What is a Quality Life?
Remarkably, another year has gone by and it’s already time for the Holidays. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving which is one of the few Holidays where people are encouraged to stop and be introspective. The standard question most of us ask ourselves is, “What am I thankful for?” That’s a very good question, but after a lifetime of answering it every Thanksgiving, I think most of us have a fairly pat answer that we can spit out by routine. Perhaps it’s time to ask a different question that probes a little deeper into our heart and soul and makes us truly reconsider the choices we’ve made in our life. I have a suggestion for what I think is the single most essential question you can ask yourself in order to live your best life:
What is a high quality life?
I know that sounds like an obvious question but I’ believe most people never given it any thought. If you don’t know what a really good life looks like, how can you know if you’re living it? Unfortunately, most people are just going through life on auto-pilot living the way they’ve been told to live. They never think to ask themselves if it’s really their best choice. That’s understandable because from the cradle to the grave we’re constantly told by our parents, family, schools and media that we must follow the “American Dream” to be happy. So we dutifully do as we’re told and go to school, get a job and work for 40 years. Along the way we get married, have a family, buy a house and fill it full of stuff. Then, if our health and the economy holds up, we finally retire to our “Golden Years.”
For most of us, we just assume that’s a “High Quality Life” and we strive to make it ours. In fact, very few of us even consider their might be another way to live and that it might be better for us.
“It is not the end of the physical body that should worry us. Rather, our concern must be to live while we’re alive – to release our inner selves from the spiritual death that comes with living behind a facade designed to conform to external definitions of who and what we are.” Elizabeth Kubler-Ross
My goal in this post is not to tell you what a High Quality Life is, because it’s different for everybody; my goal here is simply to encourage you to ask yourself, “What is a High Quality Life for me?” If your life could be anything you wanted it to be, what would that look like? To help you ponder that question, let me offer some possible answers that many people chose:
A High Quality Life is…
- a long life.
- a happy family, even if I don’t get to see them as much as I would have liked.
- when I have golden years for the last 25 years of my life, even if the first 45 were mediocre.
- making the most money, no matter the sacrifices.
- accumulating the most stuff and toys.
- winning the most power.
- full of travel and adventure.
- having the most fun.
- dying with the most glorious memories of a life lived deeply and fully.
- lived in service and love toward others.
- spent pursing spirituality.
Some of these go together naturally and you can try to find a balance of them, but most require so much dedication to really succeed at that you must choose one (maybe two) and devote yourself to it. What happens too often, is people try to have them all and end up with none of them.
Most people in our society choose to live their lives with a primary goal of making their Golden Years the best they can be. The first 65 years are sacrificed to make the last 20 years the best of their lives. They may try to get all the happiness out of the first 65 they can, but the last 25 are their highest priority and they make whatever sacrifices they must to make them truly “golden.” Unfortunately, as the economy changes we’re all finding that much more difficult to do. Pensions have generally disappeared and most people are living paycheck-to-paycheck so they aren’t able to save any of their own money for retirement. The majority of Americans are going to be dependent on Social Security and that won’t be much money, if it’s even still around by the time they are ready to collect. They end up by giving up the best years of their life for nothing, they still end up with an unhappy old age. You can always make more money, you can’t make more time!
I’ve chosen to live my life much differently.
The first 40 years of my life I lived like everyone else, but it only made me unhappy. Even though I was unhappy, I was too afraid to make any changes and I had no idea that I had other choices; this was the way everybody lived. I felt trapped into the “America Dream” which was nothing but a nightmare for me. When I turned 40 my life was turned upside down by a divorce and I was forced into vandwelling. At first I hated it but then I slowly started to like it and finally I fell deeply in love with it. But that raised some really hard question for me.
I’d been promised happiness if I followed the American Dream but all I had gotten out of it was misery. And here I was living in a van in exactly the opposite way I’d been told to live and I was finally happy; how could that be? There were only two possible explanations, either there was something really wrong with me or everything society had told me was a lie.
So I looked around at all the other people I knew and they were all in pretty much the same boat I was. They were following all the rules and yet very few of them were getting ahead and most of them were at best mildly happy with their lives and if they were truly honest would say they were just barely surviving life, certainly not happy and thriving.
Nearly universally a barely acceptable present was better than a risky and unknown future. They were trapped in a mediocre existence by fear of change. I suspect that’s why many of you are reading this post right now.
I concluded that everything society had told me was a lie and I decided to throw it all out and to dedicate myself to living the Highest Quality Life I could manage. I kept working at the job I disliked to support my family and save for the future, but I stopped working 40 hours a week and started to work only 32 hours a week. That was a compromise between happiness now and happiness later that worked pretty well for me–but it was only possible because I lived in a van.
In the 20 years since them I’ve slowly been throwing off the lies and indoctrination society had heaped on me and I’ve managed to totally change how I live my life. My only regret is that I can’t go back in time and live it differently from the very start. For those of you who are young I want to offer you a totally different view of what constitutes a High Quality Life so you’ll know you do have another choice.
Instead of living primarily for the last 20 years of my life,
I now live for the last 2 minutes of my life.
I know that is a radically different way to think and may stun you, but hear me out. I base it on two things, the first is the life and work of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, who spent her entire life working with the dying and their families. She discovered that in the moments before their death people almost universally had a clarity of insight that revealed to them exactly how well they had lived and what they wished they had done differently.
“We run after values that, at death, become zero. At the end of your life, nobody asks you how many degrees you have, or how many mansions you built, or how many Rolls Royces you could afford. That’s what dying patients teach you.” Elizabeth Kubler-Ross
Now that it was too late, they finally discovered the true meaning of life and desperately wished they had lived it.
“Live, so you do not have to look back and say: “God, how I have wasted my life.” Elizabeth Kubler-Ross
Unfortunately, all too often people died with deep and profound regrets about their life. They died saying they wished they could go back and do it all differently. I believe this quote from her summarizes a lifetime of holding the hands of the dying before their moment of death:
“It is very important that you only do what you love to do.
You may be poor, you may go hungry, you may lose your car, you may have to move into a shabby place to live, but you will totally live. And at the end of your days you will bless your life because you have done what you came here to do.
Otherwise, you will live your life as a prostitute, you will do things only for a reason, to please other people, and you will never have lived. And you will not have a pleasant death.” Elizabeth Kubler-Ross
Those words are the basis of my whole life. I only do what I love to do, so that in the last two minutes of my life, in that moment of crystal-clear clarity, I will have no regrets about a wasted life.
“Today is a good day to die.”
The second thing I base this radical way of living on is the spirituality of Native Americans. Many tribes base their lives on an honorable death. A common saying is that “Today is a good day to die.” By that they mean that they have lived so well and so deeply, that they are prepared to die at any moment. In the last 2 minutes of their life, they can smile and relax and let go of this plane of existence with joy and no regrets.
I live my life with one simple goal, that when I die I will be full of glorious memories of a life lived deeply and fully; a life that touched and helped others, even as it was sucking all the marrow it could out of life.
What’s the goal of your life? What is a High Quality Life to you?
Quotes from the Elizabeth Kubler-Ross Foundation: http://www.ekrfoundation.org/quotes/
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A book from Elizabeth Kubler-Ross I highly recommend, “Life Lessons: Two Experts on Death and Dying Teach Us About the Mysteries of Life and Living” Get it from amazon here: http://amzn.to/1IfzuXs