How can we live a full life without defining what full means to us?
full - definition : 1. containing or holding as much or as many as possible; having no empty space. 2. not lacking or omitting anything; complete.
What does it mean to live a full life?
For thousands of years mankind has contemplated the definition of a full and meaningful life. This existential exploration has produced an infinite supply of religious, philosophical, and scientific speculation, but resulting in more questions than answers. Humanity’s quest to examine the voids in our lives and find the formula to living life to its fullest capacity is a pursuit as old as time itself, an endless perpetual cycle of self discovery that leaves us coping with pharmaceuticals and psychotherapy. We are indoctrinated early in life with the belief that we can do anything we set our minds to achieve, but still struggle to set our destination. Our lives become that Sunday afternoon wandering drive, constantly changing directions around the obstacles put in the path of our life’s journey. Moreover, without clear measures of what a full life means to us, the curious inner child in the back of our mind constantly asks: “are we there yet?”. But there is no one standard gauge on our life’s dashboard that tells you definitively how full your life is at any given time. This leaves us with the timeless mystery of life’s unanswered question: “What are the measures of a FULL life?”
The measures of a full life.
To examine the fullness of your life you have to begin by imagining the end of your life. On your death bed in those last moments, what will be your thoughts on the life you lived? Ancient wisdom of Stoic philosophers had a practice called “Memento Mori”, latin for “Remember you will die”. It was a daily practice to imagine your last day, a powerful reminder that death will come for us all and the time of that death is unknown and unpredictable. I learned of this practice from Ryan Holiday’s book “The Obstacle is the Way”, a fantastic book exploring the modern day application of this ancient philosophy. This practice may seem morbid, but it empowers the practitioner with the perspective of what matters most, provides a framework for prioritizing our limited time, and focuses us to live our best life in the present moment. Memento Mori is a pragmatic tool to help us live our lives to the fullest without regret.
To live a full life is to minimize the regrets that will haunt you in your last days and the recognition that our time is limited. Regretful reflections in the finality of one’s life on earth can provide us the measures that matter most on the ‘Full Gauges’ on the dashboard of our life’s journey. Our final moments typically evaluate these measures of our life:
- Faith – Did I live a life true to my beliefs, morals, and character, worthy of my creator and admission into an unknown afterlife?
- Family – Did I leave a legacy of wisdom and life lessons that prepared my loved ones for living their best life without my presence?
- Friendships – Did I fully pursuit meaningful connections with those I chose to do life with in a manner that enriched their life?
- Fitness – Did I do all I can to live a life of balance and moderation to increase my longevity and fulfill my purpose?
- Fortune – Did I leave my affairs in order in a manner that is a burden or a blessing for those I leave behind?
Reflecting on our inevitable death can help us narrow the measures that matter most to living a full life. Bringing those measures to the present moment can provide the perspectives and priorities to the actions you must take to keep the ‘Full Gauges’ on your life’s dashboard at the highest possible level and the measures to monitor the fullness of your life’s journey.
“In everything that you do, pause and ask yourself if death is a dreadful thing because it deprives you of this”Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor and Stoic Philosopher
Maintaining our life’s Full Gauge.
Keeping our tanks full on life’s journey is no easy task. Life can seem like a series of struggles, where our energy is consumed with removing the obstacles consistently thrown in our path. Our focus constantly shifts to the ‘crisis du jour’ to stamp out the fires in various areas of our life, making us dance like a marionette controlled by the strings of circumstances. This Nihilistic meaningless view of life keeps our mind and spirit in a state of continuous chaos, filled with stress and anxiety as we try to bring order and happiness into our life. The fullness of our lives is often drained by the anxiety of our own ambitions to control the uncontrollable aspects of life’s challenges.
However, each of these challenges in our life provide us the ability to grow the capacity of our full gauge, allowing us to go farther, explore and experience more of what life has to offer. Realization that our journey will constantly change directions from the obstacles put in our path is an opportunity for growth. There is a comforting consistency in constant change, and when these winds of change blow in our lives, we can decide to become a kite dancing hopelessly in those winds, or become a sail that harnesses it to take us to explore new destinations. How full our lives can become is determined by our attitude and perspective in the present moment, and the willingness to seek out the opportunity in every obstacle.
Doing our work to maintain the fullness of our life is a balancing act of the inputs that fill and outputs that drain, moving the full needle on each of the measures that matter most on the dashboard of our life’s journey. Our siloed focus on any one of our full gauges will invite chaos in the others. Prioritized focus on building your fortune can leave your family distant and separated. Focusing solely on your family can leave you jobless and without meaningful friendships. Lack of focus on your fitness and personal well being will rob you of a long life with those you love. And focusing simply on faith may help you find contentment, but bring complacency to your responsibilities to grow and fill the other measures that matter in your life.
Our journey’s destination is ever-changing, setting future finish lines with purposeful goals may provide some present day direction, but that capricious compass is erratic and uncontrollable. Our future is filled with volatile and unpredictable circumstances beyond our control, requiring our presence in the present, focusing on living life to the fullest. Finding the formula to keep our lives full is a problem worth solving and likely the largest struggle of our life.
Filling our Full Gauge
“…and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. “ – Ephesians 3:19
The Bible suggests the formula for reaching full on our gauges is knowing God’s love, and becoming God’s love. But love is a subjective qualitative measure, and unreliable to put into purposeful practice. Love is a fickle feeling in our lives, a fire at risk of being extinguished from a constant barrage of life events dropped from the cosmos above. Our full gauge is drained from life circumstances beyond our control, creating an un-pluggable leak in the fuel tanks of our journey limiting our range and ability to reach our destination. Even an infinite supply of vaporous love cannot provide the substance to fill our tanks and overcome the obstacles encountered life’s winding road. Leaving us with the option of pulling over and hoping on the bus, relinquishing control of our destination to the whims of chance, or finding the resources to continuously fill our tanks and prevent them from being emptied.
Time is the only true resource we can leverage to fill the full gauges for our life’s journey. Time is the real currency of our life, not money, power, influence, nor even love. Time is the currency we invest to live a full life. But, time is the single most finite and valuable resource in the universe. It continuously expires with steady precision, and cannot be manufactured, borrowed, or stolen. What we choose to do with the limited time we have ultimately determines our success or failure, in everything, especially in our quest to live a full meaningful life. The formula for living a full life is a carefully measured distribution of time we invest in filling our Faith, Family, Friendships, Fitness and Fortune and growing the capacity of fullness that we can realize in the limited time we exist. It is a balanced equation of the prioritization of the moments that matter most and the realization that those precious moments will never exist again. This formula for fullness is unique to each individual, and its mystery cannot be solved by anyone but you. There is no GPS that can provide you with directions to your life’s destination, no guides or gurus to hire to drive you there, and no magic pills or prophesies to transport you to a state of fullness. Only your personal pursuit to find your formula and a practice to stay present in the moments that matter, can lead you to a full life with minimal regrets. Finding that perfect balance can bring order to the chaos of our busy lives, and provide us some joy in the journey.
Finding Joy in The Journey
We may try to define the destination of our journey, or at times wander aimlessly asking for directions. But in either case, the journey continues down the unpredictable road of life, and we can be assured to encounter roadblocks, traffic jams, pot holes, and detours. The only certainty is that a full tank will take us further and keep us going.
Monitor your full gauge. Don’t let it empty and leave you stranded on the roadside of your life. Keep filling it with the moments that matter most. Roll down the windows, feel the wind on your face, take in the scenery, and wave to strangers. Living life to the fullest is finding your joy in the journey, because we all have the same final destination.