A few years ago, I quit my decade-long career in search of more meaning. I had a creative sounding job that was the envy of all my friends, made a decent wage, but I was miserable. Finally, my husband gave me an ultimatum: lose the soul-sucking job or lose him. Six months into my mini retirement, I hadn’t backpacked around the world, but I was happy. When former colleagues asked what I’d been doing, I struggled to make my new life - one of cooking, reading, writing, and hiking - sound exciting. And the more I heard ‘...but you’re eventually going to DO STUFF, right?', the less comfortable I became about my decision.
Enter Max Strom. Max is the author of There is No App for Happiness, and A Life Worth Breathing. He’s spoken at TEDx and for Fortune 500 on the ethics of business and leads mindfulness workshops world-wide. When I heard he was doing a talk at Yogaworks on finding our life’s purpose, I was intrigued. Maybe he'd help me figure out what to busy myself with. And after all, dear readers, which one of you doesn't want to know your life purpose? According to Strom, the answer is deceivingly simple.
Max, a smiling Buddha-like figure, sits in front of the packed studio with ease. He begins by making a distinction between pleasure and happiness. Pleasure, which can be found in abundance in our society, is anything that brings us temporary joy or relief, and is often fleeting. Happiness, on the other hand, is a long-term state that can be cultivated as we practice that which gives us purpose or meaning. And a meaningful activity could be anything from taking your niece and nephew to their first concert to working on the latest cancer vaccine to...well, taking the time to write this post.
Now, judging by the age range in the audience - some as old as 70 - it's clear that many of us have lost touch with who or what we find meaningful, that which gives us purpose. He asks us what we find interesting, what we're good at, what other people think we're good at, when we feel we've done something meaningful, and then recalls a quote from Viktor Frankl ‘…live as if you were already living for the second time…’ And if that were the case, what would you do differently?
He asks us to recall and write down when we were most happy and, after a few minutes, to consider if it had to do with time vs. money. Max, a long-time coach and public speaker, can attest to the fact that for most people he's worked with, the answer has to do with time. That is, having the time to do whatever gives us meaning. And, in our world of over-stimulation, of feeling like we have to fill up every second of time with something 'gram-worthy, it's no wonder we're needing a refresher.
Though I leave with a set of questions from Max aimed at helping me zero in on more meaning, I can attest to the fact that I'm happy. And especially psyched to cook a meal for myself that I love. I stop for groceries and the smiley kid working checkout asks me what I’m up to, so I tell him about this post. ‘Really? You’re writing about the purpose of life?’ he asks and I nod at his radiant face. He says, ‘I think the only purpose is to enjoy it. If you don’t do that, you pay the price. If you do, you reap the rewards. And you make other people happy along the way.’ I bend down to put my groceries in the cart and can't help but crack a smile at this little coincidence. I pop my head back up to acknowledge the cheerful little sage, but with that, he'd disappeared.
Photo: Christo Brock
Post written for SFYogaMag.com