The proper function of man is to live, not to exist – Jack London
Too often we go through life on autopilot, going through the motions and having each day pass like the one before it. That’s fine, and comfortable, until you have gone through another year without having done anything, without having really lived life.
That’s fine, until you have reached old age and look back on life with regrets.
That’s fine, until you see your kids go off to college and realise that you missed their childhoods.
What follows is just a list of ideas; obvious ones mostly that you could have thought of yourself, but hopefully are useful reminders. We all need reminders sometimes.
• Love, perhaps the most important. Fall in love, if you aren’t already. If you have, fall in love with your partner all over again. Or love family members, friends, anyone, it doesn’t have to be romantic love. Love all of humanity, one person at a time.
• Get outside. Don’t let yourself be shut indoors. Walk on the beach. Swim in a freezing lake. Bask in the sun. Play sports, or walk barefoot through grass. Pay close attention to nature.
• Savour food. Don’t just eat your food, but really enjoy it. Feel the texture, the bursts of flavours. Savour every bite. If you limit your intake of sweets, it will make the small treats you give yourself even more enjoyable. And when you do have them, really, really savour them slowly.
• Create a morning ritual. Wake early and greet the day. Watch the sun rise. Out loud, tell yourself that you will not waste this day, which is a gift. You will be compassionate to your fellow human beings, and live every moment to its fullest. Stretch or meditate or exercise as part of your ritual.
• Take chances. We often live our lives too cautiously, worried about what might go wrong. Be bold, risk it all. Quit your job and go to business for yourself (plan it out first!), or go up to that girl you’ve liked for a long time and ask her out. What do you have to lose?
• Follow excitement. Try to find the things in life that excite you, and then go after them. Make life one exciting adventure after another (with perhaps some quiet times in between).
• Find your passion. Similar to the above tip, this one asks you to find your calling. Make your living by doing the thing you love to do. First, think about what you really love to do. There may be many things. Find out how you can make a living doing it. It may be difficult, but you only live once.
• Travel. Sure, you want to travel someday. When you have vacation time, or when you’re older. Well, what are you waiting for? Find a way to take a trip, if not this month, then sometime soon. You are too young not see the world. If need be, find a way to make a living by freelancing, then work while you travel. Only work an hour or two a day, then use the rest of the time to see the world.
• Rediscover what’s important. Take an hour and make a list of everything that’s important to you. Add to it everything that you want to do in life. Now cut that list down to four to things; just the most important things in your life. This is your core list. This is what matters. Focus your life on these things. Make time for them.
• Exercise. Get off the couch and go for a walk. Eventually try running or do some push ups and crunches or swim. Whatever you do, get active, and you’ll love it. And life will be more alive.
• Be positive. Learn to recognise the negative thoughts you have. These are the self-doubts, the criticisms of others, the complaints, the reasons you can’t do something. Then stop yourself when you have these thoughts, and replace them with positive thoughts, solutions. You can do this!
• Open your heart. Is your heart a closed bundle of scar tissue? Learn to open it, have it ready to receive love, to give love unconditionally. If you have a problem with this, talk to someone about it.
• Face your fears. What are you most afraid of? What is holding you back? Whatever it is, recognise it, and face it. Do what you are most afraid of. Afraid of heights? Go to the tallest building, and look down over the edge. Only by facing our fears can we be free of them.
• When you suffer, suffer. Life isn’t all about fun and games. Suffering is an inevitable part of life. We lose our jobs. We lose our lovers. We lose our pets. We get physically injured or sick. A loved one becomes sick. A parent dies. Learn to feel the pain intensely, and really grieve. This is a part of life – really feel the pain. And when you’re done, move on, and find joy.
• Slow down. Life moves along at such a rapid pace these days. It’s not healthy, and it’s not conducive to living. Practice doing everything slowly – everything, from eating to walking to driving to working to reading. Enjoy what you do. Learn to move at a snail’s pace.
• Touch humanity. Get out of your house and neighbourhoods, and find those who live in worse conditions. Meet them, talk to them, and understand them. Live among them. Be one of them. Give up your materialistic lifestyle.
• Volunteer. Learn compassion, and learn to help ease the suffering of others. Help the sick, those with disabilities, those who are dying.
*Play with children. Children, more than anyone else, know how to live. They experience everything in the moment, fully. When they get hurt, they really cry. When they play, they really have fun. Learn from them, instead of thinking you know so much more than them. Play with them, and learn to be joyful like them.
• Talk to old people. There is no one wiser, more experienced, more learned, than those who have lived through life. They can tell you amazing stories. Give you advice on making a marriage last or staying out of debt. Tell you about their regrets, so you can learn from them and avoid the same mistakes. They are the wisdom of our society – take advantage of their existence while they’re still around.
• Learn new skills. Constantly improve yourself instead of standing still – not because you’re so imperfect now, but because it is gratifying and satisfying. You should accept yourself as you are, and learn to love who you are, but still try to improve – if only because the process of improvement is life itself.
• Find spirituality. For some, this means finding God or Jesus. For others, this means becoming in tune with the spirits of our ancestors, or with nature. For still others, this just means an inner energy. Whatever spirituality means for you, rediscover it, and its power.
• Be in the moment. Instead of thinking about things you need to do, or things that have happened to you, or worrying or planning or regretting, think about what you are doing, right now. What is around you? What smells and sounds and sights and feelings are you experiencing? Learn to do this as much as possible through meditation, but also through bringing your focus back to the present as much as you can in everything you do.
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