Finding Purpose - Combining Enjoyment And Meaning?
Updated: Sep 27, 2022
When do you feel satisfied...?
One way to feel satisfaction is to indulge in an activity or routine that you genuinely enjoy...
For me, surfing is certainly one of these things, but there are many more...
We feel good when we have our morning coffee, eating a delicious meal or are being intimate with our partner.
In these situations, we experience pleasure and often as result instant satisfaction.
But usually as fast as it comes, it goes. It doesn’t last forever. It is only half of the picture.
If we only pursue pleasure, sooner or later, we will feel dissatisfied again.
Hence, we need some purpose as well.
Something that gives us the feeling to move forward in our lives. A sense of meaning, the perception that we bring something beneficial to this world.
Personally, I derive a sense of purpose from inspiring or helping other people, exploring new countries or improving in different areas of life.
The things that give us purpose can be all sorts of things, though. Reading a book that gives us new ideas, going to work, doing sports, or raising children.
The important thing is that we get some meaning from these activities. That we feel it “makes sense to be alive”.
Humans Strive For More
We as humans are able to push further than any other species. We have found new ways, have discovered new possibilities, we literally have reached for the stars. In 10 000 years, we evolved from Stone Age to Space Age which is simply incredible. Without an inherent drive this wouldn’t have been possible.
I am not quite sure why we are made this way, but to some degree we all crave to bring purpose into this world. To change something, to make something better, to do something meaningful.
Our inherent striving for more is also one big reason why we evolved into the most intelligent species on this planet.
In comparison let’s take a dog. He can lay in the sun the whole day doing nothing. As long as he gets food and can run around a bit, he’s a happy dog.
Of course, we also enjoy laying in the sun. But at one point it will get boring.
At one point we will inevitably get dissatisfied if we only pursue pleasure.
The Right Balance
As with everything in life, it’s about the right balance. To find a middle way between pleasure and purpose.
Lately, I have been a bit off balance by choosing pleasure over purpose. I make myself a coffee in the morning, read a book for entertainment, and maybe go surfing afterwards. Often, I don’t do as much "purposeful" things as I want to.
As a result, I could observe that over time these things I enjoy didn't satisfy me as much as in the beginning. It felt as if I had grown a tolerance for them. Either I had to increase the "dose of pleasure" or my dissatisfaction grew further until a certain threshold where I finally pushed myself again to do something more meaningful, e.g. writing.
In this scenario my feeling of dissatisfaction was actually beneficial, or at least it made me act. And any time I do something that is purposeful to me I instantly feel more satisfaction, and on top of that I can enjoy pleasurable things more intensely again.
It’s a strange cycle, but I guess it works. It helped human survival, and expansion.
NOTE: The hormone dopamine plays a crucial role in this cycle. If you’re interested in that matter, I can totally recommend this YouTube video of Andrew Huberman on how we are affected by dopamine and how we can control it for more motivation and satisfaction.
Pleasure And Purpose Combined
So, one could come to the conclusion that pleasure and purpose are opposing forces. That the things we do simply for enjoyment are not necessarily the things that bring us further in life.
Well, that is probably true for a chocolate cheesecake or a cold beer. However, it is more complex than that…
Certainly, a lot of the purposeful actions require some effort or even "pain", e.g. doing a workout. That's why some people talk of the so-called pleasure-pain cycle. But I think you could also call it a pleasure-purpose cycle, because purpose is not necessarily connected to pain.
Talking from my own experience, there are a lot of situations that I initially thought were only for enjoyment and that turned out to be the ones with the most purpose.
For example, the other day I went to have dinner with a friend, "just" to enjoy a good pizza and chat a little. We ended up having a great conversation sharing our views of the world.
What she said, inspired me a lot for my own life and I felt new energy. Energy I didn't even know I was missing before.
For sure, human interaction itself can feel good and maybe I experienced this new drive "only" because of a sense of connection. But then, who defines what is purposeful to us?
I guess how we feel about a certain activity or situation tells us if there's purpose or not. Consequently there is no right or wrong. Personally, I definitely felt a new sense of purpose, by having had an inspiring conversation and having inspired the other person, as well. And that's what counts.
Of course, this conversation was also a pleasurable thing, in fact I enjoyed it greatly! As I said, pleasure can come in many forms, some that don’t add purpose to our lives and some that do.
So, I think pleasure and purpose are not necessarily a contradiction, but in fact it can be one and the same thing.
So, I guess, my point is to highlight the importance of both, pleasure and purpose in our lives. And how they can reinforce each other.
For example, writing all these thoughts down was a meaningful thing to me. And I certainly enjoyed the process. So, you might say I got pleasure from a purposeful thing, or maybe purpose from a pleasurable thing?
Thanks for reading!
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