“Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that’s the stuff life is made of.”
— Benjamin Franklin
I recently received a thank you email from a reader and course student named Hope. She said our work helped motivate her through an arduous recovery process following a serious car accident last year. Although her entire story was both heartbreaking and inspiring, this one line made me pause and think:
“The happiest moment of my life is still that split-second a year ago when, as I laid crushed under a 2000 pound car, I realized my husband and 9-year-old boy were out of the vehicle and absolutely OK.”
Dire moments like this force us to acknowledge what’s truly important to us. In Hope’s case, it was her husband and son. And in the remainder of her email she talks about how her family spends significantly more time together now, sharing daily stories, telling little jokes, and appreciating each other’s company. “The accident made us realize how much time we had been wasting every day on things that weren’t important, which prevented us from spending quality time with each other,” she said.
It’s hard to think about a story like Hope’s and not ask yourself: What do I need to stop wasting time on?
Here are some things to consider that I’ve been examining in my own life:
- Distractions that keep you from special moments with special people. – Pay attention to the little things, because when you really miss someone you miss the little things the most, like just laughing together. Go for long walks. Indulge in great conversations. Count your mutual blessings. Let go for a little while and just BE together.
- Compulsive busyness. – Schedule time every day to not be busy. Have dedicated downtime — clear points in the day to reflect, rest, and recharge. Don’t fool yourself; you’re not so busy that you can’t afford a few minutes of sanity every day. Over the past decade, Angel and I have gradually learned to pay more attention to the beauty and practicality of living a simpler life. A life uncluttered by most of the default busyness people fill their lives with, leaving us with space for what’s truly meaningful. A life that isn’t constant rushing, worrying and stress, but instead contemplation, creation, and connection with the people and projects that matter most to us.
- Negative thinking about your capabilities. – Just because you’re struggling doesn’t mean you’re failing. Every great success requires some type of worthy struggle to get there. And don’t wish away all your days waiting for better ones ahead. Just appreciate where you are. You’ve come a long way, and you’re still learning and growing. Be thankful for the lessons. Take them and make the best of things right now.
- The needless drama around you. – A big part of maturity is learning to gracefully walk away from situations that threaten your peace of mind, self-respect, values, morals, or self-worth. Practice letting go gradually. Remind yourself that you don’t need to attend every argument you’re invited to. Give yourself the space to value your time, genuine relationships, and peace of mind, above all in the weeks ahead. Because little else will matter more in the long run.
- The desire for everything you don’t have. – No, you won’t always get exactly what you want, but remember this: There are lots of people who will never have what you have right now. Some of the things you take for granted, someone else is praying for. Happiness never comes to those who don’t appreciate what they already have. So remind yourself: You did not go to sleep hungry last night. You had a choice of what to wear today. You have access to clean drinking water. You have access to the internet. You can read. The secret to being grateful is no secret. You choose to be grateful, for the little things.
- Comparing yourself to everyone else. – Social comparison is the thief of personal joy and progress. You could literally spend a lifetime worrying about what others have, but it wouldn’t get you anything worth having.
- Obsessing over who you were or what you had in the past. – You’re not the same person you were a year ago, a month ago, or a week ago. You’re always evolving and growing. Experiences don’t stop. That’s life. And it’s a privilege!
- Worrying about old mistakes. – It’s OK if you mess up in life — that’s how you get wiser. Give yourself a break. Great things take time, and you’re getting there. Let your mistakes be your motivation, not your excuses. Decide right now that yesterday’s little mistakes and frustrations won’t get in your way today.
- Worrying about what everyone thinks and says about you. – Don’t take things too personally, even if it seems personal. Rarely do people do things because of you; they do things because of them. You honestly can’t change how people treat you or what they say about you. All you can do is change how you react and who you choose to be around. And remember that one of the most freeing things we learn in life is that we don’t have to like everyone, everyone doesn’t have to like us, and that’s perfectly OK. Because no matter how you live, someone will be disappointed. So just live your truth and be sure YOU aren’t the one who is disappointed in the end.
- Self-deception. – Your life will improve only when you take small chances. And the first and most difficult chance you can take every day is to be honest with yourself.
- A life path that doesn’t feel rewarding. – Life is to be enjoyed, not endured. When you truly believe in what you’re doing, it shows, and it pays in the long run. Success in life is for those who put there heart and soul into their daily efforts. And as you struggle, remember, it’s far better to be exhausted from little bits of effort and learning, than to be tired of doing absolutely nothing.
- Everyone else’s definition of success and happiness. – You simply can’t base your idea of success and happiness on other people’s opinions and expectations.
- People who keep trying to manipulate you. – In many cases, what you allow is what will continue. Give as much as you can, but don’t allow yourself to be continuously used. Listen to others closely, but don’t lose your own voice in the process. Set some boundaries when you must! (Angel and I discuss this in detail in the “Boundaries & Expectations” chapter of “1,000 Little Habits of Happy, Successful Relationships”.)
- Doubting and second-guessing yourself. – Give yourself some extra credit. Remind yourself that you’re doing the best you can, and that sometimes it takes an overwhelming series of little breakdowns to have an undeniable breakthrough. When in doubt just take the next small step. Sometimes the smallest step in the right direction ends up being the biggest step of your life. Truly, there’s a time and place for everything, and every step is necessary. Just do your best right now, and don’t force what’s not yet supposed to fit into your life. It will happen, when it’s time.
- Thinking the perfect time will come. – Some people wait all day for 5pm, all week for Friday, all year for the holidays, all their lives for happiness. Don’t be one of them! You can’t always wait for the perfect moment. Sometimes you must dare to do it because life is too short to wonder what could have been, again and again.
- Band-Aids and temporary fixes. – You can’t change what you refuse to confront. You can’t find peace or progress by avoiding things. Deal with problems directly before they deal with your long-term happiness and potential. Build sustainable habits that move your life forward. (Angel and I build small, life-changing daily habits with our students in the “Goals and Growth” module of the Getting Back to Happy Course. And we’d be truly honored to work with YOU.)
- Resentment. – Kindness is not to be mistaken for weakness, nor forgiveness for acceptance. It’s about knowing that resentment is not on the path to long-term happiness and healing.
- Hateful thoughts and gestures. – Set an example. Treat everyone with kindness and respect, even those who are rude to you — not because they are nice, but because you are. Make kindness a daily habit; it’s what makes life happier and more fulfilling in the long run.
- Close-minded judgments. – Open your mind before you open your mouth. Don’t resist what you don’t understand. The mind is like a parachute; it doesn’t work when it’s closed. Build friendships with people who aren’t your age. Spend time around those whose first language is different than your own. Get to know someone who doesn’t come from the same social class. Listen. Be humble and teachable. This is how you learn. This is how you see the world.
- Yearning for control over the uncontrollable. – You can’t calm the storm. What you can do is calm yourself, and the storm will eventually pass. The most powerful and practical changes happen when you decide to take control of what you do have power over, instead of craving control over what you don’t.
Now, it’s your turn…
Yes, it’s your turn to treat your limited time today with extra care. Because there’s such a big difference between empty fatigue and gratifying exhaustion. And life is too short not to invest in meaningful activities…
But before you go, please leave Angel and me a comment below and let us know what you think of this post. As you likely know, your feedback is important to us. 🙂
Also, if you haven’t done so already, be sure to sign-up for our free newsletter to receive new articles like this in your inbox each week.
Wow, I needed this! Helping me refocus my focus and priorities today.
We love you here in Jamaica. 🙂 Your emails, posts and books inspire me and my family.
Ps. I also really appreciate the live zoom support and coaching you and Angel provided through your course. Didn’t expect that. Super nice to speak with you both the other day!
Jamie Neithold says
I love reading and receiving your wise perspectives. They really help remind me to be the person I am looking for. Such a great pair you make and what valuable gifts you bring to us. Thank You! Jamie N
This post reminds me of the “To-Don’t” concept you discuss in the Productivity chapter of your 1,000 Little Things book.
I’m always struggling with #9 – worrying about what other people think of me. I need to stop this. I know doing so can help give me the space and freedom to be who I really am. I like to remind myself of the following quote from your book whenever I start wondering what others think of me:
“If someone calls you something and it’s true, it’s not your problem because it’s true. If someone calls you something and it’s not true, it’s not your problem because it’s not true. Either way, what they call you is not your problem. What others call you is their problem. What you call yourself, and who you decide to become, is your problem.”
Trudee Thompson says
Yep, I so needed this today. Thank you!
Capt. Dave says
Laughter 🙂 is an INSTANT Vacation!
I need to stop worrying/over-thinking and stressing about the future! There really is no point because it hasn’t even happened yet and I can’t control it so I just need to stop! Thank you for reminding me. Your emails and articles center my thinking.
Dave Nordella says
The # 1 item on your list is my first priority in my personal development.
Loving our family and friends is the greatest gift that God gives us every day.
Sharing and bonding with the ones that you love is the best way to show your appreciation.
Giving love and attention is the best gift that we can give to the people that matter to us.
Thank you for this wonderful reminder! #gratitude
Great write-up. Wish I knew this since. Oops! I’m not to bother about past mistakes but to live life to the fullest.
Much love from Cameroon.
I especially needed to hear number 7 today – filling every waking moment with activity. I do number 7 a lot and this was just what I needed to hear when I needed to hear it! Time to create some downtime for myself.
I continue to love the insight I get from your writing. You have a way with words that I don’t find anywhere else. Besides your blog, I am also enjoying your audiobooks these days during my commutes… I put one of them on for 10-15 minutes and it always gives me something interesting to think about. Thanks for that.
It’s almost embarrassing how many times I need these same little reminders. But I do. And I’m grateful that you continue to provide them. Live now. It shouldn’t be so hard. But I have to confess the difficulty in always being motivated to follow my intuition AND to let go. When in some cases, my intuition is screaming “don’t let go.”
Life is a battle and a balance I guess. Thanks.
Towards the end of of my 40’s I felt a bit stuck in my efforts to achieve my goals for the year and realized that most of my time and effort had been focused on “prevention” – trying to prevent various negative outcomes.
So I’ve been focusing on switching my perspective to more of a growth mindset… getting better results, feeling more stoked and enjoying all those exquisite little moments each day brings when I’m present enough to notice them. Great post Marc, thanks for the reminders.
This is so relevant to me & my family right now; our mom has been diagnosed with a terminal disease and I am trying to learn to live in the moment. I have to travel 1500 miles to see her–so the moments I do get to spend with her are precious, beyond measure.
Thank you for this reminder; I hope it helps others too.
Hi, I just wanted to let you know that your emails, blog and books are the primary sources that has been helping me steadily move past my regrets, mistakes and the gradual self destruction of the life I built for myself. I’m not going to delve into any of sad stories here, we all have them. I just wanted to say thank you. Thank you for existing and making a difference in my daily life, M&A. That’s all.
Larry Aldrich says
Amazing how we waste precious time…..(we all are working on a time clock of how long we will be here on earth) trying to make things perfect in an imperfect world. Loved this post!!
Gloria S Jebulan says
Wow! I do really need this! Thank you very much for sharing a very inspiring thoughts. God bless both of you always.
such a simple list
we know what to do, how to be, yet…
chance favors the prepared mind (louis pasteur)
when it comes at just the right moment, when i’m ready to hear it, not necessarily out of desperation or fatigue or hopelessness, but because i’m ready to look once again at how i choose to be, then it’s a buoy
reminding me where the channel is… even though i’ve sailed these waters thousands of times
I am going through the worst time I have experienced. My beautiful wife slid her diary over to me, no words, just something she had written, one sentence: I am moving out.
Just that, and the following week she was gone. No prior warning, no husband and wife talk about a marital death, and above all, she and the other person had it all planned down to the last days.
So, for the past almost five months, I have experienced all the emotions and anguish one can imagine. Thirty seven years wiped off the blackboard. I am in flight mode, I blame myself, I a have continuous film playing off in my head, jumbled words and thoughts and heartsore.
Our four adult kids feel abondoned, as I do, like a mongorel dog, looking for a home, a morsel, a pat on the head.
I have read your article, And it is so encouraging, and I also realise that there are so many more people with similar stories or worse. But the human being, and we are not all wired up the same way, is also selfish weak and only thinking of his own pain and cannot always take these kind words or suggestions to heart and break out of that dark hole he or she is in, and I really do want out, and see the the sun shine again.
If I do, I will surely shout it out to the world, because we all deserve joy and happiness.
Hi Frederick, I’m sure the reply you’ll want to see is from Marc and Angel, but your post made me want to reach out to you with a word of encouragement during this difficult time. You are valuable, you are loved and you are blessed. I’m a Christian so my conviction of being loved regardless of any and everything comes from my belief that God loves me so much He sent His son to die for me and to give me eternal life. I pray you meet God during your time of need. But just as a human being navigating this difficult journey of life, I still maintain that you as a person are valuable and valued to yourself and to so many people, in ways you probably don’t know. I don’t know the circumstances of your wife leaving but you could benefit from talking to a therapist, counselor, a professional equipped to help you through your grief, shame, confusion, anger, and all the gamunt of emotions you’ve been going through and will go through. I pray that you and your children have a close relationship whereby you’re able to talk and to help each other go through this time. I pray you have friends or someone who can listen to you explain and rant and ramble for a small while as you try to process it all ( my ranting lasted for 5 months so I say small while with a smile !!.. I hopeful ??). I also hope that at some point you’re able to accept the choice made by your wife and understand that you have to keep living your life the best way you know how. One of the things that has helped me overcome very trying situations is to unpack the facts that led to the situation in an objective manner; were there statements made or actions taken pointing to her leaving? Did she say or indicate she was unhappy in the marriage? Were you happy or satisfied with the marriage? These are hard questions and they might not have useful answers. But still, ask yourewkf them when you’re ready. I’m not telling you to wallow, but take time to heal.. ( I cried, I cursed, I screamed, I cried, I slept, I went to work and became super efficient, I prayed, I cried…). It will pass and you will survive this. You’re already on a good path with the resources on this site. You will survive this and come through it stronger and more resilient. I pray for the peace that passes all human understanding for you through the grace of God.
I can really work with all 20 of these things. No. 13 and 14 are the 2 that really stick out to me. People take my kindness for weakness, that’s okay. I know the difference and do the very best I can,and let the rough end drag. Mike
Sending you love and encouragement.
Wishing you all the best,
Thank you for todays article and the words of advice and encouragement. I must read it again, and again, and I will do that, and hope it will help me with my sadness and much more. Thank you.
Richie Cloete says
Thank you for a very enlightening post. Great refresher and reminder of what’s important and what to do..
This is a wonderful piece, I felt a whole lot better reading it
Kind of hard to avoid #6, #13, and #17 when you look at how people manipulate you; whereby, they ended up having a better job and better salary because of it which causes you to resent what they have done to you and you look at what your life would have been like compared to the other person(s) life.
In addition, it is kind of hard to avoid #9 when we were young kids being vulnerable to what other kids say or think of us, and the same thing when dealing with parents and those in authority who have the power over us and we don’t have any power to resist their words and perceptions of us.
susan pfaff says
Thank you for these wonderful emails. I have been reading them for a very long time and he give me so much comfort, peace, and wisdom. You guys are so great at what you do and I really appreciate you.
This list is truly wise. I must keep a copy with me. Thank you
I wake to read your emails in my inbox. Each one reminds me of what I know but forget.
Some mornings I cry a little because your words hit home.
Baby steps lead to more steps, more steps move to bigger and bigger steps. Then you might get where you want to go.
Thank you for your kind words of encouragement. 🙂