One of our great psychological needs is meaning in life. Consequently, we often ask ourselves “what am I doing here?” or “why am I here?” However, that’s not a very good question because it leads to philosophical answers that don’t really provide concrete information upon which to act. A better question is “How did I get here?” Now, that question is extremely interesting because if you follow it, you get into biology, anthropology, chemistry, astronomy and physics, to name only a few. It’s not at all an easy question to answer and yet worthy of investigation. A similar question is “Where did I come from?” which to answer also draws upon many fields of knowledge. “Where am I going?” is a complete mystery so there is no use in even asking that question.
The best question, however, is “How shall I act?” The fact is you are here. You may or may not like it here. That really doesn’t matter. The only real question of any merit is “now that I am here, how shall I act?” To answer this question you do not require any knowledge of biology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, etc., etc. You don’t even need to get philosophical. It only requires some degree of self knowledge. The question “how shall I act?” is much more profound and much more readily answerable than is the question “Who am I?” That question, like the “Why am I here?” question only gives rise to speculations and philosophical bantering.
Of course, one may have a lengthy list of how to act; religions are replete with doctrines and codes of behavior. Our society has many rules of conduct. Yet, how many people actually behave in those ways!? How many people “walk the talk?” It’s better to decide to act like a slob and then actually act like a slob than it is to decide to be kind and then be cruel. That aside, the question still remains -one which every single person faces consciously or otherwise: “how shall I act?” To compound the situation, the answer may be very different in different sets of circumstances. Even if we do not consciously ask that question of ourselves, we have made decisions based on that question innumerable times and the behaviors we have enacted have made our life what it is today. If you are unhappy in your life, find your life without meaning or purpose, you can act differently and that itself can change perceptions about yourself and your place in this world.
And for those parents, teachers, coaches and managers who when confronted with a “stupid” behavior in another, ask “why did you do that” – stop asking that question! All you get is rationalizations. Ask instead “How did you decide to act that way” and you’ll get some very interesting responses. And, don’t settle for “I don’t know.” Ask them to take a wild guess. Whatever answer you get is arising out of their mind and is a valid answer.
Despite this information, there still may be a tendency to ask “what am I doing here!?” So, to satisfy that want, here is an answer. A reasonable answer to that question, one which will remain valid all throughout your life is, simply, “learning.” You are here to learn. There is no end to it; everyone does it to some degree or another. It can take place at any location, at any time and under any circumstances. It can take place alone or with others. It can be joyful or painful. It can be at play or at work. It can be serious or fun. You can even say that survival depends upon it; economic survival, political survival, social survival, racial survival….Without learning there is no growth, no progress, no maturing and unless that is taking place, there is stagnation, decay and death.
You’re here to learn; to grow, to progress, to mature. Survival depends upon it. So, the really, really important question is “how do I learn?”