The most precious things in life are either inherent or abstract.
But since it’s in our nature to want things, we are constantly looking. We hope that the next thing we seek will finally bring a feeling of fulfillment.
Impulsively, most of our thoughts revolve around things like money, fame, great sex, etc. Of course, these things are important, but they pale in comparison to the real things we need to have a life we can smile back on.
The most important things in life support our souls and our need for meaning.
They are things that make us better people from the inside out. They don’t necessarily make us happy all the time, but they make our lives more meaningful.
The Greek maxim, “Know thyself” has withstood the test of time for one reason:
Self-knowledge is one of the most important things a human being can achieve.
Not surprisingly, the Greeks weren’t the only ones who understood its importance.
As Tasha Eurich, the leader of the research explained in her article published in Harvard Business Review, knowing yourself makes life better in every way: you form better trustworthy relationships because you are less likely to cheat or lie.
They also discovered that self-aware people make better leaders. Why? It is far easier to understand others when you understand yourself.
Self-knowledge is the foundation for a balanced life. If you know yourself, you can build something solid.
In the compilation of his letters On The Shortness Of Life, the stoic philosopher seneca said,
“It is not that we have so little time but that we lose so much… The life we receive is not short but we make it so; we are not ill provided but use what we have wastefully.”
Time is easy to waste, not because it’s useless, but because it’s abstract.
As The German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer wrote in his Counsels and Maxims, “The main difference between youth and age will always be that youth looks forward to life and old age to death.”
When we are young, we feel we have so much time to lose, and as such, we end up losing much.
It’s not that life is short per se. The thing is, if you spend most of your time doing the wrong things because you think you “have time,” the future will hit you unprepared.
Time is one of the most precious things in life and as such should be used with wisdom.
If you still have lots of it, use it to set yourself up for a better tomorrow. As seneca advised in one of his letters,
“Hence, every day ought to be regulated as if it closed the series as if it rounded out and completed our existence.”
“The bamboo that bends is stronger than the oak that resists,” says a Japanese proverb.
Flexibility doesn’t just make you stronger, it makes you indestructible.
The stoics have a saying which they always keep at the front of their minds: Amor fati, meaning, to love one’s fate.
Think about it: Life is tough and often unfair.
Usually, you neither get what you want nor what’s pleasant. Everyone knows and experiences this. But not everyone handles it rightly.
The differences between each of us are what we do when life turns the unfair side to us.
Would you become bitter, resentful, and curse fate? Or would get up and strategize.
Those who are flexible keep growing even in the direst of circumstances.
4. Good Relationships
One of the longest study ever done on adult life (which went on for 80 years) revealed one simple thing:
The quality of our relationships has a direct effect on our happiness, health, and how long we live. Period.
The fact that The Ted talk on the research by Robert Waldinger, the leader of the study, has been viewed over 19 million times shows how much we care about being happy. But it also shows that most of us aren’t.
Why? When we think of the important things we need in our lives, we rarely remember the people around us.
We tend to see things that are beyond our reach as more important. We want to make more money, get the next promotion, build another company, write a bestseller.
But we don’t deliberately put effort into making sure our relationships work.
Nurture your close relationships. Having people around you that you can trust and depend on makes you psychologically and emotionally healthy.
Most of our wrong decisions in life are emotion-based.
As narrated by Walter Isaacson on his account of the life of Albert Einstein (Einstein: His Life and Universe) Albert refused to work at his father’s dynamo even if it was an already established business that would get him easy money.
Now picture Albert: A 21-year-old boy, graduated near the bottom of his class in Zurich Polytechnic (making his chances of getting a teaching job very thin). Yet this dude was rejecting jobs.
Why? His decision wasn’t emotion-based, it was rational.
He needed a job where he could learn and grow as a theoretical physicist. Not one that pays lots of money.
That single choice is one of the major reasons his name is one of the most celebrated in history.
6. Your Perspective
The psychologist and renowned American author, Wayne Dyer once said:
“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”
The significance of your perspective in life can never be overemphasized.
Look at it this way: Nothing really means anything.
Imagine you traveled to a new city where you neither knew their language nor the inhabitants.
You can decide to tell yourself, “God, these next few months are going to be a shitty time.” Or you can see it as a chance to learn something new, connect, and explore the possibilities presented in the chaos.
Our circumstances don’t influence our experiences; our interpretation does.
If you can learn to always look at life the right way, you’re a free person.
As simple as it may seem, it is a remarkable thing to be able to examine thought and just let it pass.
One thing that most great minds, mystics, philosophers, writers, thought leaders, have in common is that they understand the importance of stillness.
Let’s take from the letters of Seneca again,
“No man is able to borrow or buy a sound mind,” Seneca wrote. “In fact, as it seems to me, even though sound minds were for sale, they would not find buyers.”
A sound mind is priceless.
Self-mastery helps you look at life in a detached manner. It makes you see life as it really is.
When you have a sound mind, you’ll be better equipped to handle the erratic tendency of human nature. As Arthur Schopenhauer wisely wrote in his Counsels and Maxims,
“A little self-control at the right moment may prevent much subsequent compulsion at the hands of others.”
8. Focused Purpose
In his book Beyond Order, Jordan Peterson wrote,
“Focused purpose constrains what is otherwise likely to be the intolerable chaos of unexploited possibility and too much choice.”
Focused purpose is one of the most important things a human being needs to navigate life properly.
When your life has no purpose, there’s no limit to how much havoc chaos can wreak on your psyche. Some even decide to end it all because, without purpose, overwhelming chaos might make them feel that dying is more convenient than living. And it’s no wonder.
Have a purpose. Commit your whole self to one thing and offer yourself to the service of humanity through that. It will constrain the effect of the ever-so-present chaos of life and give you direction.
As Viktor Frankl wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning after spending time in three Nazi concentration camps, “Suffering ceases to be suffering the moment it finds meaning.”
“The most important thing is never to stop questioning,” Albert Einstein once said, “curiosity has its own purpose for existence.”
As simple as it may seem, one of the reasons why life becomes boring or stiff as we grow older is our tendency to concretize our assumptions about everything.
A child, by default, must pay attention to his or her environment because their survival depends on it.
An adult on the other hand has to consciously uphold the act of active wonder. Why? There’s a natural decay that set’s in when we feel we’ve seen it all. As Jordan Peterson wrote in Beyond Order,
“It is overwhelming for us to open ourselves to the beauty in the world that we as adults have painted over with simplicity.”
We must learn to keep our minds open. No matter the point we are in our lives, there will always be enough beauty and mystery in the world to leave us in awe.
And you can’t see that beauty if all you do is simplify everything.
There’s an ancient life principle that was introduced by our ancestors thousands of years ago.
In ancient times, when people needed something from God, they offered burnt offerings. These offerings were not just remnants, often, they were the best of whatever goods the sacrificer had to offer.
The idea was simple: If you want something from God tomorrow, give something of value today.
The principle of offering something of value today to be in a better place tomorrow is a universal law of prosperity that will forever be valid. In fact, how well your future turns out usually depends on the nature of your sacrifices today.
A couple willing to sacrifice momentary peace to have the needed uncomfortable conversations will have a more pleasant relationship in the future.
A student who sacrifices his or her comfort to study will look back on the hard days with a smile.
Learn to offer quality sacrifices so that the fragrance of your burnt offering can bring down a rain of blessings in the future.
Most of the things that count cannot be counted. Often, they cannot even be touched. They can only be felt. But their effects determine the quality and direction of our lives.