In this post: You will learn the way of life that would bring you the maximum amount of meaning and purpose imaginable. But I don’t want to give you false hopes, you won’t be be able to achieve it. Although, ironically, this way of life was the default for the vast majority of human existence.
First let us distinguish between two separate questions.
1.What is the purpose of life; why is there anything living at all?
2. How do you find purpose and meaning in your life?
The first question was answered around 150 years ago when a man named Charles Darwin developed the Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection. For a mindblowing and lucid account of the purpose of life, especially the purpose of human life check out the chapter “Why are people?” in Richard Dawkins seminal book “The Selfish Gene”.
Since the tag team of Darwin and Dawkins has already handled that question so magically I want to move on to what is a more personal if not more important question.
How do you find purpose and meaning in your life?
When people ask how do they find purpose and meaning in life, they are asking something akin to – what should I do with my life? What could I being doing that would make me excited to get up in the morning? What career path would give me satisfaction at a deep psychological level?
Here is your answer. It will also be the answer to almost every health and happiness question that will come up in your life.
You are designed to do what is needed to survive and replicate your genes. Your body has a built in reward system that gives you the feelings of purpose, meaning, health, and happiness by accomplishing the tasks that increase your ability to survive and replicate.
The problem with finding meaning and purpose in life in modern society is two-fold. 1)We have too many choices about what to do for work that we are caught up in a paradox of choice. 2)The activities that we engage in are hardly recognized by our body as contributing to our survival and replicating value (SRV).
Our hunter-gatherer ancestors had no decision to make about what they were going to do for their ‘careers’. They didn’t have to decide whether they wanted to be insurance salesmen, writers, lawyers, accountants, or strippers. While we often think having a number of options to choose from is a good thing, psychologists have recently shown that when faced with too many choices, people actually get stressed out. See psychologist Barry Schwartz ‘s excellent book The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less for an in depth analysis of the topic.
Gonga, a living member of the Hadzabe tribe Africa had this to say about who he was. “Only when I am sleeping, I am not a hunter. I am a hunter all the time I am awake. That is what I am and who I am. I kill animals for meat.”
Hunting (or gathering for women) is the original career choice of human life. There is a direct connection between the necessity to hunt and the end goal of eating food. With any other job in modern society the degrees of separation take away from it’s meaning. This is problem number 2. The reward system to motivate us towards actions that are beneficial for our SRV evolved during our days in the African Savannah, not for our complex modern world where the work you do today is far removed from what your body knows to be beneficial for your SRV.
Imagine you are a bank teller. You help people withdraw and deposit money from their accounts. You sit behind a counter, press buttons on a computer. You don’t particularly enjoy this job, you do this so that you can get paid, so that you can have money to buy food at a market that you can go home and eat. Although by being a bank teller you are increasing your SRV you body hardly recognizes it as such.
Being a bank teller in order to earn funds to go to the store to buy food with is not as visceral a purpose as hunting. I am hungry, I must find an animal, engage in a life or death battle with it. Kill it, then eat it. I’ll bring it home to the tribe, where the women will be grateful for the danger I have put myself in to bring them this delicious source of protein, and they will sleep with me for it.
We are all searching for a job, a purpose that replicates hunting and gathering. We just aren’t aware of it. People often say things like “I want to do something meaningful.” Jobs that are often described as meaningful are jobs that help other people, being a nurse or a teacher, running a non-profit organization.
What could be more meaningful than feeding your hungry tribe? Your family and friends who you have known your entire life? To put food in your hungry belly and theirs? There cannot be a job more meaningful than hunting or gathering.
Imagine a conversation on finding purpose and meaning in life between you and Gonga.
You: “I want to do something exciting,”
Gonga: “What could be more exciting than fighting a wild animal in a game of life or death?”
You: “I want to do something that is intellectually challenging.”
Gonga: “Have you ever learned how to track game? Can you tell where that antelope will be by footprint he left in the dirt?”
You: “I can’t handle the monotony of my job!”
Gonga: “Today we hike into the forests for wild boar, in a few days we will fish by the river, than we will set traps to catch these birds.”
You: “I don’t like my co-workers or my boss.”
Gonga: “I hunt with my friends and cousins. My wife gathers food with her sisters and friends. They will laugh and gossip. “
You: “I spend most of my day sitting in front of a computer screen. Ruining my eyes and getting fat.”
Gonga: “I hike everyday in beautiful nature. I often stare out in the distant horizon, I am lean and muscular.”
You: “Work is stressful. I want to do something different, but I can’t risk losing my paycheck.”
Gonga: “I love to hunt. I don’t even have a word in my vocabulary that corresponds to work.”
….. So now you have your answer. You want your life to be infused with meaning and purpose? Become a hunter-gatherer in a remote tribe in the African bush.
Easier said than done of course.