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The purpose of life: A philosophy for living

I sometimes discuss the purpose of life with my clients. A philosophy that resonates well is to discuss Socrates’ idea that the purpose of life is not the pursuit of happiness, which is what many of us have been taught to think, but rather the pursuit of the whole range of human emotions.

The thinking behind Socrate’s philosophy is that it is only by being open to feeling pain that we can experience joy.

Consider the example of a pet’s life and companionship. We know, even as we bring home a new dog as a puppy, that it will eventually die. When we stop to think, we realize that we have to be open to having the dog die if we want to have a dog in our lives, because all dogs will eventually die, no matter how healthy they are over their lifespan.

When the dog does die, we will experience the pain of our loss for a period of time, but this period will be much shorter than the period of joy we experienced while the dog was alive.

For example, if the dog lived for ten years, and the owner experiences pain for three months after the death, then the period of joy far outweighs the period of pain. With this in mind, my philosophy is to say “bring it on” when the biggest pain presents itself, because I believe that the ten years of joy have been worth the cost that will be paid during the three months of pain that will follow.

This philosophy can frequently help people cope with the pain of loss when it hits. And it also allows them to bring home another puppy, when they are ready, to begin the process again.

In the bigger picture, Socrates’ philosophy can help us to weather all sorts of pain because it allows us to remain open to the next joy when it comes along. This philosophy can be applied to many experiences in life, and can help us cope in times of pain.

Dr. Patricia Turner, Registered Psychologist, Calgary, Alberta

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