mother added another ingredient to the simmering brew. She thought it would be prudent to share with me one of the basic facts of the real (read: middle-class) life, namely that a man must have made his mark by the 35th anniversary of his arrival on this planet. He must, to be sure, already start kicking in his heels by his mid-twenties, but if he’s at least heading in the right direction by the age of thirty he can still put in the final push by his mid-thirties. After 35, according to my mother, it becomes increasingly difficult for a man to find his place in the world. (This of course applies to women, as well. I have two sisters, and I was not raised to believe that just because I was a boy, I needed to feel inferior to the girls in the family. Or the other way around, as I later discovered the tendency to be in the broader community.)

I thanked my mother wholeheartedly for her advice (which to some extent does make sense). The idea is to focus on something for a number of years, to master some skill or ability, or to obtain a qualification in order to pursue a specific career. I also realised that the motivation behind this advice as well as the age to which it is linked, possibly has something to do with the fact that one’s parents don’t want you to move in with them again at a point in their lives when they’re not too enthusiastic about staring you in the face every morning – even more so if you’re unemployed.

The other reason why it makes sense for you to be financially comfortable at 35 is because you might consider producing some offspring. We all know the associations: more mouths to feed, more groceries, new shoes and clothing, school fees, a bigger house, a bigger car, more expensive mortgage, 35 going on 60. I could see where this was going. The ideal of a typical middle-class life has never been my main motivation for getting up in the morning (or in the early afternoon, as the case is nowadays). But to offer that as a reason not to do what people have been doing from long before the most ancient philosopher formulated the first “Why?” theory is not good enough.

Why does it seem that (almost) everyone (almost) always tend to do the same thing, in good times and bad, whether they’re beautiful or ugly, rich or poor, idiot or genius? A person reaches a certain age, he or she starts acting differently than before, and when they open their eyes one morning they are not eating breakfast alone anymore. This same tendency repeats itself through every era of world history, through every generation across all boundaries – regardless of race, religion, ideology, education, background, class or status. Why does it seem that people are always drifting towards each other – with two happily walking into the sunset every now and then? Why does it seem to make people happy to interact with individuals with whom they have something in common?

It’s simple, you might answer: People need each other. Like animals, we have a need for the protection and support of a group. We are also born with a strong desire to reproduce, thus the intimate contact between (usually) two people at a time.

A further explanation for this tendency among humans can be found in a superficial consideration of the opposite to relationships and association, namely the phenomenon of loneliness – to be on your own when you don’t necessarily want to be. A character in another movie once mentioned that according to Native American folklore, the worst punishment that can be imposed on a man is to force him to roam the earth alone. It is also incidentally the worst (official) punishment a prisoner can be imposed in a prison. “Throw him in the hole for two weeks,” a prison chief often hollers in a movie, and then the other prisoners stare at the floor in a mild panic. It’s not just the absence of sunlight that will bring the man to the verge of a nervous breakdown – people need other people. Wisdom from Africa complements that of the Native Americans with the concept of “ubuntu” – a person is a person through other people.

Universal phenomenon, wisdom from Africa and North America, the prison boss in the movie, and my mother, all confirm the same thing: I need a dog. Is that not one of the main reasons why people keep pets? To compensate themselves for the lack of human companionship! Or if they’re lucky enough to share their daily life with others, to have something to talk to when the usual party is not in the mood, or temporarily unavailable.

But a pet has more value than to merely have something bark back when you speak, and has a more significant effect on the human psyche than the little entertainment it provides when it performs a well-practised trick. Having a pet is to experience how it feels when another creature needs you – when something or someone else needs you to be alive. It gives us a sense of value. It makes us feel like there’s a purpose in life, a reason for our existence. (The idea that you must stay alive to give Bruno that bowl of kibble twice daily will undoubtedly be put in a new perspective the moment you remind yourself that he will probably trot down the street to find food elsewhere if you continue to talk philosophy with him.)

We need other people – as I’ve already pointed out, and even more than we need pets – for obvious reasons: We need to feel we belong somewhere, we need companionship, and in the case of usually more intimate relationships, we feel the need to reproduce. In a recent movie about a wedding singer, the main character comes to a point where he says to his friend, from that moment on both of them are going to be “free and happy”. His friend empties his shot of whiskey in one gulp and replies, “I’m not happy. I’m miserable.” He continues to explain that, despite his reputation as a single roving male, he just needs someone to hold him, someone who can comfort him by saying that everything is going to be all right. Throw in the concept of “us” that defines a relationship, and you become increasingly convinced of the fact that you belong somewhere if you’re in a meaningful relationship with another person. A French madam who made comfort (and sometimes love) her business in another movie, summarises the reasons for an intimate relationship between two people as “romance, companionship and devotion”. A relationship of this nature has the added benefit that you have someone to talk to if your pet is busy elsewhere. And to add a little spice to the brew, you’ll have someone with whom you can refine the art of reproduction.

To be important to someone else, to have someone in your life who regard you as an indispensable part of his or her life, gives meaning to your existence. It’s a simple agreement, but it works: I will give meaning to your life if you give meaning to mine.

Have I solved the One Finger Thing? Is love, as many suspect, the answer? Do “romance, companionship and devotion” give meaning to our lives, and a reason to live? It may sound cynical, but I’m not entirely satisfied.

It is true that we need love, and that it enables us to answer the Big Question to a satisfactory degree. However, I have come to the conclusion that we need at least two other things to complete the puzzle. First, we must find a way to ensure the continuous satisfaction of our material needs – including food on a daily basis and protection from the elements (already touched upon a few paragraphs back). In the language of modern times, this means one thing: money. Unless we’ve won some kind of lottery, it also implies that we need to work to obtain this money on a regular basis. In the second place – or besides love and money, the third piece of the puzzle – we need something we enjoy doing. Some call this activity a hobby; I prefer to call it the Third Thing.

Allow me to explain the significant impact the Third Thing has on the possibility of happiness and fulfilment in our lives. This thing – whether an activity, or the mastery of any ability, or just collecting things – is what many of us would have spent most of our time on if we did not need to spend it earning a monthly salary. The reasons why we pursue these Third Things range from recreation to the challenge they present to the sense of self-worth that results from it. The underlying principle is that we enjoy doing these things.

Some would argue that they enjoy collecting stamps, but they don’t necessarily want to busy themselves with it full time. They may argue further that they enjoy doing what they have chosen to make money with (if it’s not collecting rare stamps to sell at a profit). This, in a sense, confirms the principle that we need something that some call a hobby – what matters is that it is something we enjoy.

Realistically speaking, the work we choose to earn our proverbial bread and butter with should be something we’re more or less interested in, something we enjoy doing to a reasonable degree. A professional photographer is a good example of someone who generates an income in an area he or she is interested in. It might even lessen the need for a Third Thing because the way they earn money already provides the necessary fulfilment for which the third part of the formula is normally needed. If you haven’t been so blessed with the ability to make smart career choices, or if you don’t enjoy your salaried position because of other reasons, you need a separate interest or activity for the formula to work.

Balance is another factor that should be taken into consideration. A partner fulfils a whole range of needs, just as you (hopefully) do the same for him or her. But everyone knows that love does not pay the rent (if a character in a movie hasn’t mentioned it, I bet your mother has). You or your partner, or both of you, need an income with which the rent or mortgage can be paid, with which food and clothing can be purchased, and like most people in the developed world have discovered since the Industrial Revolution, to acquire many more items than you can truly afford and/or need. If the work you do for an income provides you with a degree of pleasure and satisfaction, you will already have started to satisfy the need normally covered by “what people do in their spare time for fun” (as the dictionary defines “hobby”).

So now you have enough food in your stomach to keep you for a few hours, and your imperfect nakedness is protected from the weather. You have a decent roof over your head, a reasonably solid understanding of the universe, romance and intimacy are part of your daily life, and you mow the lawn every second Saturday for fun and entertainment while you think about your stamp collection. But still you feel a gnawing discomfort in your belly. And no matter how hard you try, you cannot remember the question we contemplated when this whole discussion started.


The search for answers to the questions that have haunted people since the awakening of intellectual curiosity usually produces several possibilities. But just when you start getting confident about your philosophical abilities, you realise that you never managed to properly formulate the question. What is it that we want to know? Do we want to know why we were born? Do we want to know whether or not we have a purpose we must fulfil? Do we want to be convinced that our lives have meaning and value? Do we want to know what we should do to live happy and fulfilling lives? Why do we want to live happy and fulfilling lives?

Most of us have certain expectations of ourselves, things we would like to achieve. Growing up we look at what other people do, and we identify – consciously or not – certain individuals as examples. We imagine what it would be like to do the same things these people do or have done, and to achieve similar results. But why do we want to pursue these goals? Why do we want to realise our expectations? Why do we have expectations of ourselves to begin with?

The Greek philosopher Plato argued that because we fear disappearing into the nothingness, we want to achieve immortality. We look at the animal kingdom, and we hope that our lives are more valuable than that of a rat or a giraffe. We know how fragile our lives can be, but we are also aware of some unique qualities and abilities that other animals do not possess.

The notion that we should achieve more in our lifetime than a wild beast would achieve in his seems to be a natural result of our superior intellectual abilities. If we do not need to do more with our lives than the average animal, then why do we possess abilities that are much more advanced than our primate cousins to whom we are most closely related? We start formulating questions that can bring us closer to what it means to be “human”. We wonder about the “meaning of life”, whether or not there’s a specific reason why we were born, whether or not there’s a purpose to our existence.

I suspect that these questions are not merely different versions of the same basic inquiry, and it is therefore necessary to consider different answers to each question. I would also suggest that one initially focuses on one question, namely the one about what makes you happy. (Many will protest that personal happiness is selfish. “Should we not strive for something nobler?” they would ask. The latter is an issue that will be raised again later; the reader will also find that a nobler pursuit is not inconsistent with the primary emotion we call “happiness”. The possibility of happiness also plays a key role in the conviction that life is worth the effort, however people choose to define what makes them happy – whether it is endless entertainment, or commitment to a good cause.)

Is there an answer to what makes a person happy with which a majority of people can agree? I believe there is.

Now, at this point, some readers might expect a life-changing revelation. They may see in their mind’s eye how I clear my throat, take hold of the microphone and start speaking, slowly, carefully weighing my words. After hearing my magical utterances, they may imagine pulling back and muttering in awe: “Wow! So that’s what a man comes up if he spends years in solitary isolation in an attempt to find an answer! I am so relieved that you have given me these magnificent words! It’s now clear that I would never have been able to work it out on my own …”

The truth is, fortunately for all of us, much less dramatic (even though it did take me years of possibly unnecessary semi-solitary confinement to work it out). What you need is the three things that have already been discussed. For those who didn’t quite notice the pattern, here it is again: You need love, and you need money, and then you need something you enjoy doing – on your own, it might be wise to add. (Good health can be added to the mix, now that I think of it). If these elements are part of your life to a satisfactory degree, you are at least on your way to a state of existence that can be called “personal happiness”, and you might just be convinced that life is worth the pain and disappointment that are sometimes unavoidable ingredients of our existence.

An extra word of advice here would not be inappropriate: Balance must be maintained. If the balance is disturbed, it will be like a magic formula that doesn’t work because the words were uttered in the wrong order, or because you have left something out. If you spend too much time making money, and you harm your relationship with the person (or people) you love, it will break the spell. On the other hand, if you warm up the bed all day with your lover, it won’t do if you tell the bank manager that love is more important than money when he wants to know where the mortgage payment is. The third thing is also essential to complete the first two and balance the whole story out. Relationships are not always simple, and sometimes a colleague or superior at work makes your attempts at earning an income even more gut-wrenching than it’s supposed to be. At such times, it helps if you know you can go fishing later, or spend a few hours plucking away at your guitar strings on the back porch.

There you have it, as you surely have always suspected: love, money, and something you do for pure enjoyment. It’s up to you to decide which one is more important, or which one is most deserved of your time. Personally, I think we can all do with a guitar, but not even Jimi Hendrix could survive without love or money. And remember, the thought that bread can quiet your hunger pains is not sufficient to fill your belly. You have to go out and find what you need; otherwise you’ll end up a lonely and hungry fool, no matter how much you know or understand.

This brings us to the end of this part of the discussion. If, however, you find yourself among a small group of people who are not satisfied with enough money, true love and a decent hobby, I encourage you to continue reading the third and final part of this piece.


“Like [the Scottish moral philosopher] Adam Smith and others, [the German intellectual] Von Humboldt felt that at the root of human nature is the need for free, creative work under one’s own control.” ~ Noam Chomsky, Secrets, Lies and Democracy

I earn money, to afford a few of the basic needs that we have discussed so far, by teaching English to Taiwanese children. My weekly schedule consists of a patchwork of classes at different schools – a few hours here, some there, and so on. To qualify for the documents to legally reside in Taiwan, I only have to teach eleven hours per week at the school that sponsors my work permit application every year (I’m actually only doing eight hours per week at this institution). Every hour I spend in a classroom more than the eleven hours per week I legally have to teach increases my income. However, I am always aware of the fact that I am not obliged to spend those extra hours in a classroom. To not teach any extra classes will, of course, have a negative impact on my cash flow, and there is a line that’s best not to cross.

Every hour I don’t spend in a classroom to increase my income is an extra hour I have to spend on things that interest me. During the last few months, I’ve been busy rearranging and reviewing my teaching schedule. The main motivation is to give myself more time for what Chomsky calls “free and creative work under one’s own control”.

I have also formulated a simple theory that explains that people can only experience lasting and sustainable happiness and fulfilment if they are creators. (The consumer culture, according to this theory, is considered to be the lowest form of creativity. It works like this: people need to create, but instead of being creative in a proper way, they go shopping, make choices, and then buy clothes, jewellery and other articles with which they can give expression to their creative nature. This satisfies their creative needs to an extent, although in a lower degree of creative process than, for example, painting or composing music.)

Before you arrive at the creative phase of your life, you need to face the most critical challenge, namely the struggle for basic survival. For many people on this planet, physical survival is a daily struggle. They take nothing for granted – not food or water, nor shelter, or anything else that many people in the middle and upper strata of modern society deems as just another item on the monthly budget. Their daily lives consist of a struggle for survival. (Yet, not even these people can ignore the basic human need to create. They write or draw on walls or carve images representative of their lives from wood or stone.)

Most people in the modern industrialised world, especially in the middle and higher strata, have managed to overcome the struggle for basic survival. They live in houses or apartments with running water and electricity, and it’s not uncommon to see shelves filled with food supplies in refrigerators and kitchen cabinets (and sometimes conveniently close to the TV). Many have access to money in a bank account, or they have credit cards with which they can go to nearby places to buy the food they need to keep themselves alive. They also have access to people who are specially trained to look after them when they are sick or injured. A crude, daily struggle for physical survival is no longer part of modern society – for most of the citizens of modern societies, anyway. To be economically active, both as workers and as consumers, has replaced the basic struggle that was our ancestors’ fate in more primitive times.

When the ancient Greeks and Romans contemplated the meaning of life, ideas about good and bad, and the necessity of happiness, their societies had also progressed to a large extent beyond the primitive struggle for physical survival. They could indeed afford the luxury of philosophy. If Socrates or Plato had to grab a spear every day to go chase after a wild boar in the forests to keep themselves and their families alive, they would not have had time to sit around in masterpieces of architecture, discussing the finer points of human existence. The same can be said of Michelangelo or Leonardo da Vinci, and the times and environments in which they had lived and worked. If they had to hunt every day, or gather food in the forest, or cultivate small patches of land so that they and their masters could have grain for bread, they would surely not have had time to paint cathedral ceilings, or portraits of the wives of rich merchants.

Certainly it can be said that Socrates & Company did not only contemplate philosophical issues until well into the afternoon because they liked the sound of their own voices. They did so because they needed to ask certain questions; that the creative, intelligent process of considering possible answers gave them a degree of satisfaction, can probably also be taken for granted. Same with Da Vinci and his colleagues in the world of the creative arts; they probably did not just paint because they liked the sight of paint spots on their faces, or because they thought art was an okay way to earn a few silver coins. Their work was, I believe, driven by an innate desire to create.

A thinker of Socrates’ calibre is not easily encountered in your average modern university or academic institution, and few painters are in the class of Da Vinci. But because we all share the same basic “design”, I believe the needs that found expression in the works of ancient philosophers and the masters of the Renaissance, are the same needs that also drive us in the 21st century in our creative endeavours (even though we experience these needs in different ways and in varying degrees of intensity).

Do we all experience the need to create or produce art or music or philosophical works? No. It is true that many of us consider ourselves lucky to just be able to go to work every day, come home in the evening, have supper, and yell at either the dog or the TV (depending on which one annoys us first). However, few of us are satisfied with a life limited to these things. We arrange the decor of our homes, plant the garden full of flowers, buy nice things for the house, and produce and raise children. In many cases, we’re not even aware that these things are fundamentally creative. We see it as a natural result of marriage to have kids, and yet the process of raising children is one of the most creative of all creative processes – to be involved in the creation of a new person.

It has already been mentioned that the Battle for Survival is not the same as a few centuries or millennia ago. But the idea that struggle is part of the distant past, is far from the truth. Although we no longer need to wrestle lions or bears out of their caves, our struggle continues in other ways. And in many cases it’s not much less scary than running away from a wounded bison or wildebeest.

Our struggle today, to a large extent, is no longer physical. The intriguing thing is that sometimes we still admire physical strength more than intellectual strength, and courage in a situation that is considered a physical threat more than magnificent talent in art or music. Many still respect the abilities that would have kept them alive 5,000 years ago, despite the lack of opportunity for application of these abilities in their actual daily lives in a much more sophisticated world.

We are born with the instinct to fight and to get the upper hand on what threatens our existence. But what happens to these instincts if our world becomes safe enough and we are no longer able to sharpen our fighting abilities on the giant teeth of a mammoth bull?

The life energy and the instincts with which we are born are the same as the life energy and instincts with which our ancestors were born. The latter lived in much more primitive and much more dangerous environments. Today we argue and fight amongst ourselves, and only occasionally are these arguments worthy of being remembered. We moan and we complain, and we criticise every person and every thing that just slightly irritates our sensitive natures …


[And that’s as far as I got with this ambitious piece.

My question at the end was this: What do we do with our fighting spirit in a world that differs in so many ways from the primitive world of our ancestors? Some people search, consciously and in a calculated manner, or without thinking, for opportunities to continue to utilise this instinct. Examples range from professional athletes (boxers would be the best example), to soldiers, young gangsters who spend time in environments where conflict is always a promising possibility, to people always looking for an argument.

Is there an alternative? The idea that I wanted to propose with ardent enthusiasm at the end (before I was distracted) is that we should use these instincts with which we are born as creative energy if we no longer have to use them on a daily basis for physical battle for the sake of basic survival; otherwise we’ll end up wasting it on frivolous arguments, useless wailing, and all kinds of no-good ventures. Certainly it’s also true that there are still areas where this instinct in its more primary form can be applied to good purpose – fire-fighting, first aid and police services are excellent examples.

Have I answered the original question about the purpose of my life? Not yet. Did I get more clarity on what I want to do with my life or what would give meaning to my existence? Have I worked out a possible reason for my existence? Have I succeeded in declaring what makes a person happy? Well, a few questions have been formulated, and some possible answers tested. The process continues.]