My husband sums it up this way: “The world has always been going to hell in a handbasket. The trick is to stay out of the handbasket.” He is so right. And this great advice is at the core of, as they say, “living life to the fullest,” which is cliche talk for “how to have a great life.”
If you spend just 5 minutes a day catching up with the “news,” you can get really bummed. The news, by its very nature, is filled with seemingly unresolvable turmoil. That’s what makes it news; there is a problem that has not yet been solved, and needs to be.
Problems that have been solved are pretty boring.
It’s the unresolved nature of news that makes us watch. We are, by nature, creatures who crave resolution. Tension and suspense in entertainment come from situations that have not been resolved. We watch until the end of every movie, to see how it all gets resolved.
While unresolved tension is fascinating to watch when we’re being entertained, it’s another matter in real life. In the movie, we assume it will get resolved, so we watch until it is. In real life, if you live in a situation that is always unresolved, you are not going to be happy. You are going to be frustrated. Miserable, even.
Unresolved issues—typically involving relationships with others—are one of the main causes of an unsatisfying life. Other causes include bad decisions, unwillingness to take sufficient responsibility, and the belief that the world owes you more than you’re currently getting. By the way, having a lot of money doesn’t resolve the last one; people with a lot of money can feel this way just as strongly as those with hardly any at all.
Going back to the news. It is in a constant state of “un-resolvedness,” because that is what makes us watch, which is what news programs need. The larger the audience, the more the networks can charge for ads. Ads are what pay for news salaries and equipment.
This is a world onto itself, in many ways very separate from our everyday lives. And our everyday life is what I’m concerned about here. It is your own satisfaction with your life that, in the end, means you will die knowing you lived life to the fullest. And possibly even more important, that every day, when you reflect on it, you are satisfied with what you were able to accomplish and how things are going.
Now let’s go back to that handbasket. Staying out of the handbasket doesn’t mean that you aren’t passionate about the things that matter to you, or that you avoid adventure. On the contrary; life is better when we care and when we challenge ourselves.
It’s just that you pick your battles very carefully.
There is a tendency now, thanks to social media, for everyone to have an opinion about everything, including things they know very little about. It’s easier than ever to judge others, and to rant online about what bothers us.
But this does not lead to a satisfying life. It causes us to spend energy and time on issues that we are not able to resolve. Satisfaction comes from resolution. Resolution takes dedication and work.
So the first thing that has to happen is you need to look around at your life and determine what remains unresolved. You will find that the list of items can be grouped into three buckets: me, them, and things.
Resolving the “me” items on your list
If you are doing something that is hurting you (or someone else), you need to change. Changing can be summed up with “find it, face it, fix it,” (or “f” it, if all else fails). You have to admit to yourself that it is a problem, face the fact that it needs to be fixed, and then work on fixing it.
Fixing it is often a battle between what we want at the moment and what would be better for us in the long run. This requires a calm kind of self-discipline that is rarely admired or even mentioned these days. “Just do it,” is the more appealing rallying cry.
But “just doing it” can get you into some real trouble, and place you squarely into that nasty handbasket. It often also leads to regret. And regrets punch holes in your “live life to the fullest” balloon.
So there is value in making a conscious decision to change that destructive behavior. To be quiet this once, or to spend a minute more cleaning up, or avoiding that Dove bar after dinner. Personally, I haven’t had much luck with just making the decision. It’s often not enough to overpower the urge. But I have been able to do it when I decide to do it for someone else. As in, fasting from dessert for four months for the sake of a beloved cousin who is battling cancer. I am able to do that.
You will have to find your own way, experimenting until something works reliably.
Resolving the “them” items on your list
As I have said elsewhere (specifically, here and here), I avoid jerks. I avoid them in my personal life and my working life. My own definition of a jerk is a person who makes life more difficult for others. Nice people try to do the opposite. It doesn’t matter why or how the jerk does this; it only matters that you want to be as far away from that person as possible, as soon as possible. Jerks are the masters of turning even the most mundane task into an unresolvable mess.
Avoiding a jerk at work is pretty simple; if the jerk is your boss, find another job. If the jerk is a co-worker, but you love your work otherwise, find ways to stay out of their handbasket, and don’t internalize their dysfunction. It’s not you, it’s them.
Avoiding a jerk who is not a family member is also pretty simple; stop interacting.
Avoiding a jerk who is a family member is much more difficult. Do everything you can to limit interaction, and, as mentioned above, don’t internalize their dysfunction. They are them, and you are you, and you don’t have to let them get to you, or to be like them.
Resolving the “things” items on your list
By things, I mean money, possessions, and things that you do or make.
Money is three things: 1) a way to keep the wolf from the door; 2) a way to keep score, as in a measure of your financial well-being; and 3) a way to be able to do or resolve certain things, such as moving into a safer neighborhood.
Money is also a responsibility. The more you have, the more responsible you have to be with it. Decisions have to be made. People have to be treated fairly in your monetary interactions. It has to be used responsibly, to avoid regrets.
Possessions are also a responsibility. The more you have, the more responsibilities you have.
Left alone, possessions start to rot. Possessions must be properly used, organized, stored, cleaned, and maintained.
Once again, success relating to possessions requires that discipline we were talking about before, and the “find it, face it, fix it” approach.
How to live life to the fullest requires that you are grateful for the life you already have
You don’t really possess something unless you are grateful for it. The very act of gratefulness makes it a real part of your life. So the first place to start is to look around and be thankful, even for the stuff we take for granted, such as electricity and running water.
Being grateful for what is working also helps you see what isn’t. What is in need of your attention and care? What is still unresolved?
Being grateful also helps you see beauty in the world, and realize that quite a few things are resolved. We have air to breathe; gravity keeps us from floating out into space; day and night help us live productive lives; sun and rain keep the planet’s systems working; and there are, in fact, people and work and recreation that make us feel good about life in general.
Once you get your head out of that handbasket, things aren’t so bad, and with consistent effort, they can be made better.