The Experience and Purpose of Being Alive - Bruce Turkel

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Think of a time when you felt 100% alive and undistracted – a time when you were really in the zone. Chances are that it was when you were completely focused in the moment on something external; someone on or something else than yourself. Playing sports or music, getting lost in a great book or movie, or necking with your partner are a few great examples.

Lacking an external focus, the mind turns inward on itself and creates problems, even if the problems are undefined or unimportant. But when you find a focus, an ambitious goal that seems impossible and forces you to grow, these doubts disappear.

Ferry Porsche said, “The search for a purpose in our lives is universal and will never change.”

Victor Frankl wrote that, “What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task.” 

Mark Twain said you should, “experience being alive.” 

Doctors say that one of the keys to fortifying your life is to become a lifelong learner. Study a new language, take up knitting, start playing a musical instrument, plant a garden, paint a portrait. What the studies show is that what you do is less important than trying to do something new and unfamiliar. 

Try a new sport, write your memoir, volunteer at a hospital or a polling place, focus on doing most anything that requires you to step outside of yourself and challenge your own moribund status quo.

Looking for purpose? Ironically, the key to finding purpose is to do things with purpose. Don’t worry as much about what those things are doing for you – rather, concentrate on what your activities are doing for others or for your own understanding of the world around you.

Visit an older neighbor. Adopt a stray dog or cat. Write a letter to the editor. Visit a new city. Try a new cuisine. 

In 1900, the average American life expectancy was 46 years. Today the average American life span is 79. Clearly we’re living longer — almost twice as long. But have we only added years to our life, or have we also added life to our years?

In her book Elderhood, Dr. Louise Aronson points out that “owing to improvements in public health, nutrition and medical advances, the percentage of people older than 70 in the United States in 2018 was 15% and climbing… If you make it to eighty, you have a good chance of making it to ninety or beyond.”

As Dr. Aronson writes: “There is no set age when we transition from adult to elder, and both the speed and extent of aging vary widely. As geriatricians are fond of saying: ‘When you’ve seen one eighty-year-old, you’ve seen one eighty-year-old.’”

The way you choose to define your life’s purpose is completely up to you, no matter how old you are. Your lack of satisfaction, desire for change or even what’s commonly referred to as your ‘midlife crises’ can happen anytime. After all, we can’t know when ‘midlife’ is until we know when end of life will take place, can we? 

What we can know—what we DO know—is that there’s no good reason for continuing in a situation that makes us unhappy, regardless of how long that time is going to be. Even more reassuring, you can argue that living better can also help you live longer. 

Life exists to be enjoyed. The most important way to do that is to feel good about yourself. Love. Be loved. Never stop learning. Continual learning and service to things outside yourself are the keys. Because when you eliminate the extraneous and the unimportant and focus on what matters, the experience and purpose of being alive is to experience being alive.

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