I think this is a question that people often ask themselves, but tend to answer very superficially. In the article “What Makes Life Worth Living?“, author Dustin Wax reflects upon some of the things that are really important to us. With Thanksgiving in our so recent past and Christmas right on the horizon, and many friends doing the “30 days of Thankfulness” on Facebook, it’s nice and fresh in our minds. I don’t want to marginalize this exercise, because I think anything that causes us to focus on what we have over what we don’t have is a good thing. But let’s not let it be a superficial thing, or let it only last for the month of November. Dustin came up with these great points on what makes life meaningful:
- Creating: Writing, drawing, painting (though I’m not good at it), playing music (though I’m not especially good at that, either). For others, it might be inventing something, building a business, coming up with a clever marketing campaign, forming a non-profit.
- Relating: It’s not “family” that makes life worth living, I think, but therelationships we create with members of our family, and the way we maintain and build those relationships. Same goes for friends, lovers, business partners, students, and everyone else.
- Helping: Being able to lend a hand to people in need – however drastic or trivial that need may be – strikes me as an important part of life.
- Realizing: Making, working towards, and achieving goals, no matter what those goals are.
- Playing: Maybe this is a kind of “relating”, but then, play can be a solo affair as well. Letting go of restraints, imagining new possibilities, testing yourself against others or against yourself, finding humor and joy.
- Growing: Learning new things, improving my knowledge and ability in the things I’ve already learned.
I think we all want to live fulfilling lives, ones that make an impact, lives that leave a legacy after we’re gone. But sometimes we don’t really know how to go about doing that. It’s far too easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of daily life, especially this time of year, and end up just getting through instead of leaving our mark.
I know I am much happier if I have done at least something in one of these categories each day. Even on days when I can’t manage to check much off my “to-do” list, as long as I’ve done something fulfilling, I feel like I’ve accomplished something. And sometimes I have to celebrate even the smallest accomplishment.
I’d like to make two points here: First, let’s not beat ourselves up for not making every second of every day a Mother Teresa level activity. Everyone’s gotta have down time, and everyone has times when they feel overwhelmed by everything that they have to do. All the greats had their times of inactivity, and I’m sure they had times when they felt like they weren’t accomplishing much. Seriously, they were human just like the rest of us.
Second, on the flip side of that coin, I think it helps to evaluate the value of an activity based on its lasting worth. If I have an hour to spend, do I really want to spend it playing a video game, watching reruns of my favorite sitcom, or spending time with my family? My time is at least as valuable a resource as my money, and what I choose to spend the majority of it on shows pretty clearly what is most important to me.
Ultimately, I think it all comes down to balance. There’s nothing wrong with the occasional mindless activity that has no real value in the light of eternity. But if the majority of my time is spent on meaningless things rather than the things that will make a difference in someone’s life, I’m very likely to come to the end of my life with some pretty significant “death-bed regrets”.
So try to go though your coming days with this in mind. Take an extra second to hold the door for a fellow Christmas shopper. Make a call or send a message to a friend of family member you haven’t reconnected with in a while. Take time to recharge your own batteries so that you have something to spend. And give yourself the Christmas gift of reasonable expectations. A Christmas celebration does not have to reach Martha Stewart level perfection to be memorable. After all, it should be all about the time with loved ones anyway, shouldn’t it?
Merry Christmas to you all, and shower the people you love with love!