Life is much shorter than we thought when we were young. That realization should inform much of how we choose to spend the remainder of it. Our choices are many but few will leave us on our deathbed feeling happiness and fulfillment instead of sadness and regret. Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way. Some of it came easy, some – not so much…
- When it’s all over, ONLY two things will matter – your relationships and your experiences. You won’t, in the end, give one wit about the stuff you accumulated and neither will anyone else.
- Long-term true friendships are as rare and precious a commodity as exists. But they don’t just happen. They require constant attention, nurturing, and sacrifice at times but, in the long run, utterly and completely worth it. If you allow yourself to become so self-absorbed that you care not to cultivate true friends, you will have a lonely and often sad life.
- Life will pass you by while you sit on your couch. Years of coming home each day only to distract yourself with hours of mind-numbing television, 99% of which you will have NO memory of, will rob you of the limited precious time you have. Read that again, IT IS A THEIF wearing the robes of the entertainer. You will never get that time back. Learn something new, read a book, go for a walk, visit with your family – you get the idea.
- You will forget 90% or more of your life. Not as a result of dementia or Alzheimer’s, but because it simply wasn’t memorable. Think about it. Right now, almost all the thousands of days you have lived, you have no memory of the vast majority. It doesn’t have to be that way. If you spend most of your time in your comfort zone remember this, a rut is just a grave with the ends kicked out. Memories are made when you get out there and stretch yourself.
- Don’t live someone else’s life. This one is both stealthy and insidious. From the time we are born, we are being molded, programmed. We are taught that in order to receive the approval of “the group”, we must conform to the prescribed parameters – religion, political views, lifestyle, morality, belief systems. If you doubt this is the case, simply take as an example those who have had the courage to follow their own path. Ask them what it was / is like. But the truth is this – it is your life and NO ONE has the right to tell you how to live it. Take wisdom wherever you may find it but question EVERYTHING. Take NOTHING at face value just because another person said it was so. Do your homework. Look below the surface. Make INFORMED decisions. Then live YOUR life. If that life makes some people angry, or judgmental, or fearful, or whatever – it is THEIR problem, NOT yours. It is YOUR life, NOT theirs. The only people wasting time are those running around the base of the mountain telling all the other climbers their path is wrong.
- Live IN THE MOMENT. We spend most of our waking thoughts on either the past or the future. Fear, worry, regret – they all live there. By living this way, we are missing the ONLY time we really have – RIGHT NOW. Don’t sell your present out to some imagined future. Live where you are – right here, right now. Crawl straight up in the middle of every moment, you only get it the once.
- Be kind to EVERYONE. Only being kind to those you perceive to be like you has no compassion in it. How someone treats their server at a restaurant, or animals, or those of differing beliefs, generally tells you most of what you should know about them.
- Negative emotions will enslave you in the mentality of the victim and THAT will both cripple and torture you. Greed, jealousy, guilt, shame, hatred, blame, regret – ALL are born of fear. And fear is nothing more than imagining bad things BEFORE they happen and then reacting to them as if they were true. Does that sound like sane behavior to you? In fact, the VAST majority of all fears NEVER COME TO PASS. Yet we sacrifice our happiness in the moment to these dark fictions. WHY? Not one soul on this earth is in charge of your emotional state. Not your parents, your church, your friends, your enemies, your government – ONLY YOU have the reigns. Trick is to realize that and consistently act accordingly. Part of that action includes choosing your associates carefully. Gravitate toward the people who lift you up, who make you a better version of you, and who you learn from. Your life is your garden and as such requires that you remove the noxious weeds that will choke the beautiful flowers to death while only serving themselves.
- Lastly, happiness is a CHOICE. It is something you do, not something you find. Contrary to what you may have been told or taught, happiness doesn’t just happen to some people and not to others because of luck, or position, or wealth, or power. Happiness is a HABIT. And like all habits, it requires consistent effort and the strength of will to live honestly and fearlessly. Our emotions are only our masters inasmuch as we allow them to be. If we “look” for happiness like a coin that rolled under the chair, it will be forever elusive. But if we practice it as a choice, it will come out to play far more often.
At the end of life people mostly regret the things they DIDN’T do rather than the things they did. Get off the couch, get out of the house – go, do, see, meet, live, love. Forget about the approval of anyone else, you DO NOT need it. Follow your passion, serve others, get outside your routine, make some lasting memories, cultivate friendships, tell fear that the jig is up then GET OUT THERE & CRUSH IT! If you want to BE epic, you must DO epic!