The Purpose of Life

by W. John Walsh

The purpose of life is happiness. The plan of salvation breaks the purpose of life down into four main missions in mortality:  receiving a physical body, obtaining personal perfection, acquiring prerequisite knowledge, and forming eternal family units.

  What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?[1]

Mankind has “struggled for millennia”[2] with “uncertainty over the purpose of life.”[3]  People have long sought to understand “why they're here on earth”[4] and the “destiny of their own souls.”[5] Some people have suggested that there is in fact no overall purpose to our existence and that God simply “flipped humanity upon the earth, there to remain in sorrow and suffering.”[6]  

The desire to fit human life "into a pattern of meaning is precisely the function of religion."[7]  “Religion should offer to man a satisfactory explanation”[8] of the reasons for the existence of the human species.  This enlightenment offers a guideline to all our “thinking and action”[9] since we have a “frame of reference within which to view other things”[10] and “interpret our experiences.”[11]  With an understanding of the purpose of life, we will find it easier to see the meaning in our own individual lives.[12]  

Latter-day Saints affirmatively declare that man was not placed in a mortal existence by happenstance, but that “man comes upon earth in conformity with a divine and eternal purpose, one that directs or should direct every action of life.”[13]  From the very beginning, there has been a great “intelligence directing creation.”[14]  The Church defines the purpose of life as follows:  “Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.”[15] “That is, the very purpose of man's creation is to enable him to gain joy; it is the object and end of existence.”[16]  In other words, the purpose of life is happiness.[17]  

What is joy and happiness?  Before we define the nature of this state of being, it may be helpful to define what it is not.  Happiness is “not the accumulation of property”[18] or the veneration of pleasure.  While amusement is occasionally helpful as a refresher, it should “be indulged in only by way of variety.”[19] “A life of comfort and ease usually begets indifference to righteousness. Almost unfailingly it drives all thoughts of God from one's heart. We take a deep plunge into the pseudo joys and follies of the world all the while forgetting the real purpose of life.”[20]  

Latter-day Saints believe that true happiness is predicated upon holiness.[21] If we would seek the real purpose of life, the individual must live “for some thing higher”[22] than the carnal self.  Since God is the living embodiment of holiness[23], then he is the living embodiment of true happiness as well.  Therefore, the way for mankind to achieve a state of happiness, and thus fulfill the purpose of their existence, is for mankind to become like God. (See Godhood) Latter-day Saints believe God not only desires us to become like him, but commands us to do so as well: 

“For I [am] the LORD that bringeth you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: ye shall therefore be holy, for I [am] holy.”[24] 

“Therefore, what manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I [Jesus Christ] say unto you, even as I am.”[25]  

“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”[26]  

"One of the main purposes of our existence is that we might conform to the image and likeness of him [Jesus Christ] who sojourned in the flesh without blemish—immaculate, pure, and spotless!"[27] “Men's destiny is to grow in the likeness of their Eternal Father as manifest in the life of his Son, Jesus Christ.”[28]  Therefore, if we misunderstand the nature of God, we “will also misunderstand the purpose of life and of themselves as well.”[29]  It should be noted that this perspective depends upon an eternal view of the prospects of man and the affirmative view of an afterlife.   (See Teachings About the Afterlife home page) Certainly, “it has been difficult for any philosopher who denies the eternal nature of man to find any purpose in the earth-life of man.”[30]  

Latter-day Saints believe that “self-realization of our full nature as a child of God”[31] and heir to his eternal enjoyments is what leads us to happiness.  "Logically and naturally, the ultimate desire of a loving Supreme Being is to help his children enjoy all that he enjoys. For Latter-day Saints, the term "godhood" denotes the attainment of such a state—one of having all divine attributes and doing as God does and being as God is."[32] As we become more like God, then we come closer to the state of happiness enjoyed by him. “The whole purpose of life is to test us to see if we have caught the real meaning of divinity.”[33]  

How do we become like God? Latter-day Saints believe that God has created a plan of salvation intended to “prepare us”[34] to enjoy the divine state of happiness.  In fact, the plan of salvation has alternatively been called the “great plan of happiness”[35] to emphasize a great aspect of its design.  The purpose of our existence is to obtain a “clear understanding of the plan”[36] so that we can follow it diligently and thus receive the promised benefits of Godhood.   The plan of salvation breaks the purpose of life down into four main missions in mortality:  receiving a physical body, obtaining personal perfection, acquiring prerequisite knowledge, and forming eternal family units.  

The first mission is to “to receive a physical, mortal body.”[37]  (See Physical Body)Since God the Father has a glorified, resurrected “body of flesh and bones,”[38] mankind must also acquire such a tabernacle if we are to become like him. (See Teachings About the Godhead home page)  Without the acquisition of this indispensable form “man cannot receive a fulness of joy.”[39] Unlike some other Christians, Latter-day Saints “look upon the body not as evil, but as a wonderful instrument through which man may find joy and realize the purpose of life.”[40]  “Latter-day Saints believe that the physical human body was created by God in his express image, and that one of the most important purposes of earth life is for the spirit children of God to obtain a physical body and grow through the experience of mortality.”[41]  “Without a physical body man is limited in his progression and only with a spirit and a body united together permanently can man receive a fulness of joy…”[42]  “In securing a body, we are at once put upon the line of progress that leads to exaltation and glory.”[43] It should be mankind’s greatest hope to present their physical body “pure before God in the Celestial Kingdom[44] in a “glorified, resurrected state that is called exaltation or eternal life.”[45]  When we are born into this world, we complete the task of obtaining a body which can later be resurrected.   (See Resurrection)

The second mission is the “the perfecting of the individual.”[46] If we desire to live as God lives, then we must have “a total and complete commitment”[47] to do as God does.  The scriptures teach that “he who is not able to abide the law of a celestial kingdom cannot abide a celestial glory.”[48]  To obtain this level of perfection or completion, we must experience a  “probationary estate”[49] where we can be “tried and tested”[50] and “prove [our] worthiness...”[51] As we “obey the commandments of God[52], we can demonstrate “that even in the presence of evil and sin we can live a good life.”[53] Those people who successfully pass the tests of earth life have sure “promises of salvation and exaltation”[54] Without successful completion of the prerequisite tests, these promises will not be “realized.”[55]  We must “overcome evil tendencies, …govern our appetites, [and] …control our passions,--anger, hatred, jealousy, immorality.”[56]  

The third mission is to attain the required level of “intelligence and acquire[d] knowledge”[57] regarding “a physical, mortal world”[58] that is needed to actually enjoy eternal life.  There were some things that God could not teach us in our pre-mortal spiritual state.  These prerequisites could only be learned in the same way that God learned them for himself:  by “active participation in the exciting drama of human existence.”[59]  There was simply no other way.  Those people who use “earth-life [as] a school”[60] and allow the Spirit of Christ to lead them in their daily decision making experience an “enlargement of [their] souls”[61] as they become fit to live with God through continuing mastery over both spiritual and material things. “In other words, the Mormon concept of the purpose of life is growth--growth intellectually, growth physically, growth morally, and growth spiritually.”[62]  To summarize, “the purpose of life is not what you can get out of it, but what you can become by it.”[63]  We experience this growth as we “learn to use our free agency”[64]  Since our acquired knowledge must increase our holiness, “seeking to establish the kingdom of God and to foster his righteousness should be the paramount purpose of life.”[65] The Lord has said: 

“Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection. And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come.”[66]  

Naturally, this promised soul growth will not occur unless “we are willing to follow the curriculum”[67] in the “continuing education of the whole man.”[68]  

The fourth mission is to worthily marry “for time and eternity”[69] and thus form “eternal family relationships, first as sons and daughters, then as fathers and mothers.”[70]  (See Teachings About Marriage and Family Relationships home page)  Since God is married and we have a “Heavenly Mother as well as a Heavenly Father,”[71] it is necessary for us to enter a similar state if we are to become like him.  Furthermore, “this life is intended to provide an opportunity to help our Father in Heaven with His great plan, and we do that through honorable parenthood.”[72] (See Birth Control) “The Lord has revealed that when a man and a woman are married according to his law, children born to them will be theirs throughout all eternity.”[73] During our mortal sojourn, we “may begin to experience the joy that will be in full hereafter”[74] as we enjoy our newly formed eternal family relationships. 

“The bringing of children into the world bears with it great responsibilities and opens to view the noblest purpose of life, namely, a co-partnership with deity "to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man." (Moses 1:39.)”[75]  Without these eternal families, “the whole purpose of life on this earth would be utterly wasted.”[76]  However, our responsibilities do not end at procreation.  We must do our very best to teach our children “correct principles”[77] and thus bring them “along this road of life”[78] with us.  

In conclusion, the Church “offers to man a most inspiring and challenging interpretation of the purpose and meaning of his life.”[79]  Latter-day Saints believe that by following the plan of salvation proffered by God we can achieve our eternal destiny, to live with God in a state of eternal happiness, enjoying the same quality of existence as our Creator.

(See Basic Beliefs home page) 


[1] Psalms 8:4, The Holy Bible, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981.

 [2] Johnson, R. Val.  “The Purpose of Life,” Ensign, Apr. 1993, 22. 

[3] Maxwell, Neal A.  Sermons Not Spoken, Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1985, p. 29. 

[4] 7 Keys to Mormonism (Missionary Pamphlet), p. 7. 

[5] Sill, Sterling W., Conference Report, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, October 1965, p.55. 

[6] “The Divine Mission of Joseph Smith, ”John A. Widtsoe, Handbook of the Restoration, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Missionary Pamphlet), p.33. 

[7] Gillman, N., The Death of Death: Resurrection and Immortality in Jewish Thought. Vermont: Jewish Lights, 1997, p. 248. 

[8] Bennion, Lowell L.  An Introduction to the Gospel, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Utah Printing Co., 1955, p. 55. 

[9] Bennion, Lowell L.  An Introduction to the Gospel, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Utah Printing Co., 1955, p. 55. 

[10] Maxwell, Neal A.,  We Will Prove Them Herewith, Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1982, p. 54. 

[11] Oaks, Dallin H., Pure in Heart, Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1988, p.113. 

[12] Maxwell, Neal A.,  All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience, Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1980, p.47. 

[13] “The Divine Mission of Joseph Smith, ” John A. Widtsoe, Handbook of the Restoration, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Missionary Pamphlet), p.33. 

[14] McKay, David O., Conference Report, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, October 1969, p. 9. 

[15] 2 Nephi 2:25, The Book of Mormon, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981. 

[16] McConkie, Bruce R., Mormon Doctrine, Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1966, p. 397. 

[17] See Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Joseph Fielding Smith, Compiler, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1938, p. 255.  Also, David O. McKay, Gospel Ideals, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1953, p. 345. 

[18] “The Need Beyond Reason”, Edward L. Hart, BYU Studies, Vol. 16, No. 4, Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1976, p. 519. 

[19] Messages of the First Presidency, James R. Clark, Editor, Vol. 3, 1965, p. 123. 

[20] Reynolds, G. and Sjodahl, J.,  Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 2., Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1960, p. 246. 

[21] “And if there be no righteousness there be no happiness.” 2 Nephi 2:13. The Book of Mormon, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981. 

[22] McKay, David O., Conference Report, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, October 1956, p. 5-6. 

[23] “Man of Holiness” is one of the name-titles of God the Father.  See Moses 6:57, The Pearl of Great Price, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981. 

[24] Leviticus 11:45, The Holy Bible, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981. 

[25] 3 Nephi 27:27, The Book of Mormon, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981. 

[26] Matthew 5:48, The Holy Bible, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981. 

[27] Smith, Joseph F., Gospel Doctrine, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1919, p. 270. 

[28] Bennion, Lowell L.  An Introduction to the Gospel, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Utah Printing Co., 1955, p. 139. 

[29] Maxwell, Neal A.  Sermons Not Spoken, Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1985, p. 20. 

[30] Berrett, William E., Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1962, p. 25. 

[31] Bennion, Lowell L.  An Introduction to the Gospel, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Utah Printing Co., 1955, p. 209. 

[32] "Godhood"   K. Codell Carter, Encyclopedia of Mormonism, New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992. 

[33] “Convince or Convert?”  Theodore M. Burton, BYU Speeches, Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1964, p. 8. 

[34] “Work is fundamental in purpose of life”  Franklin D Richards, as reported in The Church News, Week Ending April 11, 1981, p.15. 

[35] Alma 42:8, The Book of Mormon, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981. 

[36] Widtsoe, John A., A Rational Theology, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1915, p. 180. 

[37] Benson, Ezra Taft, Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1988, p. 27. 

[38] D&C 130:22, The Doctrine and Covenants, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981. 

[39] D&C 93:34, The Doctrine and Covenants, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981. 

[40] Bennion, Lowell L.  An Introduction to the Gospel, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Utah Printing Co., 1955, p. 250. 

[41] "Physical Body"   Kent M. Van De Graaff, Encyclopedia of Mormonism, New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992. 

[42] Benson, Ezra Taft, Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1988, p. 27. 

[43] Clawson, Rudger, Conference Report, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, October 1924, p. 26. 

[44] Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Joseph Fielding Smith, Compiler, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1938, p. 181. 

[45] Oaks, Dallin H., The Church News, Conference Issues, April 8, 1995, p. 2.  

[46] David O. McKay, Gospel Ideals, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1953, p. 392. 

[47] Bennion, Lowell L.  An Introduction to the Gospel, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Utah Printing Co., 1955, p. 14. 

[48] D&C 88:22, The Doctrine and Covenants, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981. 

[49] McConkie, Bruce R., A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1985, p. 10. 

[50] Smith, Joseph F., Gospel Doctrine, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1919, p. 13. 

[51] “The Reflections of Brigham Young on the Nature of Man and the State” Keith J. Melville, BYU Studies, Vol. 4, No. 3, 1962, p. 256. 

[52] Callis, Charles A., Conference Report, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, October 1917, p. 126. 

[53] Benson, Ezra Taft, Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1988, p. 27-28. 

[54] Tanner, N. Eldon, as reported in The Church News, Week Ending April 7, 1973, p. 13. 

[55] Christiansen, E., Conference Report, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, October 1956, p. 29. 

[56] McKay, David O., Conference Report, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, October 1950, p. 163. 

[57] Richards, Stephen L., Conference Report, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, April 1947, p. 88. 

[58] Benson, Ezra Taft, Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1988, p. 27-28. 

[59] Brown, Hugh B., The Abundant Life, Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1965, p. 47. 

[60] “The Divine Mission of Joseph Smith, ”John A. Widtsoe, Handbook of the Restoration, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Missionary Pamphlet), p. 33. 

[61] “The Need Beyond Reason”, Edward L. Hart, BYU Studies, Vol. 16, No. 4, Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1976, p. 519. 

[62] Hunter, Milton R., Conference Report, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, October 1945, p. 110. 

[63] Sill, Sterling W., BYU Speeches, February 21, 1962, p.10. 

[64] Maxwell, Neal A., A More Excellent Way, Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1973, p. 55. 

[65] McKay, David O., Conference Report, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, April 1953, p.14 

[66] D&C 130:18-9, The Doctrine and Covenants, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981. 

[67] Petersen, Mark E., Conference Report, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, October 1968, p. 100. 

[68] Brown, Hugh B., Conference Report, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, April 1968, p. 105. 

[69] Clawson, Rudger, Conference Report, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, October 1928, p. 46. 

[70] "The Purpose of Earth Life" James P. Bell, Encyclopedia of Mormonism, New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992. 

[71] "Mother in Heaven"   Elaine Anderson Cannon, Encyclopedia of Mormonism, New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992. 

[72] Benson, Ezra Taft, Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1988, p. 27-28. 

[73] Smith, Joseph Fielding, Doctrines of Salvation, Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1954, Vol.2, p. 86. 

[74] "Joseph Smith" Richard L. Bushman and Dean C. Jessee, Encyclopedia of Mormonism, New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992. 

[75] McKay, David O., Conference Report, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, October 1954, p. 9. 

[76] Burton, Theodore M., Conference Report, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, April 1965, p. 111. 

[77] Taylor, John, The Gospel Kingdom, Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1987, p. 44. 

[78] McKay, David O., Conference Report, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, October 1909, p. 94. 

[79] Bennion, Lowell L.  An Introduction to the Gospel, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Utah Printing Co., 1955, p. 55.

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