Too often we let the little frustrations of each day blind us to the beauty in front of us. We get caught up in our own heads, and literally don’t know our lives to be any better than the few things that aren’t going our way. We call people to complain or we spew out our gripes on social media. “Life is so unfair!” we yell. And everyone agrees and throws their two cents into the gossip pool.
Other times we talk a big talk about a lot of stuff that really doesn’t matter that much. We scrutinize and dramatize the insignificant until we’re blue in the face, and then we sit back and scratch our heads in bewilderment of how unfulfilling life feels.
But the older we grow, the quieter we become and the less pointless drama and chaos we engage in. Life humbles us gradually as we age. We realize how much nonsense we’ve wasted time on.
Truth be told, the afternoon always understands what the morning never even suspected.
Here are some things we tend to expend lots of mental and physical energy on when we’re younger, that we eventually realize matter a lot less than we originally thought…
- The inevitable frustrations of an average day. – 99.9% of what’s stressing you out today won’t matter a month from now. Sooner or later you will know this for certain. So just do your best to let go of the nonsense, stay positive, and move forward with your life.
- The little failures you often feel self-conscious about. – When you set goals and take calculated risks in life, you eventually learn that there will be times when you succeed and there will be times when you fail, and both are equally important in the long run.
- How “perfect” everything could be, or should be. – Understanding the difference between reasonable striving and perfectionism is critical to letting go of fantasies and picking up your life. Perfectionism not only causes you unnecessary stress and anxiety from the superficial need to always “get it right,” it actually prevents you from getting anything worthwhile done at all.
- Having complete confidence before taking the first step. – Confidence is that inner inertia that propels us to bypass our empty fears and self-doubts. On the road of life, we come to realize that we rarely have confidence when we begin anew, but as we move forward and tap into our inner and outer resources, our confidence gradually builds. A common mistake many young people make is wanting to feel confident before they start something, whether it’s a new job, a new relationship, living in a new city, etc. But it doesn’t happen like that. You have to step out of your comfort zone, and risk your pride, to earn the reward of finding your confidence.
- The intricacies of what’s in it for you. – Time teaches us that we keep nothing in this life until we first give it away. This is true of knowledge, forgiveness, service, love, tolerance, acceptance, and so forth. You have to give to receive. Such a simple point, and yet it’s so easy to forget that the giving of ourselves, without a price tag, has to come FIRST! It’s the giving that opens us up to grace.
- Being an online-only activist for good causes. – Online is fine, but sooner or later you realize that if you truly want to make a difference you have to walk the talk too. So don’t just rant online for a better world. Love your family. Be a good neighbor. Practice kindness. Build bridges. Embody what you preach.
- The pressures of making a big difference all at once. – When we’re young it seems like faster is better, but in time we witness the power of ‘slow and steady’ at work. We come to learn that no act of love, kindness or generosity, no matter how small, is ever wasted. The fact that you can plant a seed and it becomes a flower, share a bit of knowledge and it becomes another’s, smile at someone and receive a smile in return, is proof that YOU can make a big difference in life and business, even it can’t be done all at once.
- The temptation of quick fixes. – The older your eyes grow, the more clearly they can see through the smoke and mirrors of every quick fix. Anything worth achieving takes dedicated daily effort. Period! Honestly, I used to believe that making wishes and saying prayers alone changed things, but now I know that wishes and prayers change us, and WE change things. All details aside, when it comes to making a substantial change in your life – building a business, earning a degree, fostering a new relationship, starting a family, becoming more mindful, or any other personal journey that takes time and commitment – one thing you have to ask yourself is, “Am I willing to spend a little time every day like many people won’t, so I can spend the better part of my life like many people can’t?” Think about that for a moment. We ultimately become what we repeatedly do. The acquisition of knowledge doesn’t mean you’re growing – growing happens when what you know changes how you live on a daily basis. (Angel and I build daily, life-changing rituals with our students in the “Goals and Growth” module of the Getting Back to Happy Course.)
- Having a calendar jam-packed with exciting, elaborate plans. – Don’t jam your life with plans. Leave space. Over time you will learn that many great things happen unplanned, and some big regrets happen by not reaching exactly what was planned. So keep your life ordered and your schedule under-booked. Create a foundation with a soft place to land, a wide margin of error, and room to think and breathe every step of the way.
- Being in constant control of everything. – The older we get the more we realize how little we actually control. And there’s no good reason to hold yourself down with things you can’t control. Learn to trust the journey, even when you do not understand it. Oftentimes what you never wanted or expected turns out to be what you need.
- Blaming others. – Have you ever met a happy person who regularly evades responsibility, blames and points fingers and makes excuses for their unsatisfying life? Me either. Happy people accept responsibility for how their lives unfold. They believe their own happiness is a byproduct of their own thinking, beliefs, attitudes, character and behavior. And although it takes time to fully grasp this, it’s a lesson worth learning.
- Winning everyone’s approval. – It’s the strength of your conviction that determines your level of personal success in the long run, not the number of people who agree with every little thing you do. Ultimately, you will know that you’ve made the right decisions and followed the proper path when there is genuine peace in your heart.
- The idea of saving certain (overly dramatic) people from themselves. – Honestly, you can’t save some people from themselves, so don’t get sucked too deep into their drama. Those who make perpetual chaos of their lives won’t appreciate you interfering with the commotion they’ve created, anyway. They want your “poor baby” sympathy, but they don’t want to change. They don’t want their lives fixed by you. They don’t want their problems solved, their emotional addictions and distractions taken away, their stories resolved, or their messes cleaned up. Because what would they have left? They don’t know and they aren’t ready to know yet. And it’s not your job to tell them.
- The selfish and disparaging things others say and do. – If you take everything personally, you will inevitably be offended for the rest of your life. And that just isn’t worth it! At some point it becomes crystal clear that the way people treat you is their problem, and how you react is yours. Start taking full advantage of the amazing freedom that comes to you when you detach from other people’s antics.
- Winning arguments. – Not much is worth fighting about for long. And if you can avoid it, don’t fight at all. It really doesn’t matter that much. Don’t define your intelligence or self-worth by the number of arguments you have won, but by the number of times you have silently told yourself, “This nonsense is just not worth it!”
- Judging others for their shortcomings. – We all have days when we’re not our best. And the older we grow, the more we realize how important it is to give others the break we hope the world will give us on our own bad days. Truly, you never know what someone has been through in their life, or what they’re going through today. Just be kind, generous and respectful… and then be on your way.
- Society’s obsession with outer beauty. – As you grow older, what you look like on the outside becomes less and less of an issue, and who you are on the inside becomes the primary point of interest. You eventually realize that beauty has almost nothing to do with looks – it’s who you are as a person, how you make others feel about themselves, and most importantly, how you feel about yourself. (Angel and I discuss this in more detail in the “Self-Love” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
- Fancy and expensive physical possessions. – Later in life, your personal wish list for ‘big ticket’ physical possessions tends to get smaller and smaller, because the things you really want and need are the little things that can’t be bought.
- All the shallow relationships that just make you feel more popular. – It’s nice to have acquaintances. Be friendly. Just don’t get carried away and spread yourself too thin. Leave plenty of time for those who matter most. Your time is extremely limited, and sooner or later you just want to be around the few people who make you smile for all the right reasons.
- Distant future possibilities. – As time passes, you naturally have more of it behind you and less of it in front of you. The distant future, then, gradually has less value to you personally. But that doesn’t really matter, because the good life always begins right now, when you stop waiting for a better one. Some people wait all day for 5pm, all week for Friday, all year for the holidays, all their lives for happiness. Don’t be one of them. Don’t wait until your life is almost over to realize how good it has been. The secret to happiness and peace is letting this moment be what it is, instead of what you think it should be, and then making the very best of it.
Afterthoughts on Making the Best of the Next 20 Years
As you continue to travel the road of life, do your best to avoid letting anyone or anything get in the way of your joy. Live a life that sizzles and pops and makes you laugh out loud every day. Because you don’t want to get to the end, or to tomorrow, even, and realize that your life is a collection of meetings and “somedays” and errands and receipts and empty promises.
Go ahead and sing out loud in the car with the windows down, and dance in your living room, and stay up late laughing, and paint your walls any color you want, and enjoy some sweet wine and chocolate cake. Yes, and go ahead and sleep in on clean white sheets, and throw parties, and paint, and write poetry, and read books so good they make you lose track of time. And just keep living and making God glad that he gave life to someone who loves and cherishes the gift…
- Think deeply.
- Speak gently.
- Love lots.
- Laugh often.
- Work hard.
- Give back.
- Expect less.
- Be present.
- Be kind.
- Be honest.
- Be true to yourself.