What is a meaningful life? I’m really asking because I would like to know. It’s funny that no matter how positive other people view you or your accomplishments, if you are in selfdoubt, all the praise in the world wont change a thing. We should know by now that no matter how far you go, how proud your loved ones may be, or the money your are earning; if you are not content with what you are doing, if you can’t find meaning in it- it’s unlikely to make you happy, truly happy.
Happiness is such an overrated concept though – or misunderstood. People who have lived through the worst of things are capable of enjoying truly happy moments…
…and others that lull around life, never really experiencing trauma or real pain might never really appreciate joy in the little things. Are they really happy? Is Happiness even real, or is it just a combination of moments that depend on the how you view them and what you compare them to?
I’ve heard that morticians often have great satisfaction in their job. Somehow they are so close to death, taking care of the dead and their families that they are constantly reminded of why life is worth living. Don’t despair, you dont need to become one to get more appreciative of your life- try downloading the app WeCroak on your phone, it’s sole purpose is to send you reminders a few times a day: “Don’t forget, you are going to die”. Cheerful. But actually, it seems that this is exactly what we need – help to put things into perspective as we get sucked in to more “knowledge” we don’t know what to do with, technology addiction and time away from our thoughts. In Bhutan, it is believed that you need to think about death 5 times a day to be happy:
“Rich people in the West, they have not touched dead bodies, fresh wounds, rotten things. This is a problem. This is the human condition. We have to be ready for the moment we cease to exist.”
It’s so true. We don’t talk about death, we don’t see images of the dead and we rather not think about it. Except that I do think about it. Sometimes with fear, but mostly as a fact. The fact that I am going to die, that my loved ones also will, that I could have had a 14 year old daughter at this point and that we all leave something behind when we pass away, some perhaps more than others. I can’t always avoid the thoughts – but lord knows I try.
As Denmark mourned the passing of the Queen’s husband, Prince Henry de Montpezat last month, I though about his death (and the Danes’ reaction to it) but also his life. I though about how he lived his life – in spite of some things being hard (like being accepted in his adoptive country – sidenote – has any foreigner truly made it in Denmark anyway?) and other things being so easy (like having time to write poemes, to create sculptures, to play music). There was something so inspiring about the way he enjoyed life, food, wine, people, the curiosity he brought to whatever he was undertaking and the thoughts/creative outlets that he then could express himself with, being a poet, a thinker, an artist and a musician. It made me think about all the things we fill our lives with that have nothing to do with that. (Netflix, rutine work, thoughts about money, materialism, envy and unhappy lives where we do things we think other people want us to do and can’t find meaning in it all). I’m not saying not to ever watch TV – but that suddenly 10 years may have gone by and it’s hard to pin point what the time went into. In the last 10 years, I’ve had kids, married, moved & learned to live in another country, found & lost myself, started and ended several jobs, keep continuously asking myself if I am on the right professional path, made friends, prioritized my time differently, bought a house and made a home but somehow I wonder how much creativity I allowed in all of this and if a life without creativity has meaning. Do you need meaning to be happy? Because I do enjoy happy moments when they arise (“Will this be a moment I will look back upon and think: Here I was truly happy” Then let me be happy now.) When are these moments? Mostly in the sun, with those I love and often near the sea. Seldom on a deadline. Hardly ever on a plane. Probably not looking at my phone.
Many years ago I read an article of the The top 5 regrets of the dying, collected by a nurse working in pallatative care. They’ve been on the internet for a long time so you have probably seen them in some shape or form. They are a good reminder when you feel you’re in need of guidance, when something feels ouf of place:
It might be corny but it’s true – I often think of the last one – are we letting ourselves be happy? Or are we our own blocker? Although my mission in life seems hard to figure out Is it to be the mother of my sons? To influence younger people? To do the best I can? To learn? Or is there any meaning to it all? according to David Bowie, perhaps not:
On the day of execution, on the day of execution
only women kneel and smile ah-ah, ah-ah
at the center of it all, at the center of it all
your eyes, your eyes
“Blackstar” David Bowie
Perhaps the only true goal of life is to not have too many regrets at the end of it all.
You can have all good intentions but sometimes it’s just off. And sometimes there’s little you can do about it. I don’t think we have fully understood the biological aspects of our moods or how we are affected by our environment (some more than others). Being able to say “Pyt” (Danish) or “Þetta reddast” (Icelandic) or “C’est la vie” (French) is sometimes just as good an action as any. And then (hopefully) another day will come.
I know I’m gonna die someday, so in the big scheme of things, there are more important things to life than wonder endlessly over whether you’ve done a good job or not. If you haven’t, it’s not, literally, the end of the world. Unless you’re Donald Trump.
***More to read***
BBC Bhutans Dark secret to happiness
The Atlantic When Death pings https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/01/when-death-pings/546587/
The Guardian Top five regrets of the Dying https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2012/feb/01/top-five-regrets-of-the-dying