The Challenge: We are driven by fear in work and our personal lives.
The Science: Research provides a simple technique to combat fear and live happier lives.
The Solution: It’s something you may never have heard of before.
We all live in fear: fear of getting laid off, of being left, of getting sick, of losing a loved one. We are driven by fear and so we live in constant stress. In order to feel more secure, we end up buying more things, overeating, overworking and so on. However, there is a science-based technique you’ve probably never heard of that can help you achieve freedom from fear.
The fact that everything comes to an end can sound like a dark topic but research suggests it actually can help us live a richer, happier and more fulfilled life in 5 distinct ways:
You will stop postponing your happiness.
We need to work to live, but some of us are so afraid of losing what we have that we stay too long in stressful work environments that drain us and don’t allow us to use our talents. Or we work instead of spending time with our family, for example. We stay in relationships that aren’t good for us for fear of not finding someone else. We postpone our happiness (Do expressions like “I’ll be happy when I get a new job, a new relationship, a new car” sound familiar?). We put our enjoyment of life on hold. Happiness always somehow depends on something that will happen in the future. A moment that actually never ends up coming because we’re always hankering after the next thing after that.
As we age, there is an increased chance for multiple chronic medical conditions, career shifts, job insecurity, and a rising age of retirement with eligibility for full benefits. Be aware of a tendency to postpone your happiness until you reach a professional or personal goal. Once it is reached, there will always be another goal you will strive for. Before you know it, years will have passed and did you really allow yourself to enjoy the journey?
Enjoy your life now. Savor your relationships and experiences. Find a work/life balance that brings you happiness now.
You will spend your time and money in meaningful ways.
Financial security is a goal for all of us. We’re afraid of losing money so we save it. We spend all our time working just for fear of losing our job or to gain more financial security. Research, however, suggests that having more money doesn’t always lead to a happier, more fulfilled life. A worldwide survey found that after having basic needs met for food and shelter, along with simple conveniences and psychological needs, long-term happiness did not correspond to increased wealth. Society tells us we need to keep buying more things to feel happy and secure. The hard truth is that no matter to which someone is, all of us die as equals. Your money (or lack of) will not protect you from the inevitable. So, what is most important to you? What will you spend your money and time on?
Research published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin shows that “Wealth and abundance may undermine appreciation and reduce the positive emotions associated with everyday experiences.” Reflect on what defines you and your life. Most of the time when we die, we leave the difficult and time consuming task of going through our junk for our loved ones. Although this process can be healing, why not leave things that are simple, meaningful, and tell a story of who you were and what you loved, not where you shopped.
You will find more fulfillment in your daily life.
What would you do if you had one more week to live?
Really think about that question.
Now what if you die tomorrow? What was your last week like?
No one is immune to bad days. Life happens. When it becomes bad weeks, months, or years, we need to start taking more responsibility. We have to stop blaming our life roles, jobs, and especially other people. Make changes now. If I were to die tomorrow, I don’t want my last week to have been overly stressful or uneventful for no good reason than having let life control and consume me.
That being said, sometimes it’s much more complicated than just deciding to always have a good day. To the millions on antidepressants, and those who are not accounted for, you may think about death even more than the average, and for you, it’s that much more important to talk about it out loud. Holding it in and denying your feelings can make it worse. The biggest lie is that vulnerability is a weakness. It is where we find our strength and the strongest thing you can do is not put on a forced smile and suffer alone but to seek help. Its out there. Let people in. You’re not quite done here yet. It gets better.
You will create deeper connections with friends and family.
Do you know how the people around you feel about death? Have conversations with loved ones on their thoughts, wants and spiritual beliefs. My beautiful mother, and best friend, has Parkinson’s. Although she doesn’t like bringing attention to herself, her lovely soul has allowed me to tell our story in this article. As you can probably imagine, it was difficult for her to accept this diagnosis and as a family we tip-toed around the issue for quite some time. She also feared and delayed telling her very loving and supportive group of friends with a concern of not knowing what they would say or if they would treat her differently. Her process of accepting the diagnosis is not unique. It’s uncomfortable to talk about chronic or terminal illness and coming to terms with the fact that we will die, even if that was the fact all along. Eventually, the conversation broke. Having her friends aware has immensely decreased her stress. It has arguably been the best thing for her health.
My mother and I have recently become much more open about the diagnosis. I’ve found that every time we talk about it, it gets easier. The conversation is allowed to broaden to more general topics of death, happiness, and faith. Our conversations have brought new understanding about what my mother appreciates in life, how she wants to be remembered, and what she hopes for me in my life. Admittedly, I don’t live anywhere near a ‘bubble life’. I’m an adventurer, thrill seeker and am currently spending the next couple years of my life cycling from Alaska to Argentina. If I died, how would she survive? I am comforted that she knows I want her to not only survive but live and celebrate knowing that we share the same faith and beliefs that we will be together again. We shouldn’t be so scared to have these meaningful conversations. And often. They don’t need to bring dread. They can bring peace, enlightenment and closeness that had never before been experienced.
You will become more self-aware.
Don’t wait to be on your deathbed to figure out what is important to you in life. Let’s take advantage of the many studies and articles that provide us with common reflections of people at the end of their life. Let’s listen and learn from them so that instead of reflecting on our regrets, we can look back and smile in contentment. Check out the above links and find that they continue to say the same things! “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.” “I wish that I had let myself be happier.” “I wish I had lived my own life rather than how society taught me to live.” “I wish I’d allowed myself to love.”
We need to move from an intellectual, one-dimensional understanding of the life cycle to a deep realization that we all will die. It is indeed the only guarantee of life. We will all not be so lucky to have that transition time used for looking back on our life and finding peace. Reflect on everything now. What is important to you? Are you a spiritual being? In what ways? What do you believe? This can evolve and strengthen over time. You don’t need to have all the answers but start searching now so that you don’t wait any longer to enjoy what you find.
Start living that way today,
as this article is much more about living than dying.
Megan received her Bachelors in Human Development and Family Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Masters in Counseling from the University of Wisconsin- Whitewater, with the hope of being a School Counselor, Wilderness Therapist, Wellness Director or some combination of the three. She finds life balance through breathing, yoga, and meditation, and is actively involved in the Art of Living community to spread the sense of connection and peace. Megan loves to incorporate sarcastic humor and movie quotes into daily conversations, but more often will engage in deep discussions about life, philosophy and spirituality. Although she has strong opinions on various topics, she appreciates being exposed to different perspectives to continuously grow and evolve her opinions. After having her first article published in the Washington Post, she thought to herself, “Hmm, maybe I do have something to say…” and has since been trying her hand at science journalism and blogging. She has managed to successfully balance her life of work, school, and daily showers with frequent stints as a dirty backpacker. As a globe trotter and a program leader for the non-profit Operation Groundswell, she proudly identifies as a backpacktivist and seeks to promote responsible travel and authentic, self-critical, ethically-oriented service abroad. She is currently taking her thirst for travel full time and embarking on a cycling adventure across the length of the American continents, from Alaska all the way to the southernmost tip of Argentina! Follow her journey at http://www.bikelivingtheamericas.com or via facebook, Instagram or twitter.