I shared a few stages with the wonderful Sir Ken Robinson before his passing in 2020. The last time we were together in person, he said, “I bet you’re asked the same question I am after leaving the stage. ‘It’s wonder that you have a purpose to your life, but how do I find mine?’” He was right, and he and I began talking about helping people understand a simple but profound truth: you don’t find a purpose, you build one.
Psychology, never a discipline to use one word when four would suffice, defines “construct strength of purpose” as commitment to something bigger than yourself, something that would take more than a lifetime to complete. But what is the value of a purpose in one’s life? Classic liberal economic theory persuasively argues that we should pursue rational self-interest (you know...be an asshole, but not too much), and that self-interest optimizes life’s returns. It would seem that a commitment to something bigger than yourself, whether spiritual adherence to religion or grounded commitment to help others, fails the test of rational self interest. Why does it seem so important?
In Small Sacrifices, I share the stories of my own research on purpose, stories which reveal that sacrifices in service to a purpose bigger than ourselves paradoxically lead to better — healthier, wealthier, happier — lives. I show that the same is true of communities, companies, and perhaps whole economies. It’s as though I told you that life was a great race but that those who stop and help the other racers are more likely to win.
Might it be possible that modest sacrifices might help align our real world interests in our personal lives and across whole economies? I explore intriguing research on this question and detail much more to come.
If as the saying goes, “The world gets better when old men plant trees”, then perhaps it’s not greed, for lack of a better word, that’s good, but the simple act of sacrifice. Read Small Sacrifices and then go out and plant a tree.