3 Ways to Automagically Add Life to Your Years
What would you prefer: to add years to your life or add life to your years?
Living longer sure sounds appealing but, there’s one thing I know for sure: I have absolutely no control over how long my life will last.
My only option is to add life to the years I do have.
That was morbid, I know. But thinking about death judo-chops my perspective like a ninja.
Over the past few years, I’ve made significant strides in doing just that — adding incredible life to my years. I’ve added happiness, meaningful work, and beautiful relationships. I feel freedom like you wouldn’t believe.
But this wasn’t always the case.
Once upon a time…
The gym was a scary foreign land to me. Watching my friends come home sweaty and exhausted, I never desired an exercise habit — until I gained too many pounds.
I used my journal only to write about my heartbreaks and frustrations, never writing about the happy moments.
My boss’s boss berated me for no reason, and I convinced myself that office politics was a part of life I’d have to accept quietly.
I ate any and everything put in front of me, including way too many burritos at the university dining hall.
I kept my creativity and onlyness locked up inside, scared that nobody would appreciate the real me.
Over the past year and a half, I reversed all of that. Through some hard work and some incredible luck.
In my quest to live every day awesomely, these are the three things that turned my life around:
1. Living in the moment.
As Gandhi once said, “A man is but the product of his thoughts. What he thinks, he becomes.”
I spent the first twenty five years of my life living strangely — all because my thoughts were completely out of whack.
I was living in the future. All of my actions and decisions were based on some great future I was hoping to reach — someday. I went to college so I could get a good job. I stayed in job (and put up with terrible office politics) because I wanted to get into a good school. And on and on into eternity.
At some point, I got fed up with a promise of happiness later on.
What about happiness *right now*?
The biggest change in my life came about when I said, “Screw the future!”
If living in the moment — which some call mindfulness — sounds appealing to you, I recommend the following:
- Read The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. An amazing look into the mind, our false perceptions of time, and how to correct the course to a deeper understanding of this very moment. Honestly, this book was a bit over my head the first time through, but it contributes clarity to my life outlook every single time I open its pages.
- Practice monitoring your thoughts. Without knowing it, I was practicing this by trying to clear my head (and think nothing) as I fell asleep. After years of doing this, I find meditation is still difficult — but so worth it. There is nothing like that zen-like calm feeling when it washes over me.
- Focus on your reactions. I’m not sure if society taught me to blame others or if I was born with this bad habit, but I know it’s killer. No matter what is happening around me, I am happiest when I monitor and analyze my reactions to the outside world. Changing myself is easier than changing others.
- Strive for calm. We dream of extreme happiness — something we call joy — but nobody talks about calm as much as it deserves. It’s a beautiful state of being that opens the door to a longer lasting happiness. Without calm, the happiness I feel is much more fleeting — like a sudden laugh from a crying baby.
- Give thanks, over and over again. I had heard about gratitude journals years ago, but it wasn’t until a month ago that I started jotting down three things I’m grateful for each day. This small practice adds so much positive emotion to my day. (It’s also hilarious to count how many entries are about JJ and my family.)
Some of these steps were easier than others, but they opened a realm of happiness that I never knew existed: the present moment.
Imagine living each moment like a series of infinite gifts.
Staying in the moment is harder than it seems, and I’m still working at living in the moment each day. The more I practice, though, the happier I become.
2. Moving better.
When I was younger, I played a lot of sports in the neighborhood — roller hockey, basketball, baseball, and more. If the boys played it, so did I. As I grew up, though, I stopped playing sports and spent more time on the computer.
When I came back from college with a few extra pounds, something had to give.
It’s been almost five years since I first started working out intentionally — hitting the gym and running for long periods of time. The energy I feel and the amount of true life that has been added to my every moment is beyond words.
Working out is about working on what’s within.
If moving better sounds appealing to you, I recommend the following:
- Push past the mind’s limit. I find it harder to grapple with the mind than with the body. Put a bear behind me, and I will run for miles and miles. Put me on the treadmill on Monday morning, and I can’t make it past minute two. Pushing the mind in exercise allows me to do more in every other area of my life.
- Break a sweat every single day. For me, it’s not about working out for two hours. It’s about working out a little bit each day. Pair that with healthy eating, and there’s no need for me to waste so much time on exercise.
- Bodyweight beats heavy weight. My main aim is to be able to move better. What better way to prepare for that than to move my own body, over and over again? My favorite gym is myself, which I can visit every single moment. Pushups, jumping jacks, and mountain climbers — what more do I need?
With the time I’ve put in over the past five years, I have strong arms, strong legs, a healthy heart, and an able mind.
What more do I need to live every moment awesomely?
3. Loving more.
I grew up the grumpy one in the family. My older brother is pretty serene, and my younger brother is the funny guy — I played the part of the tantrum-thrower. Over the years, I stopped throwing tantrums at the supermarket, but the grumpiness and attitude stuck with me more than I’d care to admit.
Until I realized: being pissed off feels awful. No more, please!
Instead of giving in to grumpiness and anger, I’ve started overcoming those emotions for a more constructive and calm approach. (It ain’t easy. Anger is still the most accessible reaction, desperately trying to reel me in.)
To get over the anger, I focus on loving more.
Gandhi tells us that giving love is the only true way to live. (See out how much my mom loves me?)
If loving more sounds appealing to you, I recommend the following:
- Judge intentions, not actions. I’d say we should all stop judging others completely, but I doubt we’ve reached that level of zen. We judge, and it sucks — but we might as well try to improve it. When I judge the intentions of others, not their actions, I feel more calm, forgiving, and understanding. Definitely makes my day better!
- Truly connect with people. What a difference it makes in my day when I truly listen and open up to people around me. The more I connect, the better I feel throughout my day — it’s a part of being human. Studies show that our heart rates slow down when we hold hands with another person. Isn’t that awesome?
- Give time to loved ones. I’m lucky enough to have my entire family walking distance from me at this very moment. I could very easily make other plans and not see them too often — but instead, I see them almost daily. Whichever way I can, I connect with the people who give me love and support — phone, message, video chat, etc.
Filling my moments with love feels like a big deep breath, adding much life to my years.
Will you go for it?
I mentioned up above that I was able to make these changes through hard work and luck — but the luck I experienced was only due to starting the process. Once I started the process to a better life, it all snowballed into bigger and bigger life improvements, all on its own.
I’m on a quest to live every single day awesomely. Instead of enjoying a limited amount of vacation days per year, why not live a vacation that never ends?
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