Ten Actions to Live a Life Well Lived
Welcome back to the fight. This time, I know our side will win. — Victor Lazlo (Casablanca)
I know, another listical. I hate them as well. Especially at the dawn of a new year. A bite-sized numbered list of inane advice that never really dives beneath the surface platitude. Bullet points to garner clicks instead of espousing wisdom. Usually with a stock photo of generic, happy people doing generic happy things. I get the irony of this post. Hopefully, it is different. More content, one click, still a list.
This post started as commentary about where we find ourselves today; adrift on a tumultuous sea of social media. The soul-numbing novocaine of the hundreds of minutes spent being held captive aboard the pirate run ships that is now Twitter and Facebook, each micro-interaction stealing a little bit of our soul, a little piece of our spirit. The monkey mind of the masses chattering non-stop. The feeding of your soul with Fluffernutter sandwiches.
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I don’t want to add to the static with another essay on the evils of social media. I can’t change today’s current behavior. And as much as I want to fight it realize that it is an integral part of our lives. But I can suggest a prescription of ten actions we can take to return to shore and reclaim the goal of living a life well-lived. Hopefully, the following ten actions will be oxygen to that ember that is still smoldering in the center of your chest. It’s hopefully a long journey, this life of ours, and I think enjoying the journey is as important as where that path ultimately leads.
Join me and the rest of the live lifers in taking responsibility and reclaiming our birthright. To live life to the fullest, engaged and unafraid.
Happy New Year and welcome back to the fight.
What actions would you put on the list? Let me know in the comments below.
1. Reduce The Time Spent on Social Media
Yes, even Post. I want to say quit social media, but that is just not realistic in the societal framework we have today. Too much communication happens online. But you can become aware of your use and consciously choose to use the platform for a specific reason that brings value instead of mindlessly scanning the news feed as my father used to do with the cable remote — switching constantly between channels. You can use the tools available to you on devices to see your actual time spent (the amount will shock you) and enforce self-imposed limits.
Social media’s focus, especially Facebook, Twitter, and Tik Tok, is neither social or media. Although Elon has designs to make Twitter a media outlet. It is a data mining operation and you are the ore. They stacked the deck. They engineered the experience to activate the addiction centers of the mind. We never had a chance. Social Media keeps us distracted. Keeps us numb. Keeps us focused on things that don’t really matter. We can’t have great thoughts if we are constantly distracted by the constant buzz of those who, by and large, don’t really deserve a place in our lives. Yes, I have made a few friends in real life that started as social media connections. But most of those had an outside element attached. A connection with something beyond the borders of my device.
Add to the above the betrayal of these companies with how they monetized our data and you will understand why this action became number one on the list. We all knew that we were giving something of ourselves in payment for use of the platform. And in the beginning, that bargain was equitable; a minimal amount of metrics in return for the expansion of democratic free speech across the ether. But now it is no longer worth the cost; especially since that cost has increased exponentially. It’s like Taco Bell — that burrito is worth the $1.99 it will take from your pocket, but today’s social media is the equivalent of paying $12.95 for that spicy beef gastronomic experience.
Not all social media is bad. That depends on the connection with those with whom you are communicating. And it is getting better as more platforms like Post enter the ecosystem. As those who create content begin to reclaim and redefine what the space should look like. As we migrate to channels like Substack, Mastodon, Post.News, and the anticipated Bluesky Social, we are renegotiating the rules of the virtual town square. Post.News is incorporating one concept that is a prerequisite for civil discourse, eschewing anonymity. Real people, with real names and reputations to uphold. But, as important and good as these changes are, the virtual town square pales compared to those in real life.
Reduce your time on social media and I promise that you will find yourself happier and more connected to life actually happening around you.
2. Slow Down
I realize that life seems to move at one-hundred miles per hour, especially if you have children. To quote Ferris, life moves pretty fast. Today’s world demands a lot and there doesn’t seem to be enough time. But time is relative. It’s fungible. And there’s a paradox — the feeling of not having enough time is exacerbated the faster you try to move. Because you’re thinking of the next few things you need to do while you are doing the task you are currently doing, time feels compressed. The tasks feel overwhelming. By slowing down, by becoming conscious in the moment and focusing on whatever you are doing is a specific moment, and only that, time expands.
Slow down. Breathe. Take moments to observe something specific. Daydream for a few minutes while you stare out the window at the falling snow. By doing these things, the stress created by the feeling of a lack of time will be reduced and you operate more efficiently.
Slow down and move consciously through the world rather than on autopilot and you’ll feel the heat of that ember building.
3. Think Grand Thoughts
As humans, we are nothing really but observers. We observe and then react to the world around us. Life is experiential and the quality of that life, living a life well lived, depends on not flitting from thing to thing, hopping from task to task, but in moving deliberately. Experiencing life in all of its rainbow of emotions. And that takes thought. One thing that limiting time on social media will allow is the time to truly contemplate the world around you. You can’t think grand thoughts if you’re constantly distracted by the micro-interactions of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tik Tok.
As you think those thoughts, your attention span increases. You stay focused longer. You gain more understanding of the world around you and your life. You become inspired. That inspiration, that motivation, might come out of excitement, or it might come out of disgust. Remaining with those thoughts instead of jumping to the next superficial thought, creates a burning inside, a fire in the belly that eventually turns into intention. And intention drives action. And action equals participation in and experiencing life.
Spend time contemplating things that interest you. Daydream. Think deep about how things are and how you want them to be.
“I’ve said this I think before in other interviews, I want to be a great writer. That’s what I want. I want to be a really decent person and a great writer. That’s what I want out of my life. And that’s not small, by the way. Like being a decent person is not a small thing and it’s not an easy thing, by the way. It really, really isn’t. I want those two things at the same time.
And part of that is what I realized is controlling what comes in. And I never had to think about that before. But it got to a level of where it’s like, oh I can’t absorb everything. I actually can’t! There are some things I should not know. There are some things I should not see.”
“If I don’t exert control over what comes in, I will in no way be able to exert control over what comes out.” — Ta-Nehisi Coates
4. Read, or Read Again, In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan
Life is complex. We are magical beings. This book reminds us that there was much knowledge shared through teaching how to cook the dinners of our ancestors generation through generation. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. There is so much about the symbiotic relationships of nutrients gleaned from generations of food wisdom that were tossed out during the industrialization of edible consumables of the post World War Two era. Nutrition is closer to systems theory than the Cartesian view of breaking systems into their individual parts.
Read this book. Make conscious decisions about your food. Take one more step in your journey to a life well-lived.
5. Read Your News
Go old school and get your news by reading a variety of newspapers. Online is fine, but offline is preferred. News channels on TV are no longer news channels, but news commentary. It’s the equivalent of reading only the editorial section. And it’s presented to you in the order the news director thinks is the most appropriate. By reading the news, you are the news director. You can choose which stories you wish to read and in what order. And there is a more important reason. Information gained through reading goes through the reasoning parts of the brain. When you read your news, you thoughtfully examine what is going on. When you watch TV, because of the movement, the information goes through the emotional part of the brain and straight to the hippocampus — the most base part of our brain. It’s one of the reasons why advertising on TV works so well. Also, TV news is now repetitive, so if you see something tragic, you see it, and emotionally relive it, again and again and again.
Be selective in the information you take in. Read multiple sources from different points of view. Be skeptical. Believe nothing until you read it in more than two sources.
6. Be Active
A body in motion stays in motion, a body at rest stays at rest. That law works for your body too. Exercise is on everybody’s list at the beginning of the year. We all know we have to do it and have the best intentions on January 1st, but by March few of us are still doing consistent activity. It’s important for your health, and it’s important for your soul. Your body is a system of three pillars: mind, body, and soul, and each affects the wellbeing of the others. Exercise releases endorphins which feed the brain with that sweet, sweet reward so that you lean that movement is a good thing that should be repeated. It doesn’t have to be a gym either. Walk, run, dance, bike, climb stairs — the important thing is to move. Be active. Be a part of the world around you. Besides, now that you’ve cut down on the social media, you’ve got at least an extra hour with nothing to do… hit the gym or go for a walk.
Don’t worry about working out so much as staying active. Walk when you can ride, take the stairs instead of the elevator. Stand and walk at least once an hour. You need only one word for this action… Move.
7. Be Aware and Be Generous
This action will not be easy. There is much in this world that we turn away from out of self-preservation but sometimes living life to the fullest requires some pain as well. Life is not all rainbows and unicorns. We don’t like painful situations. We avoid them and when they can’t be avoided we distract ourselves with other things. We close down our awareness.
Be aware. Notice the bad as well as the good. Be aware of the injustice in the world and enable the compassion that resides within. See the homeless. Be aware and understand the actions we do that affect others. Do not hide from life but meet it on its own terms, the good, the bad, and especially the ugly.
Be generous with your time and your resources. Find how you can help someone else. Small acts of kindness are investments that return larger rewards than the value perceived. The form of your intention, of being generous, can manifest in different ways. Generosity can be monetary, time-based, or just giving attention to someone or something you normally wouldn’t. It is also important to be generous to yourself. We often put ourselves last on the list — that is natural — but sometimes, remember to move yourself up that list and give yourself the same generosity that you would give a friend.
Engage with others about the topics you would rather not. Respectfully. Thoughtfully. Have civil discourse on the subjects that you disagree. In person. Not online where they are nothing more than dehumanized avatars, but face to face where you can recognize their humanity. Where you can see their passion. Where you can understand their worldview. One of three things will happen. You will walk away from the discussion stronger in your belief, you will have your belief changed completely, or you will have a hybrid where both of you come to a third belief that combines parts of each argument.
Getting up each morning and turning on the autopilot to take you through coffee, going to work, working, going to lunch, working some more, heading home, and then falling asleep in front of the television is not living life, it’s hiding from it. Eventually, you will look back and wonder where your life went. You will feel like it was a movie watched, but not a life lived. Be aware. Be generous.
We are all fellow travelers on this hunk of rock hurtling through the universe. Reawaken your awareness. Choose to not look away. Be generous with your time and resources.
8. Savor Life’s Delicious Morsels with Gratitude
1. taste (good food or drink) and enjoy it completely.
“gourmets will want to savor our game specialties”
You would think this one was a no-brainer, wouldn’t you? But it is a side-effect of not being aware. When you go through life on autopilot you shield yourself from the painful, but you also deny yourself those special moments that life gives you to feed your soul. Be generous to yourself. Occasionally enjoy fine quality things. Enjoy them fully. Give them the respect that they deserve. Splurge on an expensive glass of wine and fully enjoy the experience of the drinking the wine. Its taste, its smell, the way it feels on your tongue. Savor, and be grateful for, the thought and skill that those who produced it put into the final product. Splurge on a massage and savor the feeling of having the knots no longer in your muscles.
You can savor and be grateful for things that are not consumable as well. Savor and be grateful for the warm sun on your face that first really warm day of spring. Savor and be grateful for the sound of children playing in the park. Savor and be grateful for the feeling of your heart beating strongly in your chest during activity. Find those enjoyable moments in life and experience them with your complete focus. They are, after all, the difference between living life and just going along for the ride.
Have gratitude for everything you experience and take the time to savor the ones that make you feel good.
9. Spend Time with Your Real Life Friends and Family
There is a great British saying that “only a rich man can afford cheap shoes.” The same goes for friends. Most that you call friends on social media are the cheap shoes of relationships. Here, less is more with quality being more important than quantity. Spend more time with fewer friends and you will be exponentially happier.
Be active in their lives. Join them in their highs and lows. Let them join you. Savor the connection. Be aware of their love. Be generous in your love for them. It’s these relationships that make life worth living and will fill it with meaning.
Spend more time with your friends and family in real life. Make new friends and be active in their lives.
“Live to the point of tears” — Albert Camus
10. Reclaim Your Passion
You once had a passion for something that has probably fallen by the wayside because of life. You know what it is. “If I only had enough time, I would do X,” “When I was a child, I wanted to do Y,” “I used to love to do Z.” Pick one of those things and give yourself permission to play with it again. Start small. A few moments a week. Take it out of the box, look at it from different angles, wonder why you stopped playing with it. Imagine what your life would be if you incorporated it again into its fabric. Then find the thing you pushed aside that brings you the most pleasure now and incorporate it back into your life.
Reclaim the things that you once loved but have put to the side. Give yourself permission and time to take them out again and see if they still make you happy.
This has been a very long way of making my New Year’s wish for you all to slow down, follow your passion, invest time in those who make you happy and live life instead of just floating along with the current. In short, feed the muse.
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