Take a minute today to ask yourself how you measure your life. Only then will you know how you want to live, and can begin now to create a life of meaning. This post covers 6 possibilities. Spoiler alert: the last three are more meaningful.
“I still think we are afraid to die because we are still trying to figure out how to measure our lives. In years? Achievements? Friends? Popularity? The thing is we cannot know if our life has been worthwhile until we figure out how to measure it.” – Father David
1. Chronological age
The most common measurement of life is chronological age. Societies are considered more developed if the lifespan of their population is longer. Living a long life is considered an achievement, and people can become famous simply by living long enough. Examples include Mariam Amash at 122 years Edna Parker at 115 years.
Striving to live a longer life has much of the modern world exercising more and watching their diet. Yet we intuitively know that there must be more to life than mere age. Surely the only reason to want to live longer is to give ourselves time to do the things that truly matter.
“It’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” – Abraham Lincoln
2. Material wealth
Many people measure success by the size of their house, their car, their paychecks, and their bank accounts. We envy those who make it to the list of wealthiest people, and wish we were one of them.
There is nothing wrong with being materially well off. When you provide goods and services that benefit others, you will generally be rewarded financially. This is right and fair. It’s when this becomes the sole yardstick of a successful life that things become a little skewed.
“Material abundance without character is the path to destruction.” – Thomas Jefferson
“A life spent worthily should be measured by deeds, not years.” – R B Sheridan
The desire to achieve drives us to spend long hours at work climbing the corporate ladder. Scientists devote years of their lives researching a specialised niche in order to achieve a breakthrough. And athletes punish their bodies beyond endurance to win the gold medal.
We should certainly strive to do something useful with our time on earth. At the same time, there is more to life than what you achieve. We are human beings, not human doings.
“The great use of life is to spend it on something that will outlast it.” – James Truslow Adam
The Nobel Prize is a famous legacy. Alfred Nobel read a mistaken orbituary of himself which mentioned the invention of dynamite as his main achievement. Nobel decided that he wanted to leave the world a legacy of peace and contribution, not the legacy of death. Hence his Nobel Foundation which inspires so much good work today.
We can’t all be Alfred Nobel, but we can decide what kind of legacy we want to leave. Perhaps you will raise a happy child. Or you may build an organisation that will carry on the work you started. Your legacy could simply be a memory in others’ minds of the kind of person you were, as a role model for their own lives.
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
5. Personal creed
You can have a personal creed and live by this every day of your life. A personal creed is your own measure of your life, on nobody else’s terms. Creeds that are poetic and inspiring include Edgar Albert Guest’s My Creed, and Rudyard Kipling’s If.
“There is not one big cosmic meaning for all; there is only the meaning we each give to our life, an individual meaning, an individual plot, like an individual novel, a book for each person.” – Anais Nin
6. Transcend measurement
There are two ways to think about life – as duty to perform, or as pure gift. If you regard life as a duty, you will need to measure how well you are performing.
Life as pure gift does not need to be measured at all. It just is. You just are. You could do nothing with your life and it would still mean something, because you existed.
“Lo, blessed are our ears for they have heard;
Yea, blessed are our eyes for they have seen:
Let the thunder break on man and beast and bird
And the lightning. It is something to have been.”