❝We never knew we could want more than that out of life.❞ -Billy Joel in "Scenes From an Italian Restaurant"
I walk into the economics department to talk with my advisor about what to do after college. Graduation is coming up, and I'm not entirely sure what my next step is. So far, the next step has been highlighted for me. Now, I'm going to be graduating with a degree in economics and don't really know what that means. Do I become an economist? What is that?
I ask two of my professors, and they ask me with genuine curiosity, "What do you want to do?"
Looking back, this was a pivotal moment in my life because I never knew I had a choice. I never knew I could pick. Before that, I was just doing what I thought I was supposed to do.
So, what do you want to do with your life?
Without taking the time to think about your life and what you want out of it, you may find yourself on the default path. The default path is often the path of least resistance; the easiest thing to do in the moment.
Thus, if you live in the West, you'll likely fall for the stereotypical consumerist culture that suggests we need to have more and more, or have to achieve more and more, in order to be happy. It's the neverending pursuit of "more."
When you are on what psychologists call the hedonic treadmill, you can end up comparing yourself with others to see where you fit in the group. Yet, when you find yourself comparing yourself to others, you set an unrealistically high bar for yourself. When you use your neighbors - or worse, your social media connections - you will never "succeed" because there will always be people who are "better" than you - how ever you define "better."
The danger in doing what you think you're supposed to do is that you might get to the end of your life and experience regret. Author Bronnie Ware wrote a book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying after working with people on their deathbeds. She noticed that most people regretted some aspect of their lives and that they tended to fall into five categories. Her point in writing about it was to highlight the fact that we don't need to wait until the end of our lives to recognize it. We can make a change now.
The top regret she noticed people experienced toward the end of their lives is that they didn't live a life that was true to themselves and instead lived a life that others expected of them or did what they thought they were supposed to do. In other words, they didn't live in alignment with their values.
The second most common regret people have as they look back on their lives is that they worked too much. Perhaps they enjoyed their work and were successful. However, they ultimately felt like they didn't have the time or energy to enjoy their success. People wish they would have spent their time with loved ones, on special hobbies, or otherwise used their time in meaningful ways.
The third most common regret people experience as they reflect on their lives is that they didn't express themselves. They had things to say but left them unsaid. People need to feel heard, and when people don't speak up for themselves, they tend to regret it.
The next most common regret is that people lost touch with their friends. Humans are social animals, and we need social connection. This may start off innocently enough, bumping that weekly lunch to a monthly coffee. Then, before you know it, you haven't seen each other in months.
The fifth top regret people experience is that they didn't allow themselves to be happier. This could be not realizing that happiness is a choice. Or it could be putting happiness off until reaching some specific outcome or goal. It could even be procrastinating on doing things in their lives that would make them happier but thinking there would be more time.
We learn and understand what the most common regrets people experience on their deathbed, not to be weird, morose, or otherwise judgy. Instead, we learn about them so that we can recognize them in ourselves. If you found out tomorrow was your last day, what would you regret?
A grateful person exhibits certain traits. Rather than feeling deprived in life, a grateful person experiences a sense of abundance. A grateful person acknowledges the contributions of others to his/her success and well-being, appreciates life's simple pleasures, and acknowledges the importance of experiencing and expressing gratitude.
Imagine going on a vacation. Perhaps you're checking out Las Vegas. You have no problem being a Vegas tourist. Maybe you came across an article that highlighted the top five things people wish they did differently if they were to visit again.
The knowledge that your time in Vegas is temporary helps you appreciate your time there. It keeps you from misusing your vacation.
Similarly, if we view ourselves as being tourists on Earth for our brief time here, we can start to change our relationship with life and time. It can keep you from taking your life for granted and ending up with regret.
It empowers you to learn what truly matters to you.
YOU DID IT!
With that in mind, try envisioning your last moments as a tourist on Earth. Further, imagine that you've lived a long, great life. If, in your final moments, you can say to yourself, "I did it!", what do you want to be able to say "I did it" about?
Another way to think about this is to think about yourself at the end of your life, proud of what you've accomplished. What would that be? Who would you be? Who would you be with? Ask yourself why it's important to have accomplished what you did.
Now, snap back into the present time. You still have time left! What do you get to do today to be able to say "I did it" at the end of your life? What do you want to start doing? What do you want to stop doing?
Time is short, and this is your life. You have agency over how your life goes. There are many things over which you have control. How you spend your time is one of them.
You get one life; live intentionally.
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REFERENCES AND INFLUENCES
Barker, Dan: Life Driven Purpose Ben-Shahar, Tal: Choose the Life You Want Ben-Shahar, Tal: Happier, No Matter What Burkeman, Oliver: Four Thousand Weeks Burkeman, Oliver: The Antidote Ellis, Linda: "The Dash" Emmons, Robert: THANKS! Fischer, John Martin: Death, Immortality, and Meaning in Life Frankl, Viktor: Yes to Life, In Spite of Everything Glasgow, Joshua: The Solace Hagen, Derek: Your Money, Your Values, and Your Life Haidt, Jonathan: The Happiness Hypothesis Irvine, William: Guide to the Good Life Ivtzan, Itai, Tim Lomas, Kate Hefferon & Piers Worth: Second Wave Positive Psychology Lindsay, James: Life in Light of Death Manson, Mark: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck
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