Having a purpose in life keeps us happy and motivated and maybe even young.

But it is not always easy to know what our unique purpose is.  So, I wonder if we can just feel rest assured that there are two true purposes for every human being: “having appreciation” and “helping others”.  Two purposes that I learned will always keep you feeling grounded and give life meaning.

By “having appreciation” I simply mean taking notice of the little things; the weather, change of seasons, birds, clouds, sounds, people around me.  The more I am aware, and not just caught up in my thoughts, the better I feel – to the point where I think this is my true reason for being here.

I recently talked to an inspiring ninety-three-year-old at my November Open Studio.  Despite arthritis slowing her down, her eyes lit up when mentioning her walk down to the marina everyday.  She gets so much pleasure out of seeing any sort of nature:  herons, starfish (there are more orange ones now) or the occasional otter.  As well, she chats with other walkers, swimmers or people sitting on benches.  She says that there is so much to see and it’s always different.

I also recognize the satisfaction my drawing students get when they start seeing the world in a new way. Frederik Franck in “The Zen of Seeing” states: I have learned that what I have not drawn, I have never really seen, and that when I start drawing an ordinary thing, I realize how extraordinary it is, sheer miracle.  This gives us gratefulness for plain existence.  And if any of these things in our life disappeared tomorrow, we would be very happy we appreciated them.

The other purpose, “helping others” hit home about five years ago when my family and I were in a car accident while sitting at a red light on the Island Highway.  A minivan came careening through the intersection, face forward into the side of our car where my husband and son were sitting.

We were shaken up by this scary experience, yet miraculously physically unharmed, despite the airbags being deployed and the car being a write-off.  It felt like I was being given the unasked-for gift of a life lesson (and now feel obligated to share).  People stopped everything to come and help us while we waited for first responders.  A man, who had his first aid, appeared out of nowhere and with permission got in the back seat with my son to check him over and brush glass off him.  A random woman gave me a fleece blanket (which I still have) and was holding my hand through the window.  Another man later asked if he could get us all coffee from the 7-Eleven.

After this incident I felt a heightened awareness (especially of highway intersections) and I wondered that if all we do in life is attempt to relieve the suffering of someone else (or even animal, plant or planet), even for a bit, that that may be the real purpose we are all here.

In the short Netflix series “Blue Zones”, they studied people who live to 100 at a higher ratio than the rest of the world, without trying.  Think 80-year-old men riding the countryside on horseback in Costa Rica, or women gardening at 100 in Okinawa, Japan, also called the “Land of the Immortals”.  In this series, they uncovered a few things we already know will keep us young, like a healthy diet, daily exercise, being part of a community and as one 100-year-old Okinawan woman said: “always having fun”.  However, the most important one, was having a sense of purpose.

In Japanese they even have a word for it: “ikigai” (they have no word for retirement).  They say “ikigai” kept them thriving at an older age.  “Ikigai” loosely translated means “the happiness of always being busy”.

I feel this sense of purpose through creating art.  It requires me to always be paying attention, as well, I have heard that my images have sometimes helped others through a difficult experience.  One woman even told me that focusing on my card “Trail” helped her make it through an unplanned pregnancy, so much so that her child’s name was inspired by the image.

The morning after Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by the three ghosts of Christmas – past, present and future – he wakes up elated that he’s alive (and not in the grave he saw in Christmas future). He is so happy to see his housekeeper that he very uncharacteristically gives her the day off.   Then he goes outside, giggling the whole time, noticing what a beautiful day it is – it’s Christmas!  He starts giving money to people on the street he did not even remotely notice or care about before.  He is elated – he has realized his true purpose isn’t to make money for himself, but that life is meant to be enjoyed and shared!

These two things, which could also be described as: awareness and compassion, can motivate us and give us all the meaning we need in life.   By looking at life in this light, we may see we have not even realized how much purpose we really have.

Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. And when he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?  Clarence from “It’s a Wonderful Life” movie.

Image above: Winter Walk