Life is short, and it is here to be lived.
I recently received a thank you email from a reader named Hope. She said our articles 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 earlier this year 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 has spent significantly more time together in the latter part of this year, 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, and prevented us from making meaningful progress in our lives. So we’re truly grateful it’s not too late to make up for lost time…” 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 (before it’s too late)?
Here are some things to consider that I’ve been examining in my own life:
1. Expectations that prevent us from appreciating people.
Pay attention to the little things, because when you really miss someone you miss the little things the most, like just smiling together and being appreciative of each other. To be honest though, I learned this lesson the hard way. And it’s a lesson that still serves as a wake-up call to me nearly 25 years later…
For my 18th birthday my grandfather on my mom’s side gave me four lightly-used flannel shirts that he no longer needed. The shirts were barely worn and in great shape; my grandfather told me he thought they would look great on me. Unfortunately, I thought they were odd gifts at the time and I wasn’t thankful. I looked at him skeptically, gave him a crooked half-smile, and moved on to the other gifts sitting in front of me. My grandfather died two days later from a sudden heart attack. The flannel shirts were the last gifts he ever gave me, and that crooked half-smile was the last time I directly acknowledged him. Today, I still regret the little thing I didn’t say when I had the chance: “Thank you Grandpa. I appreciate you.”
2. Ungrateful and oblivious states of mind.
We don’t always need more, more, more. We need appreciation. Because we often take for granted the very things that most deserve our attention and gratitude. How often do you pause to appreciate your life just the way it is? Look around right now, and be thankful… for your health, your family, your work, your comforts, your home. Nothing lasts forever.
And remember that being grateful starts with being present. Because you can’t appreciate your life when you’re not paying attention to it. So practice appreciating where you are and what you’re doing on a daily basis: Love what you do, until you can do what you love. Love where you are, until you can be where you love. Love the people you’re with, until you can be with the people you love most…
It’s about honing a mindful presence, which at it’s core means:
- Being aware of what’s happening in the present moment without wishing it were different
- Enjoying each pleasant experience without holding on when it changes (which it will)
- Being with each unpleasant experience without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t)
(Note: “The Good Morning Journal: Powerful Prompts and Reflections to Start Every Day” is a great tool for practicing daily mindfulness and gratitude.)
3. Little (continuous) excuses.
Just because someone else can, doesn’t mean you can, right? Because you’re not good enough, or you’ve already missed your chance, or it’s just not in the cards for you. You look for reasons they can do it but you can’t…
- “Maybe he’s a successful entrepreneur who grew his side hustle into something big because he has no kids.”
- “Maybe she’s way fitter than I am because she doesn’t have all the work and family obligations I have, or has a more supportive spouse, or never had an injury.”
OK fine, it’s easy to find excuses: but look at all the other people who also have considerable obstacles and have done it anyway. Marc and I have a family, and have coped with significant loss in our lives, and still managed to make meaningful progress in our lives. And just as we’ve turned things around for ourselves, we know hundreds of other people who’ve done the same. Through 15 years of work with our coaching clients and live event attendees, we’ve witnessed people reinventing themselves at all ages — 48-year olds starting healthy families, 57-year-olds graduating from college for the first time, 71-year-olds starting successful businesses, and so forth. And stories abound of people with disabilities or illnesses who overcame their obstacles to achieve incredible outcomes.
No one else can succeed for you on your behalf. The life you live is the life you build for yourself. There are so many possibilities to choose from, and so many opportunities for you to bridge the gap between where you are and where you want to be.
4. Compulsive busyness.
The key is to remind yourself that there’s a big difference between being busy and being productive on the average day. Senseless busyness just leads to burnout and no results. So be sure to schedule time every day to pause and reflect. Have clear check points in your routine — a feedback loop — that assures your actions are in line with your priorities, and that you’re not just spinning your wheels for no reason.
Over the past couple decades, Marc 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 truly matter most to us.
5. Senseless consumerism.
Have incredible stories to tell, not incredible clutter stuffed in your closets…
Intuitively, you already know that the best stuff in life isn’t stuff at all, and that healthy relationships, experiences, and meaningful work are the staples of a happy life. Yet you live in a consumer driven society where your mind is incessantly subjected to clever advertising ploys that drive you, against your better judgment, to waste time researching and buying material goods you don’t need or even want.
And at a certain point, the excessive material objects you buy end up hurting the emotional needs advertisers would like you to believe they are meant to support. So next time you’re getting ready to make an impulsive purchase, ask yourself if this thing is really better than the things you already have. Or have you been tricked into believing that you’re dissatisfied with what you already have? Keep yourself in check, and save yourself some time!
6. Endless hesitation when expressing love and kindness.
About 15 years ago a coworker of mine died in a car accident on the way to work. During his funeral several people from the office were in tears, saying kind things like: “I loved him. We all loved him so much. He was such a wonderful person.” I started crying too, and I wondered if these people had told him that they loved him while he was alive, or whether it was only with death that this powerful word, love, had been used without question or hesitation.
I vowed to myself then and there that I would never again hesitate to speak up to the people I love and remind them of how much I appreciate them. They deserve to know they give meaning to my life. They deserve to know I think the world of them.
Bottom line: Sometimes we hesitate to express our love and kindness simply because we believe there’s more time left than there is. Yes, sometimes, sadly, we wait until it’s too late. So let this e your wake-up call to not waste another day: If you love someone today, tell them. If you appreciate someone today, tell them. Nothing is guaranteed. Today is the day to express your love and kindness. (Note: Marc and I discuss this in detail in the Relationships chapter of “1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently”.)
Now, it’s your turn…
Yes, it’s your turn to treat your time today with extra care. Just keep reminding yourself that there’s a big difference between empty fatigue and gratifying exhaustion, and that life is too short not to invest your limited time wisely…
But before you go, please leave Marc and me a comment below and let us know what you think of this essay. Your feedback is truly important to us. 🙂
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