People Power: What would you change if you were given a second chance at life? - Dec 2021
By Sam Allman
We live in a country where there is plenty of information and opportunities to choose to live life well. I do not necessarily mean wealthy; I mean a life that is happy, fulfilled and meaningful, in which we flourish as human beings. We are meant to thrive, not just survive. “Men are that they might have joy!” (2 Nephi 2:25 Book of Mormon)
THRIVING, NOT SURVIVING
If our circumstances are such that we must do whatever it takes just to survive, thriving and flourishing become the least of our worries. I believe that is why Buddha said, “Life is so very difficult,” and Henry David Thoreau said, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” Let’s face it: life is difficult and desperate when you are living only in survival mode. But we do not live by instinct alone. We have the ultimate human freedom: the ability to choose, to respond, to change.
Research shows that wealth is not a criterion for flourishing, though flourishing is more achievable when we are not solely in survival mode. But flourishing does not mean easy, nor carefree. It is defined as “developing rapidly and successfully; thriving.” Flourishing allows us to achieve our potential, to be all we can be and to accomplish what we decide we want. It’s not living a life of leisure like the mythical “Life of Riley”; it requires mindful awareness and work. Thriving requires us to move beyond our physical needs and address our higher needs, like learning, loving and searching for meaning. It takes effort. It takes persistence. It takes thoughtful awareness. It takes action. Accomplishing what you have learned requires the same, but the reward is a life well lived.
Humans are attracted to doing hard things; we love challenges. There is joy in the accomplishment, especially when we accomplish hard things that are meaningful to us. I am reminded of John F. Kennedy’s classic quote that mobilized the American people to go to the moon, “We choose to do this in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”
There are some circumstances we cannot change-where and when we were born; whether we were born in poverty or with a silver spoon in our mouth; whether our parents were nurturing or not; whether they were absent or present. Some circumstances we must have the wisdom to accept as they are without letting them define us.
Think of our early ancestors. They led lives in which survival was difficult, but they constantly looked for ways to improve their circumstances. They tested and discovered better methods to feed themselves, searched for better lands, created tools and machines, all in an effort to make life easier and more enjoyable. Today, we humans still migrate, spend years getting an education, use the self-discipline that it takes to succeed at doing life’s hard things. Our innate purpose is to learn to transcend those difficulties and flourish. In our youth, we learn to take care of ourselves, but as we continue to mature, our experiences mentor us in how to flourish.
Even though I am mostly retired, my goal is to live life in such a way that it’s still an adventure. I want to enjoy the rest of my journey and flourish as long as I can. I am reminded of the words of George Bernard Shaw, “I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no ‘brief candle’ to me. It is sort of a splendid torch which I have a hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it over to future generations.” I believe we all can live above the circumstances we are dealt. We can choose to flourish and enjoy whatever time we have left. I know this because of the inspiring stories of those who certainly had to deal with considerably worse circumstances than I have. Though most of us can be immobilized temporarily by our circumstances, we do not have to make them permanent or allow them to define us.
Defining moments in the lives of others can give us the motivation to leave our resigned fate, or as Thoreau said, our “confirmed desperation,” to exercise the human freedom of choice. Defining moments are forced changes in our circumstances that cause us to rethink, re-evaluate and possibly course-correct our strategies, actions and direction. That is the essence of moving from surviving to flourishing: small, continuous, incremental, neverending improvements as we learn what works, what works better and what doesn’t work for us. I have had numerous defining moments in my life, including some really big ones that have led me to make dramatic course directions in my journey. Those changes were empowering and self-satisfying.
As you probably read in Floor Focus’ October opening editorial, Kemp Harr recently had a defining moment. He basically died. He stopped breathing, and his heart stopped twice. But he was in the right place at the right time, surrounded by the right people. He was revived. He received a second chance at life. That defining moment caused him to re-evaluate, consider his journey and make some personal changes.
Have you ever begged for a second chance? Second chances can be defining but few are as impactful as a second chance at life. What would you do differently if you were granted a second chance at life?
Since the odds are most of us will not get a second chance at life, it would benefit us to consider what a defining moment like that would be for us. Put yourself in Kemp’s shoes. For me, that kind of consideration has been very beneficial as I have listened to and studied the inspiring stories of others. I would ask myself, What would I do if that happened to me? How would I respond? How would the experience change me?
Let me share some facts and related questions that will help you consider how an imagined second chance at life might become a defining moment for you. Vividly visualizing an experience like that can be almost as powerful as the real thing.
Fact: Without your physical health, your choices for quality of life diminish. Smoking and alcohol/drug abuse are by far the most common causes of early death and unhappiness. Exercise, proper nutrition, adequate sleep, medical check-ups, and intervals of fun, rest and relaxation will add quality days to your life.
Q: What could you do to improve your physical health and add days-possibly years-to your life?
Fact: “Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult, once we truly understand and accept it, then life is no longer difficult,” said M. Scott Peck in The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth.
Q: Which of your failures, problems or difficulties are you allowing to define you? What do you need to do to move on and transcend them? Hint: Reiterating them often and blaming them for your unhappiness is evidence of the need to do so.
Fact: You can alter your life by altering your attitude, your perspective. Believe that life is worth living and your belief will help create the fact. The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another. Positive people are happier and more productive than negative people. “Control your mind, or it will control you,” said Horace.
Q: How is your thinking getting in your way? Where do you need an attitude or gratitude adjustment?
Fact: Family and strong personal relationships bolster flourishing and happiness. Forgiving and forgetting alleviate anger and isolation. Refuse to allow others to have control over your feelings. Forgive and let go. Mending relationships is cathartic.
Q: What relationships have you been neglecting? Whom do you need to forgive? From whom do you need to ask forgiveness?
Fact: We need challenges. We need goals. We need something meaningful to do. We need to continue learning and finding purpose. Humans increase their longevity and their flourishing when engaged in doing something meaningful to them-be it a hobby, sport, cooking, composing, drawing, gardening or contributing to a cause. It’s a joyous state called “flow,” suggested psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. When we get so engaged that we lose track of time and are totally involved and mesmerized by our activity-even if it may seem like hard work to some-it produces intense feelings of enjoyment. In contrast, people who passively entertain themselves by watching more than three hours of television daily are significantly unhappier than those who watch less and are actively engaged in living.
Q: What do you like doing? What are you doing when you lose track of time? Where do you find meaning and purpose? What are you doing to make a difference?
Fact: Flourishing requires time set aside to just enjoy the present moment and the many gifts it can hold: an extraordinarily beautiful sunset, a tender exchange with a child or loved one, an enjoyable evening with friends or family, a serendipitous moment of awe. People who experience awe often, who learn to savor these moments longer and then file them as memories in their brain and reminisce about them in the future, are significantly happier than those who do not take the time to create and stockpile those memories.
Q: Are you clueless or mindful of what’s happening in your life’s many moments? Are you creating memories or just living?
The above facts are examples of what thriving and flourishing people do and think. Would an imagined second chance at life motivate you to reconsider your current ways? Or would you need a real near-death experience to make some course corrections?
Copyright 2021 Floor Focus