Are you living or existing? Sadly, a lot of people I know are just existing, stringing themselves from one lackluster, disappointing day to the next.
I don't want to live like that.
Jack London said, "The proper function of man is to live, not to exist," and I agree completely.
Brené Brown calls it living wholeheartedly. In her book The Gifts of Imperfection (which has sold over 30 million copies) she talks about 10 guideposts to living your best, authentic life. She makes it very simple to live wholeheartedly.
Simple but not easy.
I'd highly recommend that book if you want to make some changes in your life or even if you just want to live more into your purpose.
But in the meantime, you are looking for ways to go beyond existing, go beyond reacting to life, go beyond autopilot to a life you can actually enjoy and thrive in.
Someone I know exists. He wakes up every morning and goes to work. He does what he's told all day and then comes home. He does what he's asked at home, though begrudgingly. He is grumpy and complains, but he does what he's supposed to do. I'm not in his head, but it seems from the outside that he never reaches out and grabs life. I don't know if he ever feels excitement or genuine interest. I feel sorry for him.
Excitement and interest are what makes life worth living, if you ask me. I live from one exciting event to the next, always on the lookout for the next big thing, and I often find it. Big things happen to me, funny things, amazing things, interesting things... but it's all in my perspective.
12 Ways to Thrive and Not Just Exist
- Appreciate the great people and things in your life. This is #1 because it's what sustains me. It's what I was talking about above, finding the excitement and interest and joy in your life and being actively grateful for them.
I read an article recently written by a woman who had a stroke in her 30s and lost the ability to communicate. She could no longer speak or write. She had two small children, both under 5, and she couldn't even tell them that she loved them. Doctors weren't sure she would ever regain the ability to communicate, but through hard work and incredible perseverance, she eventually did. The point of the article wasn't the hard work, though. The point was that, in those days when she couldn't, she deeply regretted all the harsh words she'd said to her children and her husband. She regretted not telling them more often that she loved and cherished them. She regretted not being grateful.
I don't want to live with those regrets.
Related: Making a Family Gratitude Jar
- Ignore negativity. I feel like I've written these words before, and I probably have. But the best way to live fully into your own life is to ignore the small stuff in other people's lives. There is a terrific book you've probably heard of before called Don't Sweat the Small Stuff (and It's All Small Stuff), in which one of the first and most important things the author says is, "no person is happy all the time, but you can get back on track faster with small adjustments to your thinking and attitude, with practice," and his wife writes in the book's forward that "Life’s minor annoyances can become kindling to a fire." Don't feed the fire of negativity in your brain and in your life.
Related: 17 Ways to be a Develop a Positive Outlook
- Forgive when someone hurts you. Holding a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die. This is a big area of personal development for me because I do hold on to slights, both real and imagined, particularly with people for whom I don't feel devoted affection. It can be hard to forgive someone, especially when they're not repentant, but God calls us to forgive unconditionally.
In fact, in Ephesians 4:32, Paul writes, "Be kind and compassionate with one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you."
Do whatever you have to do to forgive and move on.
- Be who you really are, not who someone else thinks you should be. This is one of Brené Brown's guideposts: live authentically. She says it's not something we have or don't have but something that we practice and get better at over time. So do it. Step out of line and do the thing you are afraid to do. Stand out. Stop conforming to what you think you should do and just be you.
- Listen to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is that little voice that tells you right and wrong, who teaches you how to do better and be better. He is your helper and teacher, your guide and counselor. In the Bible, Jesus said, "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and remind you of everything that I have told you" (John 14:26). That voice is part of the Trinity (God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit) and fully God. The Holy Spirit isn't the only voice in there, Satan whispers to you through your inner monologue, too, but you can learn to tell the difference. Listen to the good stuff and do what you already know is the right thing.
- Embrace change. This is so hard for me because I generally hate change, but if you're going to thrive, you have to learn to live with it. Change is inevitable, and you can't escape it. But if you're going to grow and be and do new things and live fully, you have to be okay with it. You have to have faith that things are going to work out for you for the best and lift your head up and face change confidently. Brené Brown calls this letting go of the need for certainty. The Bible calls it faith. Romans 8:28 says "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." Things will work out for you, but you have to be open to change.
- Choose your relationships wisely. Knowing who you can trust and who is worthy of your love is so important. One of my dearest friends is going through a divorce right now, and I ache for her. She was married for decades before her husband cheated and became violent. I'm not saying she could have done anything to prevent the divorce, not at all. I'm just saying that she's so much better off without him even though the end of any relationship is bound to hurt. You have to be willing to cull the relationships that aren't working and focus all your mental and emotional energy on the ones that are.
- Overlook imperfections. People are broken, every single one. Some of us try to hide our cracks and some wear them right out in the open for everyone to see (and read about). It doesn't really matter in the end; we all have just as many. So embrace your people and yourself, flaws and all. Maybe someone in your life is too wishy washy and never makes a decision. Maybe someone else is too opinionated or even a little harsh. Maybe you don't like another's choices. If you love them, then love them with grace and mercy.
- Do the things your future self will thank you for. I'm sure you've seen the meme that says "A year from now, you'll be glad you started today." So start already.
Imagine your life in 5 years if you don't make any changes. Will you still be the same? Will you be okay with that? I hope you won't be the same. I hope you WILL have made some changes and grown into a better, richer (not necessarily in money terms), happier version of yourself. So start today and do something to get to that place.
- Leave time for fun. Brené Brown calls this play, and she says it's essential to living a wholehearted life. That concept has stuck with me all these years since I first read The Gifts of Imperfection because I was at a place then where I wasn't doing anything for fun. I'm still not terribly good at it - I'd much rather be productive - but fun can feel good. Have sex. Play a game with your kids. Do something you really like, for no reason except that you really like it.
I think it's really interesting that something can be fun for one person and not fun for someone else. For me, writing is fun. Yes, there is a purpose. Yes, my blog makes money to support my family. But it is fun. It is self care. I enjoy it. So it serves multiple purposes in my life. Don't feel like your fun has to be frivolous (although you should make room for that in your life, too). It just has to be something that you love, that brings you joy and makes you feel alive.
Related: 110 Self Care Strategies for Busy Women
- Enjoy the little things in life. My daughter wrapped a birthday present for a friend last night. I would not have enjoyed this little chore, but she attacked it with gusto. She wrapped the gift in most of a roll of beautiful cloth ribbon and then wrapped that in packing tape. When I saw the package, I wanted to scold her for "wasting" the ribbon, but instead I smiled and said it was beautiful (which it was). "It looks like you worked really hard on that," I said. "I sure did!" she replied. I did then ask her how her friend was going to open it, but she replied that it wasn't her problem and she was glad it was pretty. That's how we should all be: glad that it's pretty and having fun with the things that must be done.
Also, I've seen a meme that says "Enjoy the little things, for someday you may look back and realize that they were the big things." So chew on that for a minute. What will that kind word, hug, or kiss be worth to you in a year if the recipient is gone?
- Let go of being in control. God is in control. He has a plan for your life, and there's not much you can do to escape it. You need only look to the Bible to see evidence of this. In Genesis, Abraham took matters into his own hands when he had a son with his slave girl. In Jonah, Jonah himself tried to run away from God's commands. In both cases, the results were fairly disastrous. Abraham's illegitimate son went on to father a nation in constant conflict with the Israelites, and Jonah got swallowed by a fish. And yet, in both cases, God's plan prevailed. Abraham and his wife had a son even though she was well past childbearing age, and that son fathered the nation of Israel, and Jonah ended up in the city that God told him to visit.
One of my cats, Henry, is very tentative. He makes me laugh just about every day because he slinks around the house, always on the lookout for danger. If you touch him when he's slinking, he jumps a foot into the air. It's hilarious, though I try not to do it because I don't want to terrify him.
Don't live like Henry. Thrive in this broken world. Live into your purpose and attack life with gusto and grace. Find peace and happiness and contentment in every day, even the hard ones. Your life will be so much better for it.