AskDefine | Define purposeful

Dictionary Definition

purposeful adj
1 serving as or indicating the existence of a purpose or goal [ant: purposeless]
2 having meaning through having an aim; "led a happy purposeful life"

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. Having purpose; intentional.
  2. Having a purpose in mind; resolute; determined.



Extensive Definition

Purpose or aim in its most general sense is the anticipated result which guides action. It is roughly similar and used as a synonym of goal, objective and end.

In human life

The purpose in life is strongly linked with the value in life, since the purpose generally is to increase whatever is of intrinsic value.
“There is a fundamental human need for guiding ideals that give meaning to our actions”, states Roger Fisher. Renowned psychiatrist Victor Frankl’s premise is that ‘man’s search for meaning’ is the primary motivation of his life. He speaks of the ‘will to meaning’ as opposed to Freud’s’ ‘will to pleasure’ and Friedrich Nietzsche’s ‘will to power’.
According to some philosophies, purpose is central to a good human life. Helen Keller wrote that happiness comes from "fidelity to a worthy purpose", and Ayn Rand wrote that purpose must be one of the three ruling values of human life (the others are reason and self-esteem - refer Nathaniel Branden ). Some people hold that God assigns purposes to people and that it is their mission to fulfill them. Others hold that purpose is not inherent, but instead freely chosen (or not chosen) by individuals. Among these, some say that natural propensities may determine what sorts of purposes a person needs to pursue, but do not guarantee that he or she will pursue them, that being dependent on free choice.
Pursuing a career, raising a family and creative vocation are all long terms for all cultures. It is related to many philosophies of life and these three main aspects do make life meaningful. It is as one could say, the American Dream. These aspects take a Westernized position. The eudaimonism and objectivism that claim self-sacrificial goals are destructive take more of a Western philosophy and cannot be generalized into the Eastern philosophy. Eastern philosophy such as Buddhism shows that self-sacrificial goals are not destructive because one can bring out their own happiness through self-sacrificial goals especially when it comes to family. In eastern cultures it is more of a collectivism perspective than an individualistic one.
Modern spiritual philosophy sees the purpose in life as improving the environment and world condition for all beings. In the most immediate sense this means each individual finding the special talents which are a gift to serve others. This in turn is found in pursuing a soul level joy, so that the personal and highest individual purpose of life is pursuit of soul level joy. This is the first joy, that which has followed the individual from birth. In most instances it begins with the desire for acceptance and evolves to discovery of each person's genius or gift to serve.
Richard Dawkins and other like-minded scientists would cite man's purpose as ensuring the continuity of one's genetic or memetic make-up. Christians would assert that man's purpose is about doing God's work. One example of this is Rick Warren's teaching on the Purpose Driven Life.

Relationship as a purpose

Theravada Buddhist, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, states in The Art of Happiness that the purpose of life is the pursuit of happiness, which would seem to present a circular argument with the definition of purpose according to other philosophies mentioned above unless purpose and happiness are the same thing. One important distinction to make is that statistically, those people who behave or appear happy tend to be altruistic and less egotistic. It would follow that an appropriate choice of purpose altruistic in nature leads to happiness.
According to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, relationship, acceptance, and sexual intimacy is fundamental to meeting human needs and conducive to building happiness. Or moreover, that the pursuit of these things, though not necessarily directly, are the underlying purpose of one's actions. Concerning intimacy, the Dalai Lama's view is that sexual intimacy is not necessarily conducive to happiness and fulfillment. It only serves to provide temporary gratification and the desire for a committed bond, which is brought-about by the secretion of oxytocin during orgasm. This promotes the desire for intimacy between the two individuals. Daniel Maguire says in his article Sex and the Sacred:
"It used to be said animal humanum post coitum triste, humans after love-making are sad.
'A pity beyond all telling is hid in the heart of love,' said the poet Yeats. That can happen.
Sex awakens hopes for intimacy and the priceless gift of mutual trust."
It would follow that one key purpose of sexual intimacy is to build a lasting bond between two people. According to the Dalai Lama, contemporary Western culture falsely holds that deep intimacy between individuals is not possible outside of romantic or marital attachments. Deep relational intimacy is possible and appropriate between all individuals regardless of status. In light of this, the Dalai Lama's views, and Maslow's hiearchy, all indicate a genetic underlying purpose of life to diligently build and retain intimate bonds with other people.

Life stances and purpose

The purpose in life has different explanations from different life stances. It may differ substantially within the communities of each life stance, but the examples below are the purposes that are generally accepted as the main for each life stance.


Purpose is similar to teleology, the idea that a final goal is implicit in all living organisms. Until the modern age, philosophy followed Aristotle's and Plato's depiction of a teleological cosmos in which all things had a final purpose (namely, to realize their implicit perfection). Perhaps most modern philosophers of science have reversed the idea of purpose inherent in nature; they do not consider an eye explicable as being "in order to see"; instead, cause-and-effect processes are credited with bringing about the eye organ, which allows us to see. The difference is between a cause as pushing from behind (movements of billiard balls) and a cause as pulling from within (movement of a growing plant). With teleology (purpose) matter is fulfilling some aim from within.

Non-philosophers' views

  • Nikos Mourkogiannis argues in his book Purpose: The Starting point of great companies that purpose is crucial to a firm’s success: it is the primary source of achievement and reveals the underlying human dynamics of any human activity. He starts with a discussion of purpose, what it is, and what it is not, and also identifies four possible sources of energy for purpose, four sets of moral ideas that provide the basis for action. The second part of the book contains great stories of purpose, illustrating each of these four ideas. The third part explores the connection between purpose and the four attributes of greatness – morale, innovation, competitive advantage and leadership. The author then details how to develop purpose and put it into action and also discusses four purpose driven companies.
  • The Broadway play Avenue Q describes purpose as helping others, especially in the song "Purpose".

See also

External links

purposeful in Danish: Formål
purposeful in German: Zweck
purposeful in Persian: هدف
purposeful in French: Zweck
purposeful in Korean: 목적
purposeful in Japanese: 目的
purposeful in Simple English: Purpose
purposeful in Vietnamese: Mục đích

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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