What is our purpose in life?

Carl - St Paul, Minnesota
Entered on March 1, 2009
Age Group: 65+


“What is our purpose in life?” What can we do to bring happiness to ourselves and to others? After having the privilege to spend more than four decades as a member of the veterinary profession, this is what I believe.

“What is our purpose in life?”— Albert Einstein wrote the following admonition concerning the purpose of life: “Strive not to be a man (or woman) of success, strive to be a man of value.” What does being a person of value encompass? How does it differ from being a person of success? How can we put this principle in to practice?

I interpret Einstein’s admonition to mean that to achieve success, the value of what we unselfishly do to benefit others is of greater overall benefit than the value of what we do for ourselves. Therefore our accomplishments should be measured in context of what they do for others, and not just in light of what they do for us in the way of income or prestige.

The definition of a profession encompasses the concept of an occupation guided by an ethical code that has a service rather than a profit motive. In this context, I believe it reasonable to expect that the conduct of members of a profession motivated to serve others should be primarily based on giving rather than getting? Whereas companies like Toyota and Micosoft are primarily motivated by making a monetary profit, I believe that the health professions should be primarily motivated by a desire to direct their talents and resources toward the care of living beings—animal and human. Thus, we must use caution to avoid the tendency to selfishly exploit circumstances so as to unduly profit from the illnesses of others. We should strive to be compassionate by having empathy for their distress and misfortunes combined with a heartfelt desire to help them.

If ethical conduct directs the health professions primarily toward a service rather than a profit orientation, should the amount of our net incomes be the primary measure of our success? If we adhere to Einstein’s admonition to strive to be persons of value, I believe that the norm of success should be viewed in context of the overall impact of our services on the health and welfare of patients under our care rather than “ the bottom line”.

Returning to the question, “What is our purpose in life?, I believe that whatever our circumstance, our life’s mission should be to serve rather than be served. Therefore, we must uphold the traditional value of caring and sharing by avoiding the contemporary code of making and taking with indifference to the needs of others. We should use our God given energy, talents, and resources to provide for the needs and welfare of other beings.

“What can we do to bring true happiness to ourselves and others?” Being guided by the enduring principle that there is greater happiness in giving than receiving, I believe that the greatest reward for doing is the opportunity to do more. In this context, happiness is a by-product of doing things for others, and not an end in itself.

In reflecting on the activities and accomplishments of my family colleagues, and friends, it is my firm belief that what we do for ourselves dies with us. In contrast, what we do for others lives on. Therefore, until the day arrives when our lamp of service is extinguished, let us devote our talents and energies toward the welfare of others.