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The question each of us needs to ask if we want a happy life


Chris Lowney - published on 08/18/21

You may not know the answer right away, but it's key to making decisions and finding meaning.

Why are you here?

I’m not asking: “Why are you reading this article right now?” Rather, I’m asking the really big question: “Why are you here on earth?” Or, to use fancier language: “What’s your mission?”

Don’t worry: I wouldn’t have a clear answer either. I would gulp at that daunting question, but then roll my eyes cynically. See, every big company has some fancy mission statement, but most of them don’t “walk the talk.” They may gush about treating people with respect, but their employees may feel more used than respected. 

But even if you’re jaded about corporate mission statements, please withhold your cynicism long enough for me (and Aristotle and Pope Francis) to make a case for a personal sense of mission. 

Aristotle put it simply: “If, like archers, we have a target to aim at, we are more likely to hit the right mark.” Consider a silly example: Imagine herding your family into the car for a vacation and pulling out of the driveway … without having decided where you want to go for the vacation. Absurd, right? No target = Unlikely to succeed.

If Aristotle’s advice seems so obvious for mundane matters (deciding where to head on vacation), why do we ignore it regarding more profound matters (deciding where to head in life)?  If we can articulate a mission and periodically take stock of how we are measuring up to it, then we’ll stand a much greater chance of “hitting the target,” that is, living a life we can be proud of.    

That said, it’s understandable that most of us never manage to articulate a mission: It’s just too intimidating and confusing to consider. For one thing, we wear different hats in life; we may be married, with kids, be religious believers and community members, and be pursuing a professional career. We know our mission can’t be reduced to any one of those roles, but how could we possibly find a mission that encompasses all of those roles? 

What’s more, I may have one job now but a different one in three years. I may be single now, a parent a few years later, and an empty-nest retiree a few years further on. Is my life mission supposed to keep changing every time my circumstances do? 

Fortunately, Pope Francis did us the favor of offering a clear, straightforward solution to the challenge of considering one’s mission. In Rejoice and Be Glad, he said this: “Just as you cannot understand Christ apart from the kingdom he came to bring, so too your personal mission is inseparable from the building of that kingdom … Your identification with Christ and his will involves a commitment to build with him that kingdom of love, justice and universal peace.” [25]

The phrase “kingdom of God” comes up a lot in the gospels, but its meaning has been vague for most of us. We know it doesn’t mean a literal kingdom, with Jesus sitting on a throne, say, in the United Nations headquarters. 

But what exactly does God’s kingdom entail? Francis both translates the phrase into concrete language and also articulates our accompanying role. Our mission on earth is to help build a society, a kingdom, that becomes ever more characterized by “love, justice, and universal peace.” 

Now, that’s a mission durable enough to last a lifetime and flexible enough to fit all the roles we play. We can show fairness and act justly, for example, in family life, in the office, in our communities, or even when doing errands. We can show charity and love to others whether we are young or elderly. Indeed, every daily encounter is an opportunity to live the mission. 

Or not live the mission. Remember the earlier lament about companies that don’t “walk the talk”? That can happen to us also. If the first crucial step is to articulate a life mission, the second step is to live that mission, and to take stock daily of how well we’re doing.  

That stock-taking can be as simple as a few moments each evening to review the day and recall one’s encounters, considering, for example, whether we spread peace and love through our actions (or failed to do so). By practicing that habit over time and making course corrections as we go, we’ll become better and better at hitting our lifelong target, to use Aristotle’s phrase.

Why are you here? Don’t let the question intimidate you. From now on, you can simply say: I’m here to strive alongside Jesus toward a world that is loving, just, and peaceful. That’s why I’m here. And I’m going to do that every day, in my family, in my community, and in my workplace.

Chris Lowney is author of Heroic Leadership. Follow him on TwitterFacebook, or his website. Follow him on TwitterLinkedIn, or Facebook.

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