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Rethinking What Really Matters: The Four Most Important Things in Life

“Life is short. Focus on what matters and let go of what doesn’t.” ~Unknown

Our most precious commodities are not our smartphones, 3D TVs, brand new cars, or even our big and impressive houses.

Our most precious commodities can’t be found at the bank. They can’t be ordered online. The truth is, they are on a very short list.

Amongst our most precious commodities are our purpose, time, health, and our relationships.

How I Came to This Conclusion

Several years ago I realized I was accumulating more in my life. More things that didn’t really matter to me or speak to me on a spiritual level. More commitments I wasn’t really passionate about keeping. This was all leaving me feeling a little flat and unfulfilled. It felt like something was missing, but I wasn’t sure what that something was.

A period of fairly deep reflection followed. I then started to take some action based on this reflection. Amongst other things, that action has meant:

  • I have made good on long-term dreams to write creatively
  • I have realized I value freedom and flexibility over the ability to just earn more, and I now seek out ways of living accordingly.
  • I have accumulated fewer material possessions but enjoyed more (travel and holidays, events, life experiences).
  • I have concerned myself a whole lot less with the need to keep up with others (a toxic and empty competition if ever there was one).
  • I have set up my own micro-business so I have more control over what work and clients I say yes and no to.
  • I have met and married a partner in travel and adventure.
  • I have embraced aspects of simplicity, 80/20, and other powerful concepts into my life.

The upshot of these and other changes has been that the quality of my life has improved significantly. I certainly don’t have everything figured out (spoiler: no one does!), but my compass in life is much more in tune with somewhere I actually want to get to now.

Alongside this period of internal reflection, I started to question lots about life.

I started to weigh what I thought I wanted with what I actually wanted. I started to question what I was really seeking. Whether I was on a path that would get me there. Whether I had people in my life that could support me emotionally along the way. I started to question what it was to be successful and fully explore my own definition of it, not just follow a second-hand version.

I also started to question whether what I thought was important in life was really important at all. I reframed my life and came to the conclusion that there are several areas, commodities if you will, that are vitally important to how we feel, that need careful attention.

This is what led me to the realization that our purpose, time, health, and relationships are amongst our most precious commodities. Such a simple and obvious realization, you may protest. Well, if that’s the case, how is it that we let these suffer so frequently?

Purpose

Purpose is our why. It drives our actions. It fuels our passion. It encompasses our work, our relationships, and our approach to living our lives. It wraps around everything we do. It means living our lives in an intentional way. It gives our lives a sharper focus.

Our why is what keeps us going when life gets tough.

Our why gives life extra meaning and richness.

If we’ve lost our way and are struggling with our why, we can ask ourselves several related questions:

  • Where am I’m trying to get to?
  • What lights me up and gets me excited?
  • What’s my reason for getting up in the mornings?
  • What do I want more of in my life?
  • What do I want less of in my life?

The answers to these questions can be revealing and can lead us back to the core of what really matters most to us. Listen to these answers and use them as a guiding light. Revisit them often

Time

We all have the same number of hours in our day. Why do some of us run around, constantly stressed, complaining we “don’t have time,” while others seem to approach life in a relaxed and happy state but still get plenty done?

Though we all have responsibilities and obligations, this often comes down to choices.

Many of us make poor exchanges on our time on a daily basis. Each time we say yes to something, we are effectively saying no to something else. The problem is, we often say yes to too much. This is where a balance starts to tip.

Instead of feeling in control of our calendar, our time is all accounted for. We rush from this commitment to that, never really feeling like we’re truly present at any of them. We squeeze evermore into our days but feel we have less and less time to do the things we really want to do, or see the people we want to see. We have less space left for ourselves.

Time is a finite resource; once spent, it’s gone. We can’t get time back but we can be selective and intentional with the time we have.

We can take control by saying yes to less and appreciating the white space in our diary. We can protect our precious time for the activities and people that give our lives the most meaning and joy.

Of course, reclaiming your time isn’t always this simple. Some of us are working several demanding jobs in order to pay the most basic of bills. Maybe we are bringing up a young family, caring for aging parents, or perhaps looking after a loved one who has physical or mental health challenges.

Finding time for anything in these scenarios can be especially tough. Even if we do have time, we feel a heavy sense of guilt if we spend it doing something for ourselves, because it seems selfish. Besides, exhaustion can hit us right when we have these small windows of time, and sleep or the TV may beckon.

If we’re limited in this way, a good start is to find small pockets of time to invest in our passion projects, our hobbies, and ourselves. Five minutes here, half an hour there can add up over a period of time.

Though we may be caregivers or breadwinners for others, we need to remember to care for ourselves along the way. We can do this without neglecting our responsibilities. In fact, the more we can look after our own well-being, the better equipped we are to be of service to others.

Another step that we can take is to try to change our situation. Maybe we can work closer to home or look to simplify and reduce our bills, and perhaps even work a little less. In the case of loved ones with challenges, maybe we haven’t exhausted our options in terms of additional help (from friends, family, or care groups).

These are all tough and very real challenges some of us face, and I will not make light of them here. All any of us can do is look to make the very best of our situations and be grateful for what we have instead of focusing on what we don’t have. Sometimes we need a little outside support from others to help us along. Where there is a will, there can be a way.

Health

So many of us take our health for granted until we have a reason not to.

We neglect exercise and then wonder why our bodies complain when we need to climb a flight of stairs. We neglect our diet and then wonder when all this extra weight crept up on us. We neglect our mental health and then wonder why we’re always stressed.

We can be kinder on ourselves. We can add regular movement to our lives. Walking, the gym, bodyweight exercises, yoga—it all counts and can all be mixed up. Our bodies are made to move, not sit humped over laptops or in front of TVs all day. Embrace the ability to move.

Eating healthily can also be simple and enjoyable. We can base most of what we eat on plants (fruits and vegetables). If we eat meat, we can treat it like a side dish and ensure most of the rest of our plates are filled with a rainbow of vegetables. No foods need be off limits, and we can still make space for the odd discretion. Healthy eating can and should be delicious eating, and should never feel like drudgery.

Being outside more, eating well, and making time to decompress can all help our mental health and general feelings of well-being. We can be gentler with ourselves by ensuring we make time to reset occasionally.

Regular check-ups with our doctors can help pick up the early signs of anything nasty, but we can also do our best to make the most of what we have by trying our best to look after ourselves.

Relationships

Our modern obsession with being busy leads many of us to feel we don’t have enough time in our days. This is a particularly sorry state of affairs when it means we “don’t have time” for our relationships.

The truth is, all this busyness just might be something we have had a hand in creating. This may not be welcome news, but it does mean we can also step back from it and live another way.

Our friends, family, and loved ones are what really add spark to our lives. We need to make the time to foster these relationships. Being busy is fine, if we’re busy with the things and people that mean the most to us.

Our relationships are our bedrock, our foundation. We need to nurture them with the love and attention they really deserve.

Purpose, time, health, and loved ones. These are truly the things that make us richer and make life more complete. Let’s treat them accordingly.

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.

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  • Life_lover

    Fantastic article 🙂 These are great insights. I like the point you make about trying to change your situation. Many people I know are so caught up in their busy, unfulfilling lives that they are just running on auto pilot and they don’t stop to reflect on areas they can change to make their lives better. I used to be the same way, but I decided to consciously change my life and it has dramatically improved in all ways. It can be done. It’s all about the choices we make!!! 🙂 What we choose to focus on is what we experience.

  • Hi,

    Glad you enjoyed the post and thanks so much for the feedback.

    Yes, time for reflection can definitely get lost under the busyness of our lives. We need this time and can all try to be a little kinder with ourselves without becoming selfish along the way.

    Sounds like you are in a good place so keep on keeping on. 😉

  • Life_lover

    And same to you Carl!!! 🙂 Keep up the great work!! I’m definitely going to check out your books!!!

  • Nathalie Sauve

    Good point … what we choose to focus on is what we experience !!
    Yeppp !

    Great article !!

  • Thanks Nathalie, glad you enjoyed the post and I totally agree!

  • Good to hear – lots of free reading at my blog (I’ve also got a few more posts here at TB) but do reach out and let me know what you think if you purchase a book.

    Have a great weekend and thanks again for the positive feedback. It means a lot.

  • This is a great article, Carl! These days most people don’t realize that time can never be taken back so they end up never living the life they want to live. I used to be guilty of this, but I have taken action to change this and make the most out of my limited time on earth.
    I love how there were guide questions on the “Purpose” part because as a 21 year old, I’m still completing the answers for those questions. Extremely helpful, thanks for that.

  • Hi Nicah,

    So pleased to hear that and thanks for the feedback.

    Sounds like you’re on the right path for you which is what matters. Hope these questions help as triggers on your journey.

    Stay well.

  • Time is always a fascinating topic. Time has us say things like we have too little, we have too much or we have just enough, yet we all possess the same amount of it. The key is how we go about using it.

    To maximize time means to learn to prioritize what is important. Perhaps all those 5 minute breaks to check social media aren’t necessary, or do we really need to go out every time a “friend” asks us to?

    By prioritizing time, two things happen. First, we begin to learn what is important. Second, we all end up in the ideal “we have just enough of it” category.

  • ShaunTheCHB

    4 very great points. The world today makes many people choose unhealthy priorities like lots of money, having a big house, expensive car as priorities.

    One thing I think is a difficult priority to fulfill these days is relationships. Many people turn to technology rather than going out to meet people. Another problem with finding someone is expectations, many people are lonely and they are not able to click with anyone, because expectations from people are far too high. I have no friends and my family is all gone, I live alone and am not in a relationship and I find it very difficult to meet and get to know people when I am dismissed after five minuets due to not being what was expected of me. I’m expected to be this or that. Society has put an emphasis on expectation. It’s also much harder as one gets older to meet friends and have relationships because again, expectations from people are “you should have friends and a partner already, why don’t you? Is there something wrong with you?” Things like that.

    Time is a bitter enemy of mine. So much has passed me by, I stumbled for a long time not finding my place or a purpose. I have found it now, I’m currently studying to be a historian, but I can’t help but think “too little too late”. I’m 32 and despite the fact I am studying and going well at it, I feel like I have failed despite finding what I want to do, due to so much time passing me by. I wish I found this passion earlier, when I was younger.

    The world needs to wake up and realize that material things are here today and gone tomorrow, some things can’t be bought.

  • Mother of 3

    This is a wonderful and timely article. While reading, I was reminded of the moment I realized that time is there for the taking, as long as we posses the awareness to do so.
    This revelation came to me via a very wise soul, in the form of my four-year-old daughter at the time. We were getting ready for bed, brushing teeth, and at that moment she was dawdling, when my tired mommy-brain was thinking of all the things I still had to get done once she had been put to bed. I made a typical comment to her, to attempt getting her back on the bedtime schedule, “Honey, we’re running out of time…”
    My sweet little 4-year-old became thoughtful, and after a moment’s pause, said to me, “Mama, I want to run INTO time.”
    Her comment left me dumbfounded and put me into a state of deeper contemplation about what she was trying to express to me. It didn’t matter all of those things I thought I needed to get done that were occupying my mind and pushing our perceived ‘schedule’. What truly mattered was being present with her, right in that moment, and that was what was actually, truly available to me.
    Now, many years later, when I am feeling the pressure of ‘time’ and getting things done, etc. , I go back to that thought, and ask the Universe that I may ‘run into time.’ This usually brings me back to the present moment, reminding me that I’ll always have just enough ‘time’ to do what really needs to be done, and I can let the rest go.
    Thank you, wise child, for this wonderful gift of awareness!

  • Thanks for the feedback Joel.

    Prioritising what and who is important to us is key to living well. We need to find or make the time for them where we can and sometimes that means saying no to something else.

  • Hi Shaun,

    Thanks for the feedback.

    32 is still very young so don’t feel you have let time slip by. Some of us find our purpose early in life and stick with it, others come to it later in life and still others move from one passion project to another. Many ways can work.

    Regret is a wasteful emotion that does us no good at all. We can learn from the past but we mustn’t live in it, or let it define who we want to be. We have control over the now.

    It sounds like you could be a little kinder with yourself. The truth is, we all fail from time to time, that’s part of life. None of us are perfect.

    The fact that you have found a path you want to commit yourself to is incredibly positive. I’m sure you will find many like minded individuals as you dig deeper into your area of expertise and make new friends. Joining clubs and communities revolving around a passion project is always a great way to meet new people with shared interests.

    I wish you well with the studies and don’t be too tough on yourself along the way. 😉

  • Hi Mother of 3 (!!),

    Thanks so much for the comment, glad you enjoyed the post.

    That’s priceless! I will commit that to memory myself. The young (and young at heart) can often remind us adults that sometimes we complicate things a little too much.

    It sounds like you have your own mini Thich Nhat Hahn in house. 🙂

  • ShaunTheCHB

    Thank you Carl. I’ll certainly try not to be so brutal on myself. It’s easier said than done. But I will most definitely try. 🙂

  • badhombrebigdo

    How many more white ppl are going to be featured writing dribble like this as if all of it isn’t completely dependent on their privilege. Whole thing is so much inside a bubble it’s hilarious.

  • Anushree Baikerikar

    Thank you, Carl. This is immensely important stuff. This should be taught in schools and colleges. This understanding is what our foundations should be based on! Instead of choosing our jobs and lifestyles based on fear or society expectations.

    This should be taught in schools & colleges! Thank you for sharing.

  • Hi Anushree,

    Thanks so much for the feedback and I am glad you enjoyed the post.

    I agree, broader life skills and ways of thinking are important subjects to include in our schools and colleges. This is especially important in the virtual world of sharing ‘sunshine shots and success stories’ we find ourselves in.

    Keeping up with keeping up is a fast route to unhappiness, especially if this comes at the expense of what really matters.

  • Anna

    Well , rethinking. It reminds me of a very beautiful word, called , “reflections”. If I were to write a poem, I would do so. As all I love to do is to reflect very often. It is mostly a very beautiful experience. And it is essential too. We need to once in a while analyse for ourself, what we have done, will do in future etc. We are the best judge for ourselves. The article has many vital points which give the reader motivation.

  • Thanks for the feedback Anna, glad to hear you enjoyed the post. Keep on reflecting and keep on writing the poetry. 😉

  • Ayesha Shaikh

    Love the article Carl, it’s expressed in such a simple manner. Read few comments and I agree that these points should be taught in school so our body and mind keeps preparing and growing in the right manner without the regret of losing some precious time, yrs, relations and then learning through our failures the actual meaning of life and what really gives content to our soul. Most of us go through this tough lessons of life and realise it in a hard and bitter way. But eventually we learn this at some point but just wish it wasn’t that late as time can’t be reversed, undone.

  • Glad you enjoyed the post Ayesha and thanks for the feedback!

    Life skills should definitely be part of our schooling but some of these lessons also just have to be learned with the passage of time. Maturing, growing and learning – we all identify some of the things we thought were important that don’t stand up. Equally, we identify some areas that are truly important and need our focus.

    Keep well.