You’re Adding PURPOSE on Purpose?
The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you realize your purpose. Mark Twain
Some of you noticed that I have added Purpose as an additional need to the five Glasser identified. It is true, and I not only added it, I put it at the top of the list. I did not do this flippantly. Instead, my suggesting this new addition represents a very personal process involving a great deal of reflection.
The thing that started this personal process was my wondering where my spirituality fit into the Basic Needs. And by spirituality I mean something much deeper than religion or church orientation. My spirituality has to do with Who I really am and What are my deepest beliefs and What is the meaning of life (it’s beginning and it’s end) and ultimately, What is my purpose in the grand scheme of things?
I tried to talk Glasser into endorsing this additional need, but he wouldn’t buy it. (When I first talked with him about it I referred to it as an Existential need, thinking he would be more comfortable with a “secular” wording.) I think he didn’t endorse the Purpose need for two reasons. The first reason had to do with not wanting to mess with the five needs he had emphasized for so long. Even though he had suggested the probability of their being more than five needs in his earlier writing (Control Theory, p. 16), he had settled into a firmness with his five. The second reason, I think, had to do with his seeing religion and spirituality as the same thing. He saw religious participation as a Quality World value or activity, and as such it didn’t qualify as a Basic Need. On top of this, in general, he didn’t view religion as a positive force throughout earth’s history. Without his endorsement I put my thoughts on this on a back burner and worked on other things. Even on a back burner, though, for me, the Purpose need wouldn’t go away.
I am convinced we are driven to understand our personal purpose and to make meaning of our lives, and that meeting this need is essential for the other needs to be fully met.
For a need to qualify as a Basic Need it would have to be needed, at least to a small degree, by all human beings. I believe the Purpose need meets this criteria as every human being has a deep need for personal meaning and the idea of coming into a sense of self. The self-help quest (books, seminars, videos, etc.) is an industry bringing in 2.5 billion dollars a year, so there are a lot of us seeking this thing called meaning.
I see college students that struggle because their life purpose is not clear to themselves. Their other needs are being met – they have friends and social connections, they are free to come and go, and they have some fun in their lives – but not having their identity and purpose clarified hampers their success. In fact, a lack of purpose can derail a college student’s academic success.
I am suggesting that the need for Purpose and Meaning is a universal need that people seek to meet in all kinds of ways. For many their involvement in a religion contributes to filling this need; others who are spiritual, although not into a religion, find meaning in their journeys as well. And even non-spiritual, non-religious people have their own ways of finding purpose and meaning. For instance, it is interesting how movies that depict superheroes, science fiction stories based on “a long, long time ago, in a faraway galaxy” themes, and end-of-the-world scenarios are so popular. It is like we have an innate curiosity about where we fit into the past, present, and future. It is like we have a consciousness void inside of us that can only be filled as our need for Purpose and Meaning are satisfied.
We are always monitoring the extent to which our Basic Needs are being met, something I do quite a bit when it comes to my own need for Purpose and Meaning. Maybe some of you can relate to that.
Every person has a purpose. Never give up. Manual DeVie
For those of you just getting started with following The Better Plan blog, a great way to catch up is to go the link toward the upper left hand corner labeled 2013 – Year At A Glance. Each of last year’s posts are in chronological order and just a click away from accessing.
AWESOME! I have, in my own teaching added an additional Basic Need – Worship. After reading this I see that I was just scratching the surface. I shall be revising my presentations and change Worship with Purpose. Love it.
Awesome right back at ya. My few comments today only scratched the surface as well. Our purpose, the meaning we take from life and give back to life, and our identity are hugely big deals in our quest for mental health and happiness.
AWESOME! For a long time now I have used an additional Basic Need – Worship. But I after reading this I see that I was just scratching the surface. I love purpose, it includes what I was trying to convey but goes so much further. Thank you. I shall be revising my presentations 🙂
So true Jim.
I’ve noticed some people in their “retirement years” going through a similar crises to the college students you have observed. After looking forward for so long to the time when “I can do what I want to do” they get to that point and life doesn’t have the same meaning it once did. Just like the kid’s who are trying to find meaning in life – they had it and let it go, with the same result. If they don’t find another purpose rather quickly their life shrinks, they age faster and die sooner.
Seems like without a purpose in life which involves serving the needs of others we might be able to meet our own needs for survival, freedom, and power – but totally miss out on the really big ones of joy, love & belonging.
I agree with you that the retirement years bring their own unique wrinkles to topics of purpose and identity. I’m glad you reminded me of that. Personally, I believe that mankind was created with this need for purpose and that it has everything to do with our relationship and connection to this Creator. Whether we seek to meet the need through involvement with Him is our choice. In any case, the purpose need doesn’t go away. With the Creator or without, we are urged to meet the need for purpose and meaning. I think our identity is more learned and influenced by our environment. Our identity formation has a lot to do with our search to fulfill our purpose need, but whether our identity leads to our purpose fulfillment depends on whether or not the two are aligned. If our identities are learned then they can change or be modified over time. For instance, I was raised in a home where competition and sports were a pretty big deal, and my early identity was based on those things. As I grew into adulthood, though, I came to see that this identity was pretty shaky and insecure and I sought to discover the real me under the layers of competition I had formed as a kid.
When it comes to identity and purpose I can see where the retirement years would be almost as complicated as the adolescent years. Our need for purpose and meaning rests in the core of our being, where deep calls unto deep, where the Spirit touches our spirit. Our identity, I think, is a more shallow affair, the public manifestation of who we think we need to be and what we want to portray. If a person’s identity has been based on success in the business world, retirement can be a very painful thing. When our purpose, though, comes from something deeper, like from connection with our Creator, and from connection with others, and from service to others, then when retirement comes our identity can shift a bit to stay in alignment with our purpose.
Some people seek this alignment between identity and purpose their entire lives. At some level, in some way, they know something isn’t right and they embark on a search for truth, a search for themselves really. It is a noble task, really. I admit that I have been on that journey for some time. It would just really help if parents and teachers would help children and students come into awareness of their own identity, rather than forcing them into a “role” (identity) of our choosing.
I had never quite seen the connection between purpose and identity the way you described it Jim, but it helps answer some questions about my own life. You are so right that a person can shift identities and be content as long as they are still living in harmony with their deeply held sense of purpose. As you say, if we develop or accept a certain identity without having been guided into an understanding of our purpose, and that identity is changed by our choices, which are either in response to new circumstances or create new circumstances for us to live in, we struggle to “find ourselves”. Retirement is only one example – it can happen at many points in life.
I have admired (and studied) people who seem to have a calm, deep sense of integrity about their lives. They live by something much deeper than following a code of conduct. There is a total integration of the person on the inside with the behavior on the outside. These people seem to have found “alignment between identity and purpose” using your words if you think they fit here. Making choices seems easier for them too, because they seem to have this strong internal guidance system in place at all times.
I agree with your statement regarding parents and teachers. Do you think that finding our own identity requires a certain amount of experimentation? It might be why allowing choice is so difficult to accept. How would we teach in a manner that provides tools for each person to find their purpose in life? Would a person that knows how to find and stay in touch with their purpose in life also better understand how to positively pursue their Quality World?
I think you improved on how I was trying say it.
Yes, I do think that experimentation is a part of finding your identity. It is reasonable for parents and teachers to seek to keep kids from destructive choices, but as they get older we can only rely on the level of relationship we have with them. There is a lot of good kinds of experimenting and hopefully that will be where most or all of the time is spent.
I think maybe a case can be made that our Quality World is our identity, but I will have to think about that some more.
Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts!
Jim, Thank you for inviting me to think more thoroughly about this. Given my loyalty to our mentor, I think I believe that the purposefulness of our lives may be intimately related to what Bill may have identified with Love and Belonging and Power. He was frequently challenged by the religious question/affilation by his protegees in ireland for whom the Church was a huge QWP, but he never waivered.. I think he might have said that significance was related to personal power and how that would connect with shared QWPs would be via Love and Affiliation. It’s just a guess. How I wish we could ask him!
Quality world pictures are extremely significant in our lives, so saying that purpose and meaning are better suited there doesn’t bother me. As Bill pointed out, “The power of the [QW] pictures is total.” Whether purpose and meaning is a Basic Need or a Quality World picture, in either case it is very important! I think we agree on that.
I do think that religion or my affiliating with a certain denomination is a Quality World experience, and that my religious involvement is a behavior to help me meet my need for purpose and meaning. Another person, though, say Bill Maher, the comedian and social commentator, abhors religiosity and aggressively embraces atheism, a behavior that presently meets his need for meaning.
There is more at play in our search for happiness than our need for power and success, and our need for love and belonging.
I have thought this one through many times over the years. I see finding purpose as an inherited belief, that many of us have adopted. If this is so, then the belief is a quality world picture and when we meet that quality world picture we will satisfy one or more of those five basic needs. For me, finding my life’s purpose would be very empowering, hence it would satisfy the need for power. I have to agree with Suzy.
Your phrase “inherited belief” caught my eye. I have been trying to imagine what you are saying though this phrase, but I am not sure. It seems significant to me and would love to hear more about what you are trying to say.
On the one hand I resonate with “purpose” being the 5th or top most basic need and setting “survival” in a separate category. To me I have often felt that “survival” was all inclusive for the physical needs and the remaining 4 explained our soul needs. Adding purpose to that list makes a lot of sense to me. In my bereavement work, most people lose a sense of purpose when someone they love dies. That relationship of significance has to one degree or another brought purpose to their lives and now there is a huge adjustment and one’s purpose often seems like a vapor ~ illusive ~ distant ~ indistinct ~ and at times gone. It might have much to do with identity though. After my son’s death, my purpose seemed in question. I had felt part of my purpose for being on this planet was to be a mom to my son. When I couldn’t do that, I struggled with who I was and what my purpose was. Then I discovered my purpose was to help others in their journey through bereavement. And that is a very spiritual process. Grief is one sacred moment followed by another until adjustment and healing is embraced. I don’t know what this perspective might add to your conversation . . . just another application to fill out the missing pieces. On the other hand, when we separate our survival needs from our soul needs, that seems way too Western in our thinking process. By that I mean, anytime we dissect something to look at the parts more closely, we must reconnect them as a whole. Western thinkers are great dissectors while Eastern minds seem to feel completely at ease with existing paradox and seek harmonious wholeness.
Karen, you have hugely added to the level of understanding on this topic. I really appreciate your sharing as you have. Your description of how those who have gone through loss, as you and Steve did, literally have their purpose drained out of them is especially powerful. And your reminder that we need to look at the Basic Needs holistically is an important one!
Jim – hope you don’t mind me responding back to Karen directly – anyway, here goes 🙂 Karen – I am struck by your observation of the differences in Western and Eastern thought, and agree with you wholeheartedly. I believe there was more Eastern thinking in what Jesus taught than Western thinkers were able to see as the religion developed. There is a great deal of personal peace to be found in being “completely at ease with existing paradox.” The freedom has allowed me to see new options in life for the way things “could be” that I would have never seen if i continued to battle against the the thoughts that things are just not the way they are “supposed to be.”
HI Bob. One influential book that has helped me appreciate Eastern thought is entitled, “The Geography of Thought.” I have loaned the book out and don’t remember the author’s name. It is over 10 years old, but I found it fascinating. Yes, you are absolutely correct that Jesus operated out of Eastern thinking much more than most western Biblical scholars will allow or admit. After teaching Asian international students Introduction to Christianity for the past 13 years, they have re-taught me so much about God through their way of thinking. Haven’t I been blessed!
This is one of the things I have wanted The Better Plan to become, an avenue for communication within a community of choice theorists.
Karen’s comments deserve our attention and our response. Your comments do, too, for that matter.
Thank you Karen. I will get the book and read it. I have found great benefit in reading several books by each of these writers from Buddhist thought: the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Perma Chodron.