The Universal Goal

Steven Barnes
3 min readFeb 1, 2024

People often say “I don’t have a goal” or “I don’t know how to find my goal.”

What I used to say, which still applies but can be strengthened, is “if you don’t have a goal, your first goal is to find a goal.” Take a meta-position on it.

But its possible to be more precise. “The meaning of life is to be happy” isn’t bad. The Dalai Lama said “The meaning of life is to be joyful and of service.” And any biologist can tell you that anything with a nervous system will move away from pain, and a more complex system will move away from pain toward pleasure.

So that continuum: Pain →Joy — Service is as close to a universal goal that you will ever find. That ANYONE, or any animal, can be affected, guided, or predicted by their movement along this path.

Including you. Lots of implications here.

  1. Take your “five minute miracle” breathing breaks. As you do, contemplate joy.
  2. As you do, consider in turn each of your three major areas. What are you doing to escape pain and embrace joy in terms of your physicality? Your emotions? Your career?
  3. Look at the people around you. If they are angry, look for their fear. It will exist in one of these three arenas, for themselves or someone they care about. If they are discouraged, note their lack of gratitude and faith. If they think all is lost and the world is ending, look for the way that might be true in THEIR lives: people who think THEIR world is ending will often believe THE world is ending.

Have those goals, in all three arenas, remember that each must move you along the path between pain, pleasure, and service. In fact, you can look at people who feel no joy, or have no commitment to service, and PREDICT that they are damaged on those lower survival levels. It all fits. It all makes sense.

Saturday, we’ll discuss fear, joy, and service, and how to walk that path in your own life so that your very existence makes the world a better place.

Join us SATURDAY FEB 3 12 NOON PACIFIC

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Steven Barnes

Steven Barnes is a NY Times bestselling author, ecstatic husband and father, and holder of black belts in three martial arts. www.lifewritingpodcast.com.