zenhabits : breathe

6 Questions to Ask Yourself to Get the Most Out of Life

“And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” – Abraham Lincoln

I love reading lists of things to do before you die, but after reading several of these lists, I’ve realized that each list is a very personal thing. It can only apply to the writer of the list, and not to all human beings in general. No such list can do that.

And think about this: if you’re trying to follow a list of things to do before you die … trying to check things off the list, just to say you’ve done it … what’s the point, really? To be able to tell people you’ve done it? To follow the life prescription of some writer?

I won’t try to tell you what to do before you die … but I will suggest some questions to figure out how to live … right now. Each and every day.

Because you never know how much time you have left, and trying to cram a list of things into that unknown time can be futile. Instead, live every day to the fullest. Get the most out of life.

1. Who do I love, and what am I doing about it? When someone dies (two of my kids’ grandmother just died, so I’ve been thinking about this a lot), you realize that you never know how much time you have with the people you love. They can go at any time — as can you. And so you must make the most of this time.

If you aren’t spending time with the people you love, change that. If you are holding a grudge against a family member, let it go and reconcile. If you’ve done something to hurt a loved one, ask for forgiveness. Drop the pride, and make up. If you haven’t seen someone in awhile, call them now to set up a date.

2. Am I pursuing my dream, or is fear stopping me? What have you always wanted to do? Maybe something you dreamed of as a child but have given up as unrealistic? Maybe something you still want to do but are afraid of failing? What fears are stopping you? And what would be the worst that could happen if you overcame those fears and pursued your dream?

If you’re already pursuing your dream, pat yourself on the back. You’re doing awesome!

3. Am I doing something that matters? There’s a difference between doing work, and doing work that really matters. Much of the time, we use up the few days we have on this earth with busy-work, stuff that doesn’t make much difference, and that’s sadly a waste of our lives.

Recently on Dumb Little Man, writer Ali Hale suggested you ask yourself, “Will this matter in five years?” I think this is a great question. It helps you distinguish between trivial busy-work that will take up all of your time but not matter in a few years, and tasks and projects and goals with high impact that will make a difference, in your career, in your life, in the lives of others.

4. What am I doing to help others? Kind of ironically, you get the most out of life not just by taking what you can for yourself, but by giving to others. What have you done lately to help people out? Have you been kind to people? Have you been compassionate? Have you been there for anyone? Listened? Volunteered for those in need? If you’re not doing anything to help others, this is a good time to figure out one thing you can do for someone, and put it into action. Ask this question on a regular basis, and you’ll make kindness a habit.

“Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.” – Albert Einstein

5. Am I as good a person as I want to be? I ask this of myself all the time. Sometimes, when I’m impatient or selfish or less-than-helpful, I think back on what I’ve said and done and realize that I could have done better. Instead of beating myself up about it, I endeavor to try harder, to remember to allow my better angels to guide me, to rise above the trivialities of life to a higher plane.

It’s not easy to be a good person, at least not all of the time. It’s easier to be selfish, without thinking about it. But is that how you want to be remembered? Is that how you want to live your life? Give it some thought, and act accordingly.

6. What am I doing to live life with passion, health and energy? You can do all the right things, and yet live a life that’s dull and sluggish. If you let your health go, you will have little energy and you will waste the minutes you have left on illness. Instead, learn to live a healthy life, with good foods and exercise. This will lead to more energy in your life. And then direct that energy into something you’re passionate about. If you haven’t found that passion (or passions), start looking. You’ll thank me. :)

“We are always getting ready to live but never living.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson


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