"Memory is the diary that we all carry about with us." --Oscar Wilde
Following is an excerpt from a nonfiction/self-help work, titled SET FOR LIFE, I helped a client with that we published Fall 2016. It covers what I think is the most important ingredient for happiness. And how we can use it to create (or recreate) wonderful and fulfilling lives for ourselves and our loved ones.
Life. When we’re young, it stretches out before us almost to eternity. At ten years old, thirty looks ancient. At twenty, it pushes back to forty; that’s old to us. As we age, we slide that particular benchmark farther away from our current age because we realize it’s all relative. It’s something we learn along the way in life. We also learn about context and how that plays a larger role in how happy we are, or what we become…or fail to become.
Often, as we get older, we look for things to make our lives better, more meaningful. We prefer it to be a simple formula—a shortcut, an easy recipe; five minutes to a German chocolate cake that feeds a dozen people; just pressing a button to get instant results. We buy cookbooks that support the latest diet fad because we want quick results. We go for the seven-minute workout, pushing a high-burn regimen into the smallest amount of time possible. That’s all good and can work to make select improvements in our lives.
But what we want is the big picture, widescreen high-definition, a life that we dreamed of when we were young. And maybe deep inside we still want this big, colorful life, no matter how old we are.Unfortunately, there is no seven-minute workout for life; there is no quick, easy-bake solution for life; there is no simple formula for life.
Life is about form and substance, and in a figurative sense, it is performance art. Having the life that makes us happy and content can be quantified logically, but it must be orchestrated and choreographed. Yet life has become more complex and runs at a faster pace than ever before in history, not just for adults but also for society as a whole. That means more than ever we need to be purposeful by consciously planning our life to include the experiences that give us the most joy.
"The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience." --Eleanor Roosevelt
Let's leave the excerpt from the client work above and go personal:
I made a decision early on in life (and admittedly it was a subconscious one at first) to experience new things, new people and cultures far different than I'd known growing up and to make travel a focal point.
I changed my plan of going to the University of Arkansas after high school (I was accepted, enrolled and had just returned from Freshman Orientation), and chose the Navy as a branch of service (and sea duty for my first set of orders) for that reason. After my four years in the Navy, I worked to create opportunities for travel in my business and professional career and have been successful in doing so. And of course, there's personal travel with my wife and children... a lot of it over 34 years of marriage.
"I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery—air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, this is what it is to be happy." --Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
A scene. A place. A perfect moment that you felt strongly about deep inside. And it filled you with wonder at how beautiful our world is, how vast its history, the unique people and places and how special it is to be in that moment... in that place.
Some of those places and moments from my experience:
Gibraltar, as I watched the sun ease down, day turn to night and the moon rise from my hotel room balconies--one faced the straits and Atlantic and the other the Mediterranean. And I thought of all the ships that had transited the straits as I had just done for the third time and felt a sense, and appreciation, of the history of that unique geographic feature in our world.
Taormina, Sicily when Etna started to blow ash into a bright cerulean sky as I sat at a seaside cafe drinking wine and eating cheese. Virgil, in the Aeneid (written between 29 and 19 BC), describes one of Etna's eruptions:
A spreading bay is there, impregnable
To all invading storms; and Aetna's throat
With roar of frightful ruin thunders nigh.
Now to the realm of light it lifts a cloud
Of pitch-black, whirling smoke, and fiery dust,
Shooting out globes of flame, with monster tongues
That lick the stars; now huge crags of itself,
Out of the bowels of the mountain torn,
Its maw disgorges, while the molten rock
Rolls screaming skyward; from the nether deep
The fathomless abyss makes ebb and flow.
Stonehenge, on a crystal clear English day--the gray of the stones--the green grass and azure sky. Standing in front of what was formerly just an image to me (albeit an iconic one)... a picture in a magazine or a place seen on TV in a documentary. On-site, in-person, it's so much more powerful and impressive as I stood in the sun, felt the wind, saw the size of the worn Sarsen stones, and wondered at the people that erected them around 3100 BC, over 5,000 years ago.
Carthage, as I watched from within the ruins as the sun set and the slanting rays turned it into a place of shadows. As the columns' shade grew, extending like pointing fingers, the crumbling walls cast grimaces of black jagged broken teeth that stretched across the ground and the wind sighed through the ruins giving them a voice in the twilight.
Nature's sculptures and canvas: the red rocks/scenery around Sedona, Arizona; the south and north parts of the Grand Canyon (especially the less frequented north rim) and Zion National Park in southern Utah. Splendor wrought by wind and water on a scale difficult to comprehend unless you've stood at the edge, or among the rocks, arroyos, and heights to see and feel them for yourself.
Places like Montezuma's Castle near Camp Verde, Arizona, and the cliff dwellings in different areas in the American southwest. The Balah Fort (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) just west of Nizwa in Oman and believed to predate Islam in the region. The questions that ran through my mind, as I stood before them, on what it was like to live there--in those times--in their way.
Washington DC, of man-made memorials to Americans and their accomplishments, young on the scale of time but just as moving to me as a city of antiquity. The Lincoln Memorial, the Smithsonian... the National Air & Space Museum... Arlington Cemetery, the Vietnam, Korean and World War II Veterans memorials. Tales of and tributes to the men and women of our nation that accomplished great things, and did their duty at a high cost. They often carried burdens so heavy--so very, very heavy--yet shouldered the load, and met their responsibility to the nation and to those with whom they served.
Around the world, in other places, too, that I've been: London... Mombasa, Kenya... Barcelona... Cadiz... Cartagena... Naples... Rome... La Spezia, Palma de Mallorca, Ibiza, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Oman... the Dead Sea, the Red Sea, other cities, and locales, large and small, in the US and abroad. Some known by many... many known by just a relative few. So many sights and experiences that touched me in some way.
People and cultures, some lost in antiquity, and the places that remain where you can stand and sometimes if the moment is right and you're receptive, you can feel it--feel the world.
A tingle through the soles of your feet, in your bones, it dances up your spine. The sound of laughter, all the same, no matter the language, the taste of the food and drink, a scent on the wind--perhaps a trace memory or some buried part of the subconscious--resonates and triggers feeling and emotion. Our world is alive.
So much beauty and meaning in our world if we let it into our soul so we can feel it. Whether big or small, it is those moments when we feel alive.
And I believe you can actively plan and realize the experiences... the moments... that will make you most happy.