“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
How is the best way to live? I have this question posted in big letters on my bulletin board and I contemplate this from time to time. Jim Rohn said, “Days are expensive. When you spend a day you have one less day to spend. So make sure you spend each one wisely.” I read this quote recently and it has given me a sense of urgency in determining the best way to live.
Of course, I want to spend some days accomplishing BIG goals, seeing and doing exciting, interesting things — and taking trips, visiting landmarks and museums and quirky places. But I can’t do this every day, nor would I want to. Part of the appeal of these activities is their rarity. No, I’m thinking about today, Monday, and tomorrow, Tuesday, and next Wednesday or a week from Saturday. What we would call an “ordinary day”. How do we make these ordinary days extraordinary? How do we recognize their truth worth and spend them wisely?
Let me give full disclosure at the outset and say, “I don’t know yet.” But here are some things to get me, and hopefully you, too, started in the right direction.
- Know where you are going.
“Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
The Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.
Alice: I don’t much care where.
The Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.” ~ Lewis Carroll, Alice In Wonderland
Going wherever the road leads is one way to travel (and some of my “best way to live” days include that kind of travel) but it isn’t the road to the Excelerated Life. If you truly want to spend your expensive days wisely, you’ll have a good idea of where you want to end up. It may include a BIG goal at the end (improved health, improved relationships, improved finances, or even something more specific) but your most well-spent days will include something broader than a specific goal.
- Have a plan.
You know where you are going . . . now how do you get there? Let’s say you want to go to New York — how will you get there? Walk? Drive? Bike? Fly? Take the train? And depending on how you go, you’ll need a place or places to stay during the journey. And food to eat. And personal care products. And clean clothes. You get the idea. Start making a plan for how you will live your extraordinary days. What will you do that makes them extraordinary? You likely don’t know right now exactly what makes up the perfect plan. Just get started. Write down your vision of how you want to live your days and the things you can begin to do to move you in that direction.
- Do something each day to move you forward.
Here is how you begin to live your best way. Don’t wait till you have the “perfect” plan — that may never happen, especially if you don’t get started. Begin to add small steps daily that help you “spend” your expensive days wisely. Do you want to spend more time with loved ones? Schedule in a time each day or an activity that you both (or all) enjoy. Want to live a more healthful life? Schedule in a short walk, or some other enjoyable activity, each day. Plan a trip. Visit a museum or a zoo or whatever brings you joy. Use some of the ideas we’ve discussed previously for taking small steps toward your ultimate goal . . . in this case, living each day the best way.
- Do things that build your happiness.
Negative emotions are helpful, even life saving, in certain situations, when our “fight or flight” response kicks in. Psychologist Dr. Barbara L. Fredrickson studied the positive emotions to see if they had a similar effect and use. She discovered that positive emotions have a long-term, future purpose. Instead of narrowing our focus, positive emotions broaden our focus and allow us to build resiliency and reserves into our lives. These reserves can then be tapped in times of need and the resiliency helps us bounce back quickly from adversity.
Of the many activities studied under rigorous experimentation, two stand out as nearly universal influences to improved happiness levels — gratitude and kindness. These two activities provide a two-pronged approach to increasing positivity in one’s life. Two of the keys to effective practice of these activities are to avoid over-analysis (i.e., don’t think about it too much) and to practice on a regular basis but avoid having your activity become routine.
- Remember the “plus” in SMART+Plus goal setting.
SMART+Plus goal setting is my way of combining SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable or Action oriented, Realistic or Results oriented, Time-bound) goals with the factors identified by Positive Psychology research that help us create goals that increase the positive effects of goal-setting. The +Plus includes Goal Orientation, Goal Content, and Goal Motivation.
Choose Approach goals — a goal working toward a positive outcome — over Avoidant goals — a goal avoiding a negative outcome. Choose goals related to intimacy, spirituality, and generativity (a concern for promoting the well-being of future generations) over power themed goals – a bigger house, bigger car, promotion at work, more money. Choose Intrinsic goals — goals that relate to your true internal needs and desires over Extrinsic goals — goals we choose because we think society or some other person wants us to.
Check your goal against these 3 criteria. Is it oriented toward a positive outcome? Will pursuing the goal add to your feelings of well-being or bring stress and anxiety? Are you pursuing this goal because you want it or because you think someone else wants it for you?
Living on purpose.
How is the best way to live? Although I don’t know for sure yet what that means for me, my gut feeling is that the best way is different for each of us. However if you agree with me that we, all of us, share an overarching purpose — to be of service to others — then I think you’ll agree that each of our “best ways” includes a way to fulfill that purpose. There are many paths to finding the best way to live, more than one for each of us. Finding a path, living on purpose, making progress — that is the best way to live. And that is living the Excelerated life!
Discovering and using your Signature Strengths is one step in creating your Excelerated life, a life of well-being, meaning, and purpose.