Life has meaning when you have a reason for getting out of bed in the morning. It doesn’t matter what the reason is; maybe it’s just to weed the garden or wash the car. You may want to do something to please someone. Having a purpose or goal to achieve makes sense of what we do.
Many millions of people, all over the world, struggle to make sense of life and only find the strength to face each day’s problems through their faith in God. The goal for many people is to earn a place in heaven through the good they do each day. However, regardless of religion, close personal relationships give most people a purpose in life and generates many short term goals to make each day worth living.
In his book The Six Stages of Faith, James Fowler referred to the important part bumper stickers play in giving life meaning. Bumper stickers are a public display of the beliefs and values that guide our behaviour and help us to make sense of the world. ‘Jesus loves me’ is a reassuring bumper sticker giving strength and a sense of security to many lonely people. ‘Ban the bomb’ can symbolize a dedication to peacemaking and a focus for activists. The ‘Walk the talk’ bumper sticker is a constant, challenging reminder to act the way we expect other people to act and do what we say we are going to do. It’s also a reminder that as adults we are role models for every child who witnesses what we do. So having that sort of bumper sticker can provide an important purpose for life in general.
But simply following a belief and having a purpose doesn’t guarantee we will have a long, trouble-free life, or that we will not be a problem for other people. A negative purpose can give life the same level of meaning as a positive purpose. Terrorists and suicide bombers have a purpose that gives their life meaning and they can be very happy as they fulfill the mission to destroy the lives of other people.
When I was about 19 my boss at the time gave me two bits of advice. One was: "Focus on a goal you really want to achieve so you can see, and grab, the many opportunities life presents for moving closer to your goal”. His second bit of advice was: "You can only freewheel downhill". By that he meant that people who want to achieve something have to be prepared to put a lot of effort into it.
Fortunately, I have many bumper stickers based on my fundamental, all-embracing belief that equality is the true nature of relationships. That belief gives my life meaning and inspired my latest book, Travelling the Road of Peace and Happiness. It challenges me to walk in the spirit of equality and practice nonviolence to counter the effects of the inequality that prevails in our society. Every day is a learning experience for me and if I were to design a bumper sticker it would be something like, ‘Dissolve violence by aiming for equality’.
Photo: Malaysian jungle.