If I think of any activity I carry on, there is always a (single) primary function why I conduct this activity. Even if I carry on an activity without being fully aware of that primary function – there is, nevertheless, objectively speaking, always a single most fundamental reason for carrying it out. The complexity of the modern world, self-love and egotism often hides this primary function.
The same activity might be perceived to fulfill various, sometimes contradicting primary functions for different people and in different circumstances. E.g. driving a car may satisfy a desire to get from A to B for one person, may satisfy desire to own and display a material wealth or may satisfy a (seemingly aimless) pastime for a teenage boy driving round and round in a city streets (going nowhere). Some activities are easy to decipher – e.g. eating, supplies nutrients for our body and fuels our metabolism. Drinking water supplies necessary fluids. Clothing and the house around us provides us with shelter and barrier from elements. These are the primary functions. Often, a given activity is (ab)used and acquires a new “primary function” – e.g. people eat not necesserily to satisfy their body needs for nutrients, but their psychological needs for comfort or feeling-good. Many activities therefore seemingly lose their primary function, and are (ab)used to serve auxiliary purpose as if it was a primary one. Eg. clothing, car and house are often used to display the social status, or we cook food and eat for reasons different than being hungry, etc. There is a wide range of pastimes that are conducted for a sole purpose of “feeling good” (while being stripped off from their primary function). One cannot however lose sight of the primary function of a given activity – even if we do not see it, it is still there. People who eat for psychological reasons often become obese as a side-effect. Eating food, even though designed to make us feel better, is not designed with a primary function to make us feel better. It is a useful side-effect to the primary function of providing us with nutrients. And so on. One of the resolutions for 2010 is to stay true to the primary function of activities I do.
“Every moment think steadily as a Roman and a man to do what thou hast in hand with perfect and simple dignity, and feeling of affection, and freedom, and justice; and to give thyself relief from all other thoughts. And thou wilt give thyself relief, if thou doest every act of thy life as if it were the last, laying aside all carelessness and passionate aversion from the commands of reason, and all hypocrisy, and self-love, and discontent with the portion which has been given to thee. Thou seest how few the things are, the which if a man lays hold of, he is able to live a life which flows in quiet, and is like the existence of the gods; for the gods on their part will require nothing more from him who observes these things.”
Book 2, The Meditations by Marcus Aurelius (see online)