Helen Keller once observed, "Many persons have the wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose." It could be argued that much of the moral confusion and ethical slackness of our time comes not from a lack of purpose but from a focus on bogus or unworthy goals. Many of the Baby Boom generation worked very hard for many years, not because they loved their work or wanted to make a valuable contribution to future generations, but simply because they wanted to retire early and enjoy a long and prosperous life of leisure. That is a purpose but it does not qualify as a noble one.
In this brief volume, William Damon, professor of education and director of the Center on Adolescence at Stanford University, explores the meaning of the quest for a purpose that is really worthwhile. There are chapters on discovering your calling, humility, the psychological and spiritual significance of purpose, and cultivating noble purpose. He concludes with an outline of nine principles that can engender this process. "Finding noble purpose," he writes, "means devoting ourselves to something worth doing and doing it in an honorable manner." It is the last half of the equation that requires character, dedication, and imagination.