Philosophers far, far more brilliant than I have debated exactly what that means, but to me it means a life that is both good and well-lived; a life that adds value to the world around us and accomplishes much. A.C. Grayling's recent musings on this subject matter fascinate me, and I find myself agreeing with him repeatedly, but I would like to highlight this idea: that each of us has different value to add, and each of has created different things we would like to accomplish. Enjoyment plays another important role, to be sure, but when we ask ourselves, "Am I living it right?" (in the words of the perhaps not-so-brilliant John Mayer), what we are asking is, "Am I accomplishing what I set out to accomplish? And am I leaving the world a better place than I found it?"
Lesson #5 goes hand-in-hand with this: We must make the most of what we are given (#455). Laura Munson made this clear in her brilliant memoir, This Is Not The Story You Think It Is, and I like the way she puts it:
"At this moment in my life, I am strangely serene. In fact, I may have never felt more calm. Or more freed. Or more certain that these things owe themselves to a simple choice: to accept life as it is. Even and especially when it really f***ing sucks."
Amen, and amen! We cannot control that which we cannot control. That idea is as basic as it gets, but we still we forget it. Nevertheless, we have a choice: to accept life as it is (again, lesson #1 and reason #451) and create something positive as a result of it -- either because of or in spite of it.
That's where this lesson comes in. While acceptance is required in the pursuit of genuine happiness, acceptance doesn't automatically beget happiness. In fact, acceptance could leave you depressed. "Life sucks," you could think. "There's no point in putting any effort into any of it." But I would advise strongly against that form of acceptance. Acceptance of what you can't control coupled with a desire to change what you can? Now, that's a recipe for both happiness and success.
Lesson #6 is directly related to this idea as well: I am responsible for my own happiness (#456). Life would be significantly easier if I could bend the universe to suit my tastes, goals, ideas, desires and preferences, but I can't. I have to take responsibility for myself, starting with my own happiness. For me, this boils down to a simple, daily commitment to do three things each and every single day: (1) do something that I enjoy, (2) do one thing that makes me feel better about myself, and (3) create something of beauty or value.
Lesson #7: Taking responsibility for said happiness is easier said than done (#457).
Now, I know that, in theory, it is important for me to commit to do these three things, as I have identified them as critical to my personal happiness, but it is so hard to do this in practice! Accordingly, I have had to force myself to make time to do this daily goal-setting each morning, to stop dead in my tracks and spend five crucial minutes mapping them out. They can be edited as the day goes on, but if I'm not intentional about them every morning, I will completely forget the importance of them. And the next thing I know I've gone a month without prioritizing these three things of critical importance.
So it is that yesterday I set out to (1) slowly read and drink coffee, (2) wash my car, and (3) clean my home until it was spotless. (Today = order sushi, exercise and blog.) These aren't big goals, obviously, but they're important to me. Taking time out for myself makes me more valuable to others; taking care of myself and my belongings positively affects my self esteem (and, therefore, sense of security); and creating beauty reminds me both that I am part of a vast ocean of people and to be grateful for what I have.
So, those are the painfully-obvious-to-people-more-evolved-than-I sorts of things I've been learning. What do you think?