My “meaningful life” is based on the virtues of the tale of two wolves, as expressed in several key values of mine: joy, gratitude, service to others, depth of relationships, good health and financial independence. (Good health and financial independence are things I consider cornerstones, because until those things have been accomplished it can be difficult to pay attention to cultivating the rest of these values. Don’t miss the beauty the world has to offer just because you’re too busy just scraping by.)
I am not the only one to recognize that joy and gratitude are closely linked. When you keep your eye on what you have in life to be thankful for (in my case, a mother who supports every crazy decision I ever make, friends who have stuck by me through the truly unimaginable, an unshakable sense of self, and a tuxedo cat who snuggles up with me in the evening and makes my blood pressure noticeably drop) will multiply your joy ten-fold. When you take your eyes off those things, it can be easy to get mired in all the possible woes (like the frustration of watching my dog run loose, pretending he cannot hear me calling him) and hard to remember what this world truly can be (like the warmth and laughter of good friends over a potluck dinner).*
When you are truly thankful for what you have, it is also difficult to avoid service to others — embracing kindness, benevolence, compassion and generosity is really a no-brainer when you have the joy and peace in your life that comes from true gratitude; the hope you feel for yourself, you will want to spread as far and wide as you can. Kindness and empathy become a sort of second nature. And if you don’t believe me, ask Muhammad Ali. He wants you to know that, “service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth.”
I am hardly going to pretend that I’ve achieved much on the list of goals I have set out for my life. I am still working towards perfecting my health and becoming truly financially independent (hint: spend less, appreciate more). I am still struggling with my quickness to judge and a definite lack of humility in most instances. But I do take the advice of Will Durant, who urges us to “forget mistakes. Forget failures. Forget everything except what you’re going to do now and do it. Today is your lucky day.”
Camus wanted us to “live to the point of tears,” and I try to. I work to always deepen my relationships and bonds with the people close to me, no matter how far away I may travel. I try not to let an opportunity pass me by to be generous, to be kind, or to let someone know how much they truly mean to me. And I have seen the light. I have seen that “love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within,” (James Baldwin) and that “in giving you are throwing a bridge across the chasm of your solitude” (Antoine de Saint-Exupery). I take Einstein’s advice not to aim to become someone of success, but of value. And I know “there is no way, there is no essence, there is no secret. The truth you seek is not hidden from you. You are hiding from it.” (Rabbi Rami M. Shapiro)
So join me. Embrace these virtues, live by these values, consistently seek to leave everything better than when you found it.
Tonight, I am taking a break to attend the Christmas party of dear old friends — this may mean I won’t be back tomorrow, since I might sleep all day! (Hopefully not, one of the joys of visiting home is getting my egg bagel from the bagel shop down the road; I wouldn’t want to miss it.)
But I will return! The next few posts will illustrate how far I’ve come so far and how much further I intend to go — and hopefully, they will inspire you to look within and figure out how to turn everything around. Right now. Because this is the only moment that is ours to do it — do not be “so imprudent [to]…wander in times that are not ours, and give no thought to the only time that does belong to us.” (Blaise Pascal)
In good time we shall see
God and his light, you say.
Fool, you shall never see
What you do not see today!
*If you find yourself focusing too much on “what’s wrong,” remembering this piece of Cherokee wisdom may help you like it helps me: Everything in life comes to you as a teacher. Pay attention. Learn quickly.