Posts Tagged ‘Purpose’


Posted: June 14, 2017 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so

William Shakespeare 

New ways to discuss the uncertainties of life and mysteries of self are irresistibly intriguing.

Often described as “old wine in new bottles,” trends in theoretical frameworks and jargon can be tiresome, but some offer a chance to see things differently.

I have been (and continue to be) a fan of Happiness theory, but have also had wonderful encounters with critics who argue that the pressure to be happy, whether from an internal or external source, can be deeply problematic, even damaging. My friend Matt Schlagbaum’s work Smiling through Gritted Teeth explores the stress and strain of pretending to maintain a cheery demeanor. The brilliant Barbara Ehrenreich’s work Bright-sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America considers the many ways behavior does not align with the ideals purported by happiness experts. I teach an excerpt from Ehrenreich to my unsuspecting students who gamely struggle with the troubling ambiguity. If happiness isn’t the answer, what is?


That feeling of feeling, by Matthew Schlagbaum

Apparently, meaning and purpose have come to transcend happiness, becoming the buzzwords du jour, a trend I suspect will last. In fact, a promotion for the book The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters reads, “In a culture obsessed with happiness, this wise, stirring book points the way toward a richer, more satisfying life.” Thus, we are asked to change course, and set sail to pursue meaning and purpose.


The mutability of meaning seems certain. I am rather fond of the slipperiness. In my teaching, I encourage students to shift their thinking back and forth, from concrete to abstract, underscoring the struggle of knowing anything at all. Can we be satisfied only with the thing as it is? The bird, the book, the bay. Or do we take into account the feelings and associations tied to each word, each concrete thing infused with seemingly infinite possibilities for abstraction and interpretation.

Mazes of meaning ensnare. Semiotics, semantics, and linguistics: oh, my!


Purpose possesses incredible potency. The necessities of utility. The search for meaning is inevitably tied to a perception of our roles or duties. Why are we here? To what end? Why do one thing and not the other? Why do anything at all?

Contemplating the underlying purpose of a thing can create a core understanding, a renewed sense of things.

Lately, I have been lamenting my arm fat, apparently an unpleasant symptom of age. No matter how or what I try, my arms stay flabby. Arm fat is deeply vexing.

However, even if I cannot change my arms, I can change how I think about them.

Inspired to employ a different approach, I determined to consider attributes to love about my arms, rather than focusing on what I hate.

Employing purpose, I paused to consider what my arms do.

I realized, of course, how often my arms help me experience and express love: my arms form warm hugs for greeting family and friends, my arms wrap tightly around the man I love, my arms lift my favorite children high into the air, my arms hold babies in all their soft perfection: my arms create an unending circle of embraces. Suddenly, my arms become infused with an emotional power that decimates any anxiety. My arms are treasures, the source of remarkable strength and limitless joy.

Thus edified, I shall reconsider Monday mornings, daily challenges, demanding relationships.


When things seem hopelessly imperfect, imagine an alternate perfection, accessed through meaning and purpose.