1) Sense-making – I worry at this all the time. How do I make sense of the world. What is true. What is impossible to know as true. How do I think of the world. Iteratively putting together all the pieces of the puzzle, discarding pieces as needed. My mental cycles have been gnawing at this from the age of 17 to today, and I think I’ve converged towards something that makes sense for me. I won’t tell you what mine is because everyone should go through this for themselves. The right lens, though, can make or break our happiness.
2) Other People – People need people. Anyone that denies it either has not searched their soul, or is among the 3-5% of the population who are sociopaths. I once read about a study about the impact of watching “talking heads” on the news every morning, which indicated a measurable, significant increase in happiness among subjects who watched 30 minutes of news every morning. Other people not only give us the deep visceral satisfaction of social ties; they are also the most reliable catalysts for our own growth – in the intellectual dilemma they pose us, in the emotional challenges they represent, in their inspiration for empathy we never knew we had.
3) Love – Love is the extremity of empathy. When you can find the capacity within yourself to love, you have overcome rationality, genetics, and the self-centeredness for which we were built. Love is intrinsically unconditional, something you do for its own sake and not for reciprocity’s sake. It is a strange and weird phenomenon – but if you can accomplish this thing, without disingenuousness or conditionality, and separate from limerence – it will forever be a touchstone for your life’s joy.
4) Good food and exercise – We can’t forget that we are inextricably bound to our physical selves. If we could consistently recall what it was like to feel desperately ill – eyes closed, hands clutched and world spinning – we would never discount our health. But we always, when we return to health, forget what it was to be ill, and we similarly forget what it was to be hungry after we have fed. Our senses are both finite and all we have. It would be silly for us to forget, intellectually if not viscerally, that how we experience the world at the base level is physical. The chemicals in us, the biological responses, the DNA in our every cell – these are as true, real and powerful as the spirit, soul and free will we imagine.
5) Learning-change – In that same vein, our biological selves are built to feel differences, to adapt to the environment around us. The passing of time in its very definition demands change, it is inescapable. We run away from change all the time, because in a deep-down sense, it totally and completely sucks. But when we can embrace the fear, recognize it in the moment, bring it close to ourselves, savor the friction – the quickening in our veins – we learn. And we feel alive.
6) Action orientation – I remember what it was like to be eleven. The world seemed unbounded. I could say, I want to be president! and despite being female, a minority, and eleven, it would seem more than possible. The odd thing is that the possibilities haven’t changed – how I assess them, however, has. Adults bind ourselves with constraints of our own making – what is socially acceptable, what contributes to status, what is within the confines of our identity. But we have the capacity to be the deux ex machina of our own lives, to grip it white-knuckled and do the extra-ordinary and perhaps unrecognized, and take ownership of this time that we .… for some unknown reason …. are graced with.
7) Remembering death lies ahead – I often get shouted down when I talk about death, or even worse, shushed. There seems to be three camps: death as sacred, death as morbid, or death as an enemy to be denied. I don’t know what lies ahead but the data seems to indicate that statistically it is likely I will die. I feel relatively confident that death itself is not to be feared – relatively few seem to think it will be painful. The moment immediately before death, though – it will be lonely, even if surrounded by loved ones and my hand is held tightly. The loneliness of going into the unknown, by yourself, I admit it gives me pause. But then I think about what life would be like if death did not exist, if life were an unending rhythm with no conception of end, and I prefer what we have. I have enough imagination for that. I think if death were not inevitable and day followed the next to eternity, we would be callous, bored, inhuman – quite vampiric, as a matter of fact. We are lucky that death seems inevitable, because then we treat time as a scarce resource and make better use of our lives.
But that’s just mine. What’s yours? More butter, more salt, Sriracha?