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What Makes Life Worth Living?

What Makes Life Worth Living?

My partner is taking a class in psychology and one assignment asks her to write a paper answering the question “What makes life worth living?”

For the past few days, she’s been asking the people around her – kids, friends, co-workers – what they think makes life worth living, and the answers have been pretty much of a sort: family, friends, work, music, some possession or other, faith, maybe health. Computer games.

Although these answers aren’t necessarily trivial, they strike me as very unsatisfying answers to the question “What makes life wort living?” What about family, friends, work, etc. makes life worth living? Just having them?

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Then why aren’t most people – who generally have families, friends, and jobs – happier than they are? Why, indeed, do we live in a society where anti-depressants are among the most profitable medications? Why are the bookstore shelves packed with books explaining how to be happier?

I think there’s a resistance to answering a question like this honestly. Sure, being put on the spot and asked one of the most profound questions humanity has managed to come up with is probably not exactly conducive to thoughtful responses, either, but I doubt she’d get much better responses if she gave them a week to think about it.

It’s the same resistance I see when people talk about the GTD weekly review. We’re pretty much ok with going over our tasks and doing some short-range planning, but when Allen insists we take that “50,000 foot view” of our lives – the Big Picture view – people tend to come up short.

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And when Allen insists, over and over in virtually every interview with him I’ve ever heard or read, that we ask ourselves, “Is what I’m doing right now the most important thing I could be doing in my life?” I see the same resistance. Who am I kidding? I feel the same resistance. Maybe I’m cleaning up dog poop in the backyard, or playing BrickBreaker on my Blackberry – is that really the most important thing I could be doing?

Probably not.

But it strikes me as a really important question. What does make life worth living? And I think the reason people answer in such unsatisfying ways is that we’ve grown so used to defining ourselves in terms of possessions – possessions that literally feel like extensions of our self – that it’s hard to think of even the people close to us in any way other than as possessions, as “objects” with certain qualities that make us happy. Or, more often, don’t.

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Which is to say, they’re all “things” that are external to us, no matter how much a part of our life they feel like. I think any question of what makes life worth living has to start with an inward look at one’s self, not an outward look at the people and things one surrounds one’s self with.

Instead, I think we need to address the question with our own actions, the things we do that make life worth living. Verbs, not nouns. When I think of how I would answer the question, the following behaviors come to mind:

  • Creating: Writing, drawing, painting (though I’m not good at it), playing music (though I’m not especially good at that, either). For others, it might be inventing something, building a business, coming up with a clever marketing campaign, forming a non-profit.
  • Relating: It’s not “family” that makes life worth living, I think, but the relationships we create with members of our family, and the way we maintain and build those relationships. Same goes for friends, lovers, business partners, students, and everyone else.
  • Helping: Being able to lend a hand to people in need – however drastic or trivial that need may be – strikes me as an important part of life.
  • Realizing: Making, working towards, and  achieving goals, no matter what those goals are.
  • Playing: Maybe this is a kind of “relating”, but then, play can be a solo affair as well. Letting go of restraints, imagining new possibilities, testing yourself against others or against yourself, finding humor and joy.
  • Growing: Learning new things, improving my knowledge and ability in the things I’ve already learned.

Those seem like more satisfying answers to me – they strike deeper into what it is I want for myself, what makes it worthwhile to get up in the morning.

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What about you? What makes your life worth living? Do you feel like I’m headed down the wrong path here? How would you answer the question, “What makes life worth living?”

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Last Updated on November 5, 2019

How to Cultivate Continuous Learning to Stay Competitive

How to Cultivate Continuous Learning to Stay Competitive

Assuming the public school system didn’t crush your soul, learning is a great activity. It expands your viewpoint. It gives you new knowledge you can use to improve your life. It is important for your personal growth. Even if you discount the worldly benefits, the act of learning can be a source of enjoyment.

“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” — Mark Twain

But in a busy world, it can often be hard to fit in time to learn anything that isn’t essential. The only things learned are those that need to be. Everything beyond that is considered frivolous. Even those who do appreciate the practice of lifelong learning, can find it difficult to make the effort.

Here are some tips for installing the habit of continuous learning:

1. Always Have a Book

It doesn’t matter if it takes you a year or a week to read a book. Always strive to have a book that you are reading through, and take it with you so you can read it when you have time.

Just by shaving off a few minutes in-between activities in my day I can read about a book per week. That’s at least fifty each year.

2. Keep a “To-Learn” List

We all have to-do lists. These are the tasks we need to accomplish. Try to also have a “to-learn” list. On it you can write ideas for new areas of study.

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Maybe you would like to take up a new language, learn a skill or read the collective works of Shakespeare. Whatever motivates you, write it down.

3. Get More Intellectual Friends

Start spending more time with people who think. Not just people who are smart, but people who actually invest much of their time in learning new skills. Their habits will rub off on you.

Even better, they will probably share some of their knowledge with you.

4. Guided Thinking

Albert Einstein once said,

“Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.”

Simply studying the wisdom of others isn’t enough, you have to think through ideas yourself. Spend time journaling, meditating or contemplating over ideas you have learned.

5. Put it Into Practice

Skill based learning is useless if it isn’t applied. Reading a book on C++ isn’t the same thing as writing a program. Studying painting isn’t the same as picking up a brush.

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If your knowledge can be applied, put it into practice.

In this information age, we’re all exposed to a lot of information, it’s important to re-learn how to learn so as to put the knowledge into practice.

6. Teach Others

You learn what you teach. If you have an outlet of communicating ideas to others, you are more likely to solidify that learning.

Start a blog, mentor someone or even discuss ideas with a friend.

7. Clean Your Input

Some forms of learning are easy to digest, but often lack substance.

I make a point of regularly cleaning out my feed reader for blogs I subscribe to. Great blogs can be a powerful source of new ideas. But every few months, I realize I’m collecting posts from blogs that I am simply skimming.

Every few months, purify your input to save time and focus on what counts.

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8. Learn in Groups

Lifelong learning doesn’t mean condemning yourself to a stack of dusty textbooks. Join organizations that teach skills.

Workshops and group learning events can make educating yourself a fun, social experience.

9. Unlearn Assumptions

You can’t add water to a full cup. I always try to maintain a distance away from any idea. Too many convictions simply mean too few paths for new ideas.

Actively seek out information that contradicts your worldview.

Our minds can’t be trusted, but this is what we can do about it to be wiser.

10. Find Jobs that Encourage Learning

Pick a career that encourages continual learning. If you are in a job that doesn’t have much intellectual freedom, consider switching to one that does.

Don’t spend forty hours of your week in a job that doesn’t challenge you.

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11. Start a Project

Set out to do something you don’t know how. Forced learning in this way can be fun and challenging.

If you don’t know anything about computers, try building one. If you consider yourself a horrible artist, try a painting.

12. Follow Your Intuition

Lifelong learning is like wandering through the wilderness. You can’t be sure what to expect and there isn’t always an end goal in mind.

Letting your intuition guide you can make self-education more enjoyable. Most of our lives have been broken down to completely logical decisions, that making choices on a whim has been stamped out.

13. The Morning Fifteen

Productive people always wake up early. Use the first fifteen minutes of your morning as a period for education.

If you find yourself too groggy, you might want to wait a short time. Just don’t put it off later in the day where urgent activities will push it out of the way.

14. Reap the Rewards

Learn information you can use. Understanding the basics of programming allows me to handle projects that other people would require outside help. Meeting a situation that makes use of your educational efforts can be a source of pride.

15. Make Learning a Priority

Few external forces are going to persuade you to learn. The desire has to come from within. Once you decide you want to make lifelong learning a habit, it is up to you to make it a priority in your life.

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Featured photo credit: Paul Schafer via unsplash.com

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