“Your mission: Be so busy loving your life that you have no time for hate, regret or fear.” – Karen Salmansohn
I love the way this quote describes loving life as a “mission”. This word infuses the search for a life you love with the sense of purpose and importance it deserves. Building a life you love isn’t something we should do as a side project when there’s time; it should be a big reason to make changes and improve ourselves.
In some respects, loving life has been my mission ever since I started this blog. Rather than greet the new day with indifference, my mission was to be excited to see the rising sun each morning and reach a point where I’m grateful simply to be alive.
Due to the ever-changing circumstances of life, I don’t think there will ever be an end to this mission. But I’ve learned a lot of lessons along the way.
Are you ready to accept your mission? Here’s where to get started.
1. They learn to set boundaries with others and create possibilities for themselves
Healthy boundaries define who you are in relation to others. Setting clear expectations about what you accept and tolerate can define how others treat you. It’s important to set these boundaries in order to allow yourself room and freedom to grow as an individual.
Learn to be selective and say no. Turn down requests for your time that are unwanted and unimportant. Set clear boundaries for unacceptable behavior. People often just treat you the way you let them.
But at the same time you’re saying no to others, it’s important to say yes to yourself. Those ideas and grand plans you imagine will never become real unless you give yourself permission to do them; no one else will come along and say “yes” to your ideas – just you.
People who love their lives don’t let those ideas simmer and stew in their heads until they’re crushed under the weight of fear and doubt, they find reasons to do them. They say “yes” to themselves.
2. “Be like water” – be flexible and adapt to your many roles
“You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water my friend.” – Bruce Lee
I’m not the same person I was five or ten years ago. As life has progressed, I’ve changed and adapted to new situations and circumstances.
But I’m not exactly the same person from moment to moment either. I take on many different roles throughout the day – husband, father, writer, son, friend, citizen, traveler – each one requires me to play a slightly different part with different expectations and codes of conduct.
Times change. Situations change. People change. All life is change.
An inability to adapt to these changes can be frustrating and lead to anger as you struggle against the new situation in front of you. “Be like water” as Bruce Lee put it, being adaptable enough to fit into the changes that will surely come.
3. They eliminate the excess to make room for what’s important
Our lives are constrained by one overwhelming limitation: time. We only have 24 hours in a day to live our lives. It’s important to take a step back and think about how we fill that time up.
If you’re filling that time with unwanted tasks, you’re taking time away from something you might love to be doing.
If you’re spending that time with toxic relationships, you’re taking time away from positive ones.
The world is a pretty demanding place – filled with tasks and decisions, stuff to do and people to see – some of those might not really add much value to your life. If you trim away the unimportant, you make room for the beautiful life you have hidden underneath.
A good life isn’t often about having more, it’s about having less. When you eliminate things like unnecessary tasks or toxic people – things that don’t add value – you’ll find more time for the things that bring joy into your life.
4. They focus on what matters – Don’t see the forest for the trees
A few days ago my wife and I brought food home from a restaurant. When we looked through it, we realized that the order was messed up – some items were missing. We were so angered and frustrated that it started to ruin our evening.
Then we realized the food was only a little detail to our night. It wasn’t the big picture – it wasn’t even the most important part of the picture.
What mattered most was having dinner with someone I love – the conversation, the affection, the good moment we were sharing. That’s what I should have been focusing on.
It’s often said that it’s the little things in life that make you happy. But the opposite can also be true. LIttle things can make us angry – angry enough to make us lose sight of what truly matters. Don’t let the focus on little details make you miss the important things happening around you.
5. They don’t let others’ expectations define what a good life is
How do you measure a life? Success? Money? Fame? What exactly is the yardstick we should be using?
Perhaps the answer to a good life is one that makes you happy. But that just begs the question: what makes you happy?
Defining a good life means figuring out the things that bring you joy and purpose and meaning. It’s a personal discovery that takes into consideration our own values and desires.
Others might try to tell you what it is or set expectations on you. They’ll try to convince you what you should or shouldn’t be doing with your life, but they can’t make that decision for you – it’s too personal. Ultimately, how to define a good life is something we all need to decide for ourselves.
6. They explore their own mortality so they can learn how to live
“The truth is, Mitch, once you learn how to die, you learn how to live…Most of us walk around as if we’re sleepwalking. We really don’t experience the world fully because we’re half asleep, doing things we automatically think we have to do…Learn how to die, and you learn how to live.” – from Tuesdays With Morrie
To many people, death is a topic to avoid, an uncomfortable reminder of our own frail existence. Most people ignore or make jokes about it because it’s too depressing. But this way of thinking conceals something useful from thinking about death: motivation to live.
People who are close to death often reflect on life and think about what really matters to them. They become emotionally and intellectually aware of their actions, desires and motivations to a point when all the nonsense from daily life strips away and they’re left with more focus on what truly matters.
When you think about your own mortality, you’ll start asking questions.
What kind of life do you want to leave behind?
What will really matter to you at the end of your life?
When the end is near, will you be happy with what you’ve been doing?
Perhaps what makes death so hard to talk about is that it forces you to confront these questions. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather think about them now, when there’s more time to do something about it.
7. They value process over goals
It’s important to have goals. When you set your mind to reaching one, it adds motivation to your actions and drive to your willpower.
But there’s a dark side to goal-setting. For one thing, it’s too focused on the future; everything you do today is dedicated to something far away in time that hasn’t even happened yet. That takes you out of the present and puts all the emphasis in the future.
That can be disheartening. If you put all your effort and focus on where you’re not, you start to think about what you don’t have and what you haven’t accomplished yet.
People who love their lives don’t abandon goals altogether. They just use them to emphasize what they do every day. They use it to set a routine for their lives because they know that life isn’t lived in the future where goals are set, but in the daily routine they live.
8. They make the hard choices and accept that life is about tradeoffs
No one has it all. Time and energy are in limited supply. At some point, we need to take a hard look into our lives and make a decision about what we really want and that means thinking about what sacrifices we’re willing to make.
Getting rid of a toxic friend means breaking off years of shared memories. Working on a Master’s degree means giving up free time you could dedicate elsewhere. Moving to a new city for an opportunity can mean leaving some good things behind.
Every choice comes with consequences – some good, some bad. There’s always a tradeoff to consider, even if it’s just time or energy.
Loving your life means making choices and accepting the good and bad that come with them. It’s about accepting the possibility that your choices might not turn out well. But loving life is about looking at those all those choices, both the good and bad, and understanding them as what they are – imperfect decisions in an imperfect world.
It’s the choices we make that define our lives and give them their unique shape. We should never be afraid to make the hard ones. In the end, it’s the hard ones that we learn from most and give meaning to our lives.
9. Being thankful for what you have, especially your strengths
Many of us have heard about the benefits of gratitude. Being thankful for what you have instead of focusing on what you don’t have builds a happy frame of mind and makes us appreciate all the things going right in our lives.
Spending time on feeling grateful can be an uplifting experience. It can turn a downcast state of mind into something upbeat and positive.
But when I do this, I like to focus on my strengths in particular rather than just what I’m thankful for in general.
Ask yourself: What are you good at? What do you do really well?
By thinking of your strengths, you bring attention to the empowering areas of your life. Not only do you feel good about yourself, but you can focus on how to put them to use.
People who try using their strengths in new ways each day are happier and have higher self esteem because they’re always putting their best foot forward. Those who are lucky or successful in life aren’t good at everything, they just know those certain areas that they do well and focus their efforts on them to build the life they want.