What is it that motivates us to live our lives?
Obviously not everyone has the same motivation - or do they?
Some people are determined to become wealthy. Others are driven to learn the secrets of the Universe. Still other travel the world looking for whatever thrills that they can find. The majority of humans, however, are merely driven to survive the trials and tribulations of everyday life.
If we take another step back and ask ourselves once again, what motivates these people to continue their unending drive to do what they do every day, we may be surprised by the answer.
By the very nature of being human we have urges, emotions and desires that push us and our species to survive. Hunger pushes us to find food and eat it. The memory of hunger reminds us to store food for the future. Desire of the opposite sex urges us to procreate. Desire of friends and companionship makes a society stronger in order to defend itself against outside forces. The desire for comfort and warmth urges us to build shelters and protect ourselves from diseases and the weather. All of these urges come to all of us and we respond to them in different ways.
For the most part we are mainly concerned with survival. Most of the time most of us throughout human history have been so concerned with simple survival that we haven’t really taken the time to ask the question - Why do we need to survive?
In some societies throughout human history life has become easier for at least one group of people. When life became easier in Greek society, the wealthy citizens of Athens used the surplus “free time” to ask this and many other interesting questions. The citizens of Sparta on the other hand used their free time to train soldiers to protect their way of life. These two major cities of ancient times are symbols for the two different ways to look at life. Sparta didn’t question the motivation of human survival; instead survival was assumed to be an imperative and military protection was the best-known way to achieve this imperative.
The philosophers of Athens asked this question over and over again. They asked the question in different ways. Somehow there is a feeling deep inside all of us telling us that we should survive, but we almost never know a true valid reason why that should be. After all, the meaning of life can not be answered unless we know why we were created. We can’t answer the question of why we were created unless there is a creator and the creator is willing to tell us why we were created. The puzzle goes on and on, and it is difficult to find an honest indisputable answer that everyone will agree on.
This, of course, is the place where religion and science part ways. Religion asks us to make some assumptions that there is a God and that God created us. Science instead asks us to be skeptical and continue to ask questions that most likely can never be answered. As human beings the majority of us don’t put all of our eggs in one basket. This means that the majority of us don’t believe in religion to the exclusion of science, and we don’t believe in science to the exclusion of religion. So, most of us are comfortable with the idea that science can not answer questions regarding the purpose or meaning of our lives as individuals or as a society. Some people disregard those types of questions all together, others are happy to accept religious explanations. Either way, we all still have a feeling that what we do with our lives should serve some purpose, even if we don’t really know what that purpose really is. This is because there still is some desire within ourselves pushing us to survive and even thrive. We just don’t really know why.
Now, imagine yourself in the ideal situation. You have been born into a wealthy family and you most certainly will have everything provided for you for your entire life. You were “blessed" with parents that don’t ask anything from you and you are free to do whatever you like without limits. You don’t really need to study or work. You don’t need to think or read or question. You have three meals a day, a warm bed and much much more. So, what is the purpose of your life?
It actually turns out that a person does not need to be infinitely wealthy to experience this awesome freedom. In our American society today there are many people living in these exact conditions. These are not necessarily the wealthy, but the children of regular middle class people. Many of these children grow up with everything that they can imagine, food, a warm bed and a place to call their own. They are not asked to do very much and complain if they ever are. They get almost everything that they want and they sit around bored without anything to do. They watch TV and play video games for hours. Do these kids feel, know or understand the purpose of their lives? But, like all of us they still feel that deep down drive that they have some desire to fill. They just don’t know what it is. This desire is sometimes described as an emptiness, a hole or a void. And, as humans we all search to fill that void with the things that we desire in the hope of filling that void.
From human instinct alone we know that we desire things that we are missing. We desire food when we are hungry. We desire water when we are thirsty. And, sometimes we desire these same things to fill that void of missing purpose in our lives. But, sometimes we can be fooled into believing that other things can fill that void. For example, drugs and alcohol may help us forget that desire which reappears when the effects of the drugs wear off. Others sometimes seek love to fill that void. And, in lieu of love they find sex and lust instead. The problem is not that these things are evil, but rather the problem is that people don’t know what their purpose is and how to fulfill it.
Here is where religion offers a solution. Any religion will tell you that your purpose is to serve God, Whomever they deem to be that God. And, then the religion will prescribe how their particular God is to be served. The problem is so widespread and universal that is part of every religion. And the need to fill this void is so great that people will do almost anything in an attempt to fill this void. Cult religions thrive on this fact. But the major religions use this human desire to fulfill the agenda of the religion in question. The question of whether God is truly being served is normally assumed by the majority of those who seek to fill this emptiness. “Love of God” or “Fear of God” are the profound forces used to keep those from questioning in many cases. Whether the religious purpose is the true purpose is not the point, because when a person feels that they are fulfilling a purpose the void becomes occupied and the need to fill it becomes less. Some will argue that only fulfilling your true purpose will fill the void completely, but since no one can truly know what that true purpose is this can only be left as conjecture. Some will argue that only a particular religion can fill the void, but the truth is that there are many very religious people still seeking to fill this void. The only way to truly fill this void is to become confident that you are truly fulfilling your purpose in the best way that you can.
You can acquire this confidence with or without the aid of religion. This confidence takes many forms. To some, it is called faith. This is the faith that you are doing what you need to be doing. But, it is also known a drive and desire. Athletes and entrepreneurs have drive and desire to do what they do best by following their instincts. Scientists can remain skeptical, but they fill this void by continuously pursuing the questions that they ask. And, those that work to feed to poor and hungry know in their hearts regardless of religion that they are certainly making the world a better place for the few that they can help. And their work truly fills that void.
The void is a search for purpose. And, as long as we live in an imperfect world there will always be a need. Finding and fulfilling these needs is the universal purpose that we all seek in the long run. We need to prepare ourselves so that when we find our purpose we take that opportunity and make the most of it. And don’t worry if you miss an opportunity because another one will soon be on its way.
Michael Forbush was born in Cleveland, Ohio and grew up in Mentor, Ohio. He received his Ph.D. in High Energy Physics from Texas A&M University and is currently a physicist working in the Biotech Industry in Silicon Valley designing novel ways to transfer very small quantities of liquids for chemistry applications.
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