“Life is precious as it is. All the elements for your happiness are already here. There is no need to run, strive, search, or struggle. Just be.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh
I lost one of my very best friends when we were both just twenty-nine years old. In the time since, I’ve thought about him on most days.
Thinking about him sometimes makes me well up and feel sad. Sometimes it makes me think about the hole him not being here has left. Selfishly, perhaps, I think about how much I miss him.
Sometimes I laugh aloud at the thought of a funny moment we shared, or a personal trait he had. I often draw inspiration from the zest for life he had, his drive to succeed.
Although he died at a relatively early age we had been firm friends since we were twelve when, realizing he lived on my street, I walked up to him in class and introduced myself and we started to walk to and from school together.
That was the beginning of a wonderful friendship. As kids, we spent the evenings hitting tennis balls until it got dark or listening to music and talking about girls. As we grew, we shared lots of firsts together—first holidays away without parents, first serious girlfriends, first homes, first relationship heartbreaks. In his case, him becoming a father.
We celebrated, we laughed, we cried, we got into mischief, we supported each other. We did all the things really close friends do for each other over the course of many years.
Brad had a zest for life. Always the first up on the dance floor at a party. Always ready with a funny anecdote or story. He had a genuineness that most people warmed to. I was, and am, lucky to call him my friend.
Sometimes I think how unfair it is that was cut short so early, even though I am aware that cancer is no respecter of age or what type of person you are.
Most often, though, thinking about him now brings a clarity and peace to my thoughts. Problems I had been focused on melt away. I gain a fresh perspective because I become acutely aware of how precious this life is.
The Fragility of Life
We all lose people we’re close to if we stick around long enough ourselves. This is an inconvenient truth of life. There is a fragility to it.
There are no guarantees. No order or set amount of time our loved ones will be there for us. No promise that how we feel, and what we can do today, will be how we feel and what we can do tomorrow. No promise that the health and relative wealth we enjoy today will be with us in the morning.
Facing up to the fragility of life can be scary. It can also be empowering. It can help us hold onto a perspective that supports us living a life rich with positive experiences. It can leave us with a conviction to make the most of our days.
Applying Focus to Our Days
One of the great ironies of our lives is that so many of us choose to stay busy, but then we complain that we don’t have time for our passion projects and goals. We put things off until tomorrow, as if we have unlimited time to make our dreams happen.
The book we promised to write.
The new skill we put off another year to learn.
The dream trip we promised ourselves and our family for the last five years.
We all do it, too much of the time.
When we view life through the lens of having a finite amount of time, we are more likely to make better use of that time.
Gratitude for the Way Things Are
While striving for new goals is to be admired, we also need to learn to enjoy the present moment. To make time to enjoy our successes, small and big, and celebrate the way things are.
Traveling has become a passion for me, mostly because I married someone that has the travel bug who has opened up the world to me, literally. I get to travel more than most—it’s a priority in our lives. Dream trips have become a reality for me. However, I don’t take this for granted.
Every time I travel and visit somewhere new for the very first time, I’ll take a moment to pause and reflect on how lucky I am to experience this new adventure. I pause to think about the friend I lost, and others that are not so lucky. I try to embrace this feeling of gratitude fully. It helps me experience this new place on a deeper level.
I try to hold onto this feeling and let it spill over into other areas of my life. When I gain some perspective, I realize that many of my problems are fairly minor.
My train is running late, and when it turns up it’s packed.
The coffee machine has broken, and I can’t get my regular latte from my favorite café on the commute into work.
What do all of the above ‘problems’ have in common? They are, of course, first world problems. There are so many people in the world worse off than I am—people that endure unimaginable hardships on a daily basis, just trying to live their lives.
I try to remember this so I don’t overlook the precious gifts I already have in my life, and so I don’t complain about “how tough I have it,” when really, I’m only dealing with minor annoyances and inconveniences.
I’m not always successful of course. I still get in my own way more often than I should, as we all do from time to time. I’m a work in progress, but practicing gratitude has helped me keep perspective.
Learning to Let Things Go
Anger, hate, regret, envy, disappointment. All can become toxic emotions that eat us up.
None of these emotions are really useful, or get us very far, yet we hold onto them, as if they are fuel.
In my own case, I can, and do, take inspiration from others, but I am aware that if I start to compare too much, envy can follow. I have to watch this.
If I even come close to feeling envy for someone else that I perceive to have more success than me, or be somewhere I want to be, I try to remind myself that I don’t know how these people actually feel.
I don’t know what their story is or how much they have had to sacrifice. I don’t know if they are truly happy, or they’re just masking deep insecurity or self-doubt with lies and a smile. This helps me let go of the desire to compare and simply commit to my own journey.
The same is true of regret. It’s an emotion I have done my best to distance myself from. I’m human and I make mistakes, mistakes I don’t want to repeat. I’ve hurt people close to me that I never want to hurt again with foolish acts or careless words at times. But beating myself up again and again for those mistakes is futile. It’s a waste of the precious life I am lucky to live.
I’m someone that believes in living life. I have lessons to learn, and can use those to fuel me trying to be a better version of me.
Maybe this outlook and approach to life is all part of the aging and maturing process. Or maybe it’s because I’ve gained a rounder perspective of who I am and how lucky I am, and learned to let go of these emotions. Seeing them for what they are, a waste of my focus.
And to be totally transparent, I am very much still a work in progress. I’m far from Zen-like calm all of the time. I still get frustrated at things I shouldn’t. I can still overreact to situations at times. I can still carry a grudge more than I would like to. I still feel the bitter feeling of disappointment in others at times, even though I know this is more about my own expectations than them. I’m getting better at letting things go but I still have a way to go.
When we truly embrace the fact that our lives are precious, we can choose to leave the negativity behind. We can choose to let go of the things that don’t matter so much, on closer inspection.
Making Time for Those That Matter Most
A finite amount of time in this world means we have to prioritize. We have to say no to some things so we can say yes to those things that matter most to us.
This means ensuring there is quality space in our days for our families, our friends, and ourselves. I’m not talking about five minutes snatched here and there while staring at a screen; I’m talking about quality time where we are fully present with those around us and our surroundings.
In the case of time for ourselves, quality time checking in with ourselves can involve a long walk, some meditation, any other act of self-care.
Fleeting Moments in Time
Facing up to the fact that we all have a temporary place in this world should be reason enough to apply a degree of clarity and purpose to our days.
We need to make time for the people that matter most to us.
We need to make time for ourselves.
We need to make time to dream out loud.
It’s wonderful and admirable to work hard, but we need to ensure we’re making ample time to celebrate our successes and enjoy our journeys.
These are fleeting and precious moments in time. Let’s make the most of them.
Note: This article is dedicated to Brad, always the first one up on the dance floor, consistently the greatest ally you could wish to have. I miss you, my friend.
About Carl Phillips
Carl writes short books full of big ideas. He is also the proud owner of Frictionless Living which is focused on helping readers find and live their own version of a simpler, good, life.