Yoga instructors at Lifetime Fitness like to insert some words of wisdom into our daily practices. A couple of weeks ago, one of the instructors said something suggesting that the objective of life is not to be happy, but rather to serve others. Because yoga practice had put me in a peaceful mood, I didn’t immediately react to this wisdom. A bit later, though, I started thinking about how contrary this wisdom is to my adopted philosophy as described by Ayn Rand in Atlas Shrugged and concluded that it deserved a blogpost.
Because I couldn’t remember the precise quote or its author, I paraphrased it on Google, which responded by referring me to a website with quotations describing the “purpose of life.” One of those quotations was from Ralph Waldo Emerson:
- “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
Emerson is one of the wise men often quoted by my yoga instructors, so I’m pretty sure this is the one that I heard in class.
Other quotes on the purpose of life reflected a different philosophy:
- “The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” ― Eleanor Roosevelt
- “You were put on this earth to achieve your greatest self, to live out your purpose, and to do it courageously.” ― Steve Maraboli
- “It does not matter how long you are spending on the earth, how much money you have gathered or how much attention you have received. It is the amount of positive vibration you have radiated in life that matters.” ― Amit Ray
The Google inquiry also directed me to a website that discussed Ayn Rand and her disdain for altruism:
- “Ayn Rand was not exaggerating when she said, ‘The basic principle of altruism is that man has no right to exist for his own sake, that service to others is the only justification of his existence, and that self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty, virtue, and value.’ That is the theoretical meaning of altruism. And the altruistic philosophers know it—and state it forthrightly.”
In the place of altruism, Rand espoused a doctrine called rational egoism, which says you should pursue your life-serving values and should not sacrifice yourself for the sake of others.
There is much about Emerson’s philosophy that I like, but Rand wins this argument.