Rarely do people think about the reason for their existence and the meaning of their lives. As a result, many do not reach their utmost potential. This article discusses the different reasons for our existence, and how our perception of our lives changes the way we live our lives and affects the world in which we live in.
I’ve come to the habit of asking people I’ve recently met, especially those who seem to have limited their potential intentionally, “Why are we living on this planet?” At first, they seem puzzled by my question, not understanding the reason of the random words I just blurted out. As my wide-eyed stare persists, most give me the usual quick and logical answer. If they are Muslims, they would tell me that we exist to pray and worship. Others would say, to enjoy life and the rare few would tell me, “I don’t know”. As peculiar as this question might be, it is quite telling about the character of the person in front of me. Although I do tend to prejudge people based on their answers, I still mull over this question and think, “Is my answer correct?” My search for the different perspectives on this matter has led me to see that there is no single correct answer.
Albert Einstein, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, correlates the meaning of life with religion. Einstein asks, “What is the meaning of human life, or of organic life all together?” In response, he states that, “to answer this question at all implies a religion.” The premise of his argument suggests that in order to understand why we were created and, hence, why we exist, we need to acknowledge that there is a creator. From a religious point of view, especially in the monotheistic religions, we were created in order to strengthen a relationship with God by means of worship. For over centuries, civilizations have sought out gods and creators in order to understand where they came from and why they exist. By finding their own religions, their actions and behaviors were altered to abide by the beliefs and the sense of purpose they were given by their respective faiths. Hence, those who believe or are religious, exist in order to devote themselves to God and abide by their religions. Similarly, most religions, especially the monotheistic religions, encourage its disciples to do good and add positive value during their time on this planet.
The concept of adding value is crucial for the continuity and prosperity of life in general. Each human being is part of a global community, where each consumes depleting resources, whether tangible or intangible. It is only fair for each person who consumes to create value by means of producing products, services, ideas and innovations that are beneficial to at least one party in their societies. If no plant, animal, or human produces value, then life will seize to exist, because they are all interdependent. Value comes from talent, passion, persistence, and creativity. In lacking a sense of purpose with this regard, development and advancement will be hindered, and backwardness will lead to chaos. Hence, the creation of value is a two-way process, where one takes and gives back to the community. Value could take the form of money, power, entertainment, time, knowledge, emotions and, perhaps, self-satisfaction from giving.
Self-satisfaction results in and is a result of selfless acts, whereby the good Samaritans do not expect anything in return for their deeds. A good example of this is philanthropy, which consists of one or more persons “who seek to promote the welfare of others”. Steps towards philanthropy are many times hindered by the magnitude of the cause that seems impossible to eliminate. For example, how can one individual or one organization solve the problem of human trafficking on a worldwide or even national scale? Sunitha Krishnan, an Indian activist in the area of human trafficking and the founder of Prajwala, a nongovernmental organization, believed the contrary. She acknowledged that victims of human trafficking are being neglected and blamed for their pasts. As a result, they are not being given an opportunity to reintegrate into their respective societies. Her efforts do not eliminate human trafficking nor reduce it, but they have addressed a crucial part of the problem that has been ignored and is plausible to solve. Due to her efforts, hundreds of women in India continue to live normal lives and many others, like myself, are inspired by her abilities. Hence, the impact of philanthropy resembles a ripple effect that is difficult to contain and limit.
The question of existence is not merely a philosophical concept, nor is it only related to religious beliefs. It is an important factor that determines how we perceive the meaning of our lives and what we do during our limited time on this planet. Some find purpose in faith, others in climbing the ladder of success in their respective jobs, while others find it in philanthropy. But to those who do not have a purpose, answer this question: why are you alive? And to those who do have a defined purpose, answer this: are you reaching your utmost potential to live a happy and useful life? Mark Twain once said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” Once we understand why we exist, this will change our behaviors; we will become happier and more satisfied. The beauty of life is not to spend money and live in tranquility, but it is the reward after the struggle. We should exist because we want to, not because we must.