What is the purpose of life? of your life? of what you are working on? These eternal questions have occupied some of the wisest minds. Here are some inspiring and challenging quotations on purpose.

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The true object of all human life is play. Earth is a task garden; heaven is a playground.

— G. K. Chesterton

Some see things as they are and say, ‘Why?’ I dream of things that never were and say, ‘Why not?’

— George Bernard Shaw, paraphrase of Shaw, often attributed to Robert F. (Bobby) Kennedy, who used it in a speech which his brother, Edward F. (Teddy) Kennedy quoted at RFK’s funeral

This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.

— George Bernard Shaw

What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?

— George Eliot

Life is what you make of it. Always has been, always will be.

— Grandma Moses

One needs something to believe in, something for which one can have whole-hearted enthusiasm. One needs to feel that one’s life has meaning, that one is needed in this world.

— Hannah Senesh

Everyone should carefully observe which way his heart draws him, and then choose that way with all his strength.

— Hasidic saying

Joy is the holy fire that keeps our purpose warm and our intelligence aglow.

— Helen Keller

Many persons have no idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.

— Helen Keller

Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence.

— Henry David Thoreau

Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end.

— Henry David Thoreau

It is not enough to be busy; so are the ants. The question is: what are we busy about?

— Henry David Thoreau

That aim in life is highest which requires the highest and finest discipline.

— Henry David Thoreau

I have learned, that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.

— Henry David Thoreau

The mere possession of a vision is not the same as living it, nor can we encourage others with it if we do not, ourselves, understand and follow its truths. The pattern of the Great Spirit is over us all, but if we follow our own spirits from within, our pattern becomes clearer. For centuries, others have sought their visions. They prepare themselves, so that if the Creator desires them to know their life’s purpose, then a vision would be revealed. To be blessed with visions is not enough…we must live them!

— High Eagle

Life will frequently languish, even in the hands of the busy, if they have not some employment subsidiary to that which forms their main pursuit.

— Hugh Blair

Intrinsically we humans want to be happy, and happiness derives from having purpose, pursuit towards interesting, and challenging ‘something’ that is greater than oneself.

— Ines Garcia

A person without a purpose is a human being merely breathing because he does not know where he is, let alone knowing where he is going. Purposelessness is lifelessness.

— Israelmore Ayivor

In brief, leaders with motive and power bases tap followers’ motives in order to realize the purposes of both leaders and followers.

— James MacGregor Burns

Essential in a concept of power is the role of purpose.

— James MacGregor Burns

… that power is first of all a relationship and not merely an entity to be passed around like a baton or hand grenade; that it involves the intention or purpose of both power holder and power recipient; and hence that it is collective, not merely the behavior of one person.

— James MacGregor Burns

All men should strive to learn before they die, what they are running from, and to, and why.

— James Thurber

I know that the purpose of life is to understand and be in the present moment with the people you love. It’s just that simple.

— Jane Seymour

I have one life and one chance to make it count for something . . . I’m free to choose what that something is, and the something I’ve chosen is my faith. Now, my faith goes beyond theology and religion and requires considerable work and effort. My faith demands — this is not optional — my faith demands that I do whatever I can, wherever I am, whenever I can, for as long as I can with whatever I have to try to make a difference.

— Jimmy Carter

In choosing our story, we not only cast our vote of influence over the kind of world future generations inherit, but we also affect our own lives in the here and now. When we find a good story and fully give ourselves to it, that story can act through us, breathing new life into everything we do. When we move in a direction that touches our heart, we add to the momentum of deeper purpose that makes us feel more alive. A great story and a satisfying life share a vital element: a compelling plot that moves toward meaningful goals, where what is at stake is far larger than our personal gains and losses.

— Joanna Macy

A useless life is an early death.

— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Living without an aim, is like sailing without a compass.

— John Ruskin

The actual flower is the plant’s highest fulfillment, and are not here exclusively for herbaria, county floras and plant geography: they are here first of all for delight.

— John Ruskin

We were not sent into this world to do anything into which we cannot put our hearts.

— John Ruskin

Tell me to what you pay attention and I will tell you who you are.

— Jose Ortega y Gasset

The grand essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.

— Joseph Addison

The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with nature.

— Joseph Campbell

A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.

— Joseph Campbell

‘What will they think of me?’ must be put aside for bliss.

— Joseph Campbell

In leadership writ large, mutually agreed upon purposes help people achieve consensus, assume responsibility, work for the common good, and build community.

— Joseph Rost

To understand the heart and mind of a person, look not at what he has already achieved, but at what he aspires to.

— Kahlil Gibran

It is not ‘history’ which uses men as a means of achieving — as if it were an individual person — its own ends. History is nothing but the activity of men in pursuit of their ends.

— Karl Marx

To love what you do and feel that it matters — how could anything be more fun?

— Katharine Graham

We can live life with deliberate intention rather than living aimlessly. We can live life with a sense of excitement.

— Katy Bennett

A purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.

— Kurt Vonnegut, The Sirens of Titan

If you don’t know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else.

— Laurence J. Peter

Playtime is a vital component of idea generation and fresh inspiration. It gives you permission to be in a state of discovery without purpose or agenda.

— Leena Patel, Raise Your Innovation IQ

It’s not enough to have lived. We should be determined to live for something. May I suggest that it be creating joy for others, sharing what we have for the betterment of personkind, bringing hope to the lost and love to the lonely.

— Leo Buscaglia

Remember then: there is only one time that is important – Now! It is the most important time because it is the only time when we have any power. The most necessary man is he with whom you are, for no man knows whether he will ever have dealings with anyone else: and the most important affair is, to do him good, because for that purpose alone was man sent into this life!

— Leo Tolstoy

Everything’s got a moral, if only you can find it.

— Lewis Carroll

To live as fully, as completely as possible, to be happy … is the true aim and end to life.

— Llewelyn Powers

Yes there is a meaning; at least for me, there is one thing that matters – to set a chime of words tinkling in the minds of a few fastidious people.

— Logan Pearsall Smith

I don’t know why we are here, but I’m pretty sure that it is not in order to enjoy ourselves.

— Ludwig Wittgenstein

It is more important to know where you are going than to get there quickly. Do not mistake activity for achievement.

— Mabel Newcomber

And you will give yourself relief, if you do every act of your life as if it were the last.

— Marcus Aurelius
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