“It is not living that matters, but living rightly.” ~ Socrates
When we live lives disconnected from those things that truly matter, sidetracked by the unimportant, lost in the frivolous, distracted by the superficial, our lives start to ring hollow, empty and vacant.
When, on the other hand, we live our lives dedicated to those things that matter most, a greater sense of happiness rubs up against us, walks beside us, calls on us, and even moves in and redecorates our bathrooms.
The choice is obvious. But deciding what matters and what doesn’t is sometimes, and for some people, less obvious.
This is especially true in a Hollywood-centric, pop-culture saturated media-driven ethic.
In such a culture, the substanceless can appear heavy with content, the silly can look profound and the meaningless can seem pregnant with meaning.
So what then truly matters? Here’s a few items on my list. See if they match up with yours.
4 Things that Matter
1. Values Matter
Our values identify what’s important to us and how we prioritize our time, energy and attention. They reflect what we stand for. They define the outer limit of what we’re willing to tolerate and what we’re not. They determine the context of what we’re willing to pursue and what we won’t.
We’re set adrift to flounder in the uncertain moral muck of life when we lack a well-defined set of moral values on which to stand.
Values matter because a life without them is ultimately utilitarian, self-absorbed and unhappy. Our values act as anchors in storms and strings on kites, adding the tension that creates lift but also keeps us from nose-diving into trees or flapping aimlessly in the wind to nowhere.
In the absence of values, we’re rudderless in the pull of moral riptides and trapped in the quicksand of “anything goes.” And when anything goes, everything tends to, including things like self-discipline, self-confidence and self-respect.
2. Relationships Matter
How we treat those closest to us is more significant as a measure of our character than how we treat the stranger or the person we want something from.
I’ve seen families where parents treat their children worse than their friends and their spouses worse than strangers. This is sad to me.
The quality of our relationships is a predictor of the quality of our lives because most of life’s meaning lies within the context of other people. We’re mothers and fathers and spouses, brothers and sisters, friends and neighbors, employers and employees and teachers and students. So it’s in those relationships that we can do the most good and experience the most meaning.
We are at our most noble and decent when we are in the service of others. When we lift people, we are likewise lifted.
Besides, an isolated life is a self-absorbed one. But the irony is that a life exclusively or even mostly focused on the self is a life missing a fundamental ingredient to purpose and happiness.
So love those who are open to being loved and figure out a way to love those who aren’t. In the process of doing both, the rising sense of meaning and purpose and happiness in your life will be a much more constant companion.
3. Faith Matters
We live in an age of growing faithlessness. People have lost faith in tradition and God, in organized religion, in the institution of marriage and in others. There is less faith in governments and programs and ideologies, in political parties and even in humanity.
The problem is that faith is a principle of action. It inspires and leads and directs and moves us to do, to overcome, to believe and accomplish.
What you believe in — what you trust as right and wrong, true and false, good and bad — plays a significant role in how happy you are able to become. Whether we are talking about faith in God or humanity or Truth or yourself, that faith is critical to living life anywhere near its potential.
Faith is the expectant exercise of hope. It is the root to the tree of action. It is the seed of planning and goals and steps taken toward dreams and through challenges and into happiness.
Faithlessness is life at the edge of hopelessness. It is a life untethered from an assurance beyond the obvious, seen and tangible.
Faith propels us into the dark through to the other side of night. It takes us by the hand across the bridge or along the ledge when the next step is obscured and uncertain. It’s what takes us to the heights of possibility because we believe that wherever we rest now, there’s something more, something higher, something greater down the road. That too is the offspring of faith.
For many of us, faith in God is an added bedrock of assurance upon which we can build. That faith becomes a lighthouse in the darkest moments in our lives and a more accurate mirror of who we are and what we can accomplish when we’re thinking very little of ourselves.
4. Self-Respect Matters
Self-disclosure is not the same as self-exposure. This is a strange age we live in when individuals and families go on national TV to display their family’s dirty laundry. Others clamor for their 15 minutes of fame as reality show contestants who reveal all their darkest secrets and character flaws in shameless overkill. Sports stars and others write tell-all autobiographies that open bedroom doors far too wide for propriety or dignity to have place.
As a matter of fact, that’s just the thing that seems to have been lost by a growing number of people – a sense of dignity that knows when self-disclosure has crept into the exhibitionism of self-exposure.
But the ability to like yourself, born of a deep respect for who you are and are becoming and the potential that is also part of your identity can radically revolutionize your life.
Self-respecting people therefore simply live differently than those who aren’t. They don’t do the same things. They don’t think the same things. They don’t believe the same things. And they don’t allow the same things from others. They simply live different lives in some fundamental ways.
Don’t get me wrong. They both eat and sleep and love their kids. But what they think about themselves and how they treat themselves and talk to themselves and what they believe about themselves are profoundly different. And that’s a dividing point between those who are happy and those who struggle much more than they need to.
When I was young, I had an aunt who liked to wrap empty boxes to make Christmas appear even bigger and grander and more exciting than it already was. Sometimes we would forget which presents under the tree were the extra boxes she had wrapped. Someone would inevitably tear into the wrapping, excited about the prospects waiting inside. But all that would be had was an empty shell of a gift. All ribbon and wrapping; no substance.
That’s what life is like when we spend it in the pursuit of things that don’t matter. The packaging may glitter and sparkle, but there’s nothing inside but emptiness.
Here’s the thing. We can eat the food we buy or we can eat the receipt that shows how much we spent on the food we buy. We can have a meal of the substance or of the packaging the meal comes in.
One satisfies. The other leaves us hungry for something more. One nourishes. The other fails to provide us with the life-sustaining nutrients of meaning and purpose and joy our lives crave to have.
Roller coasters are fun. But at the end of the ride, you’re at the end of the ride. The deeper things of life like service and decency, on the other hand, are not always fun. But at the end of that ride, there is a glow in the heart that keeps on giving long after the event is over.
There’s nothing wrong with roller coasters, of course. But in the end, a roller coaster doesn’t take you anywhere.
So look closely. What have you filled the empty slots of your life with? Take stock. Evaluate. Then go to work focusing more on those things that matter most, pushing the time-wasters further into that background, opening yourself for greater and deeper levels of meaning and opportunity, love, joy and success in those things that truly matter.
You, after all, have inherent value. You’re worth the effort at learning to love the weightier things of life. Find them. Recognize them. Embrace them. And let them take you to a life that is deeply and richly rewarding, meaningful and happy.
What do you think? What matters most to you? What have you done to add meaning to your life? I would love to hear from you. Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
And if you found this article to be of value (or think others might find it so), please share with your favorite social media (or all of them! :)).
Have you downloaded my eBook yet? It’s called, A Walk Through Happiness. You can get it by clicking on the link when you subscribe for updates and my free newsletter. Just click the book title. Come on, you know you want to! 🙂
Photo Credit: Sigimonas