“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile."…
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
Purpose in life is what it’s all about—even, especially, when it is hard. Purpose makes the hardest, longest days, the most unimaginable pain, not just bearable, but noble.
And a sense of purpose also makes the most trivial, mundane things we do, not only tolerable, but meaningful.
As Saint Therese, who is known as The Little Flower, taught, what is important to do is simply the ordinary things of life, but to do them with extraordinary love.
“You know well enough that Our Lord does not look so much at the greatness of our actions, nor even at their difficulty, but at the love at which we do them.” St. Therese
Whether your purpose is to write the Great American Novel or to rescue orphans in Haiti or simply to raise children who recycle and don’t burp at the dinner table, a sense of purpose helps us get through the tough stuff that might bury us otherwise.
While we may dream of lying on the beach, drinking Pina Coladas, snoozing and reading People Magazine, I doubt if that kind of life would make us deliriously happy for long.
What really makes our hearts sing, makes us happy to wake up in the morning is believing that what we do matters—that we have Purpose!
Which brings me to Dog.
Dog has a nice life by anyone’s standards. Plenty to eat, warm beds (I think he has about four or five in different rooms of the house), lots of love, and free health care! Now that he is over his puppy stage, he is most content to lie on the ottoman in my office...
keeping me company while I read or write or try to read the Sunday NY Times...
In our old house, Dog could lounge to his heart’s content. He had a huge yard to wander around in, and wander he did, but he never stayed out much longer than to “do his business.” In spite of the great big, lovely playground with an abundance of plants and smells, he was never that into it. Like us lying on that beautiful, lazy beach—always available and easy, comfortable and warm, but not very challenging.
Then everything changed. We moved. Our new yard is way smaller. The back yard is maybe ¼ the size of our old yard and half of that is taken up by a pool. But there is so much more excitement—and Purpose.
The difference? Squirrels!
Our new yard is like the Official Reserve for the Preservation of Squirrels. All manner of squirrels! Gray squirrels, brown squirrels and a funny-looking black squirrel that appears to be a cross between a proper squirrel and a rat. It’s squirrel Nirvana—as if we were dropped into some alternate Universe where the squirrels ruled and the humans were just there to observe and tend to the acorn-producing trees.
Dog has decided that his magnificent purpose, his main goal in life is to protect his family from squirrels. This is no small task, with the multiple doors and windows in our house, lending themselves to frequent, random, spontaneous squirrel sightings.
Like Columbo on a stake-out, Dog will be lying on his bed, pretending to sleep. But he’s not as clueless as he looks. Dog always has at least a half an eye open.
No mater how exhausted or comfortable he is (and one day he was diving into a big bowl of cheese-embellished dogfood!) if he sees a squirrel, everything else falls away.
He bursts out the door with a bestial cry and a gallop, chases the offending rodent up to a tree or fence and then secures the perimeter, walking all around the pool and fence lines until he is absolutely sure that the coast is clear.
Dog never actually catches a squirrel. Never even comes close. I don’t know that he expects to. As Steve Jobs says, “The journey is the reward.” The sense of purpose is enough.
Pursuit of squirrel is a mighty journey for Dog.
May we all know the joy of purpose. And have the courage to pursue the elusive beast with reckless abandon.
And know that in the big scheme of things, the pursuit of squirrel is much more important than the catching of it.