Do you want your life to have meaning? Do you want to be able look back and know that your life was well spent?
“We have the ability to craft a life where we are completely fulfilled. We think it is dependent on outsiders, and to some extent it is, but it is much more dependent on the attitude we bring to life.” – Srikumar Rao
Here are some lessons, big and small, that I have learned that lead me toward a more fulfilled life. Some of the lessons help me to enjoy life as it happens, and not let it go by in a blur. Other lessons allow me to stay on a true path. Taken together, I believe these lessons are helping me to live the life I should be living.
1. Enjoy the little things. When you are folding laundry, be very aware of folding laundry. Enjoy the warmth of the items fresh out of the dryer, the way that order is created out of chaos as the disorganized pile becomes stacks of neatly folded items, the smell of the clean clothes, the sun streaming in through the laundry room window. Don’t rush through, but savor the moment. Imagine what it would be like if you lost the ability to do laundry; make the memories of joy now to serve you in the future.
2. Do something strenuous. It’s funny how when I’m sitting on the couch watching TV I don’t want to get up and do something, but if I force myself to get up I find that I really enjoy it and feel much better for having done it. I have found time and again that really strenuous tasks, like hiking to the top of a mountain or jogging ten miles, have the capacity to take me out of myself and make me extraordinarily joyful. It might be the endorphins, but for whatever reason, many of my happiest memories are from times of extreme physical exertion. And from napping on the couch after the exertion is done!
3. Do something meaningful. It’s easy to get caught in the rut of doing the things that need to be done, like laundry, dishes, running errands, etc. These things fill our time, but not our need for meaning. Work on something big – that novel you’ve always wanted to write, the business you want to start, the project you want to accomplish. For some people doing laundry is part of a meaningful existence, of taking care of family, but for other people it is just a task that needs to be done. Do it, and enjoy it (see lesson 1), but make time to work on something that is meaningful to you.
4. Live true to your core values. Know what your core values are – kindness, faithfulness, family comes first, honesty, staying healthy, creating something, work/life balance, etc. Make sure that the choices that you make are in line with your values. Your meaningful activities will come out of your core values. Some of my core values are to create, learn, and explore. Each day I try to create and learn, and at least once a week I explore some place I have never been before.
5. Know that you are doing the right thing. Understand that you are where you should be. You may be in the process of learning something, so that you can move on from the current state. You may be on the journey toward a distant goal. I am currently on a journey of writing apps, living a happily-married life, with time each week for friends, family and adventure.
6. Get together with people. Having lunch with a friend or visiting a family member can make a huge difference in your feelings of connectedness. Start the visit with a big smile. As you listen, be compassionate but remember that they own their problems, as you own yours. Find something that you enjoy about the person or the get-together, and mention it.
Get together on a schedule that suits your nature. I’m somewhat of an introvert, and find that lunch with a friend once a week, plus seeing family a couple of times, is enough for me.
7. Avoid excess. If you eat too much, the food that you do eat is less pleasing. Likewise if you take it easy for too long, you will get less and less value out of resting. In order to avoid excess, put variety into your life. When you have sat for awhile, get up and do something that requires moving around. If you have eaten, put some distance between yourself and food. Remember that contrasts make you happy. If you are cold, sitting in the warm sun also warms your spirits. When you are thirsty a glass of water can be delightful.
8. Go outside. Find a place where you can see nature. It can be as simple as the trees alongside the street, or an actual outing into the countryside. Really pay attention to your senses. Feel the warm sun or a cool breeze. Smell the air. Listen to the birdsong. See the blue of the sky and the various shades of green in the landscape.
I find that being out in nature really lifts my spirits, and keeps me connected to the world. I also find more chances to do something strenuous when I am outside.
9. Let go of hatred. You may hate others because of a wrong they did to you. Remember that they did what they thought was best in how they perceive the world, and not necessarily on purpose to hurt you. If you give way to hatred, you are wasting your own life, not theirs. You are granting the wrong the ability to ruin your life.
Understand that it is a choice to hate. Acknowledge that somebody did you wrong, that it hurt you in some way. But choose not to let that be the focus of your life.
10. Do not envy or be jealous of others. Envy can eat away at your soul and erase any chance of happiness you might have. You typically envy another person because they have something that you think should belong to you. By giving in to jealousy you are ruining your chance of having the life experiences that are truly yours.
Take note of what it is that you are jealous of, then work on your own life. Stake out some territory that is your own. If necessary, give yourself a little distance from the problem. Focus on your own life, and what is good and true in it. Let the other person have their life.
11. It has to be now. You can plan for the future, but only live in the present. So each day take stock of the ways in which you are living the dream life. Perhaps you have a wonderful spouse, children, or parents. Perhaps you are actively working on something meaningful. Perhaps you have managed to let go of angry feelings towards another.
Today is the only chance that you have to live a fulfilling life.