If you could choose one overriding aim for your life, what would it be? In this article, we explore some of the possible options and try to understand what each concept really means for us and our lives.
Dictionary definitions: being satisfied with what one is or has; not wanting anything else; a sense of being at ease in one’s situation, body and mind.
Being content must surely rank high among the things that humans can aspire to. If you think about it, if you are satisfied with your situation then you will be able to say goodbye to anxiety, worry, and all sorts of other negative emotions.
But is the dictionary definition a little too inflexible? Can you be goal-oriented to some degree while still being at ease with what you already have? If you were to not attach any emotion to the goal, then whether or not you reach it, you would not see it as either positive or negative; it would just be the outcome.
Furthermore, it is worth asking whether “bad” people can be content; can a murderer be at ease with his crime and not want for anything? If this is the case, maybe contentment isn’t necessarily the pinnacle of human aspiration.
Dictionary definitions: feeling, showing, or causing pleasure or satisfaction; delighted, pleased, or glad, as over a particular thing: feeling pleasure and enjoyment because of your life, situation, etc.
Many people would instinctively say happiness is one of their main ambitions in life; after all, who doesn’t want to be happy?
Dictionaries would seem to suggest that happiness is often attached to something else and this begs the question as to whether you are relying on the external world to provide your happiness.
Or can you create happiness through your actions and your thoughts? Perhaps being happy is the feeling we get when our lives and our values/morals/beliefs are most closely aligned and we have the freedom to do the things that we wish to do.
Maybe we should also ask whether a state of happiness can be maintained at all times or if it is natural to have some sadness and neutrality in our lives.
To aspire to happiness may, in fact, mean that we seek to fill our lives with the situations that make us happy, but that we should also allow ourselves not to be happy when such situations do not occur.
Dictionary definitions: important or worthwhile quality; importance or value; the end, purpose, or significance of something.
I’m sure we’d all like our lives to mean something and searching for this meaning is certainly not a bad aim to have.
Dictionaries suggest that meaning can be found in things that are worthwhile or that hold some significance, but meaning is something that man has always struggled to put his finger on.
The fact that it is an unknown quantity makes aspiring to it all the more difficult; although just because something is difficult, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. It might just be that the act of seeking meaning is the first step on a long road to finding it.
Dictionary definitions: a profoundly tender affection for another person; a strong feeling of affection; to have a great attachment to and affection for.
Love is another one of those concepts for which dictionaries can only ever give very superficial definitions.
Love can mean many different things to different people, which means that a desire to fill your life with it requires you to first decide what love is to you.
It could also be argued that the most important type of love to seek is self love. When you can love yourself, you are better able to love others; some would even say that being able to love yourself is a prerequisite of feeling love for others.
Dictionary definitions: a large amount of something good; an abundance or profusion of anything; the state of being rich.
We’ve purposefully steered clear of definitions of wealth that include money or material possessions because the concept goes far beyond this.
Having wealth simply means having a lot of something and common usage infers that this something is good. So aiming for wealth in life suggests that you want to have an abundance of good things. This might, for example, be lots of fun experiences, lots of love, or long lasting good health.
So, one could aspire to be wealthy in general, across the entire spectrum of human life.
Dictionary definitions: tranquillity; cessation of or freedom from any strife or dissension; freedom from disquieting or oppressive thoughts or emotions.
I’m sure most of us desire a world full of peace, but it may be just as reasonable to wish for a peaceful personal life too.
A peaceful life would be one in which conflict is absent. There are two sides to this; firstly you have peace between you and other people, and secondly there is the peace in your mind.
The third dictionary definition above is particularly relevant to the self in that it proposes the lack of disquieting thoughts or emotions as a key principle. In this sense, a life of peace would mean a life free from anxiety, worry and other internal conflict.
Dictionary definitions: awareness, consciousness, or familiarity gained by experience or learning; acquaintance with facts, truths, or principles; the state of knowing about or being familiar with something.
A lot can be said about the desire to gain knowledge. This is because, as one of the dictionaries points out, you can acquire this knowledge through your experiences and this can lead back to the previous concept of wealth.
The words awareness and consciousness also appear in the definition of knowledge which implies that it is only gained through a deeper understanding, beyond that of simply absorbing information.
By itself, knowledge may not be enough to make a fulfilling life and we must always accept that there are some things that simply cannot be known, but a desire to understand the world can be a catalyst for some of the other concepts mentioned here.
Dictionary definitions: something given to a person or persons in need; the voluntary giving of help; benevolent goodwill toward or love of humanity.
The world is overflowing with people and creatures other than yourself and to be able to help them in some way is surely a commendable aspiration.
Not all charity requires that you give money; your actions are often just as important. As one of the definitions reveals, a charitable act can be anything that displays love for a fellow human.
We shouldn’t, however, restrict charity to the realm of the human race because it shows just as much love to help a dog, a bird, a whale, or even the entire environment. It is as much an act of charity to say no to certain methods of farming or fishing that result in cruelty as it is to sponsor a child in an impoverished situation.
Dictionary definitions: the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; the quality of being honest and fair; soundness of moral character.
When we talk about a person having integrity, in general, we mean someone who tends to do the right thing and who sets high moral standards through his actions.
There is a strong argument, however, to say that morals are subjective – that they can differ somewhat from person to person and across different societies and religions.
So if morals aren’t fixed, is it wise to make integrity an aim in life? We can turn to the above definitions for some help on this, and the two words that immediately stand out are honest and fair. Honesty is not only the act of telling the truth, but also of displaying your inner truth and being yourself. Fairness is treating others like you would wish to be treated. As something to aspire to, these two aspects of integrity alone make it something to pay attention to.
Dictionary definitions: the process of developing physically, mentally, or spiritually; progressive development; development from another but related form or stage.
It is fairly innate for us to want to grow as people, but just what does this really mean?
Does the development of your spiritual side mean you have grown or have you just changed? If you think about it, growth is most often seen as gaining something, but is a spiritual change actually more about ridding ourselves of those things that hold us back?
If the aim is to grow intellectually, then we return to the case of knowledge and its pros and cons as something we might aspire to.
Dictionary definitions: enjoyment or satisfaction derived from what is to one’s liking; a feeling of happy satisfaction and enjoyment; a feeling of happiness, enjoyment, or satisfaction.
Freud has suggested that pleasure is one of the instinctive drives of humans, one that compels us to behave in certain ways. But is the pursuit of pleasure something to aspire to?
The definitions of pleasure and happiness are linked – each word appears in the definition of the other – but are they one and the same or is pleasure something more superficial?
Consider that we might be able to fill our lives with pleasure through consumption, but often we find that it is short-lived and can only be regained by further consumption – thus pleasure is at the core of addiction. It feels good to eat that chocolate, smoke that cigarette or take that drug, but if this is the only way that you can get enjoyment or satisfaction, surely we shouldn’t be putting pleasure at the top of our wish list.
Dictionary definitions: ability or capacity to do something or act in a particular way; the possession of control or command over others; ability to control people and events.
Feeling a sense of control over our lives requires that we have power of some sort, but in the traditional sense – and the one we will look at – this includes being able to control the lives of other people too.
Now, clearly, in day-to-day life, some people do have more power than others in terms of being the boss at work, or being a parent to a child. The question is whether or not we are better off with more power; if we are, it would be legitimate to seek it.
Yet it is often said that power corrupts and if this is the case, it would mean a life lived without integrity and devoid of contentment (why would it corrupt if you were content with your life?)
So, while having the power of free will might be something we should celebrate, it is less wise to desire power over other people.
Dictionary definitions: state of being liked, enjoyed and accepted; being liked, admired, or supported by many people; regarded with favor, approval, or affection.
As social creatures, it is natural for us to desire the approval and affection of those in our lives, but does seeking popularity make for a good goal?
The main issue with popularity is that it requires other people and this leaves you exposed to the whims of a third party. You cannot directly control whether or not another person likes you and their feelings can change over time, meaning popularity can come and go.
Furthermore, by seeking the approval of others, we might not feel able to show our authentic selves, instead putting on an act in order to please. It seems unlikely that this would result in peace or contentment of any sort.
Our Higher Selves
There aren’t any dictionary definitions of what some might call our higher selves; in fact there aren’t many definitions of it at all. Maybe this is because we simply do not know what it means to reach our higher selves, or perhaps it encompasses many different things such as the concepts discussed above.
Then again, our higher selves may refer to our spirit, our connection with the universe, and our being mindful – the Buddhism state of nirvana might describe it best.
Who knows, aspiring to ascend to your higher self might, in the end, be the highest you can aim.
The Conscious Rethink: there is no wrong or right answer to the question of life aspirations, but hopefully we have given you some idea of the things that you may pursue. We should remember that the words we use to describe these concepts will always fall short of a reality which goes far beyond.