On a wet Saturday evening, I recall a last minute invite from a friend to participate in a volunteering event. The room was filled with high school students and the job was simple: conduct mock interviews and critique resumes. Easy karma points. But the story got a bit more complicated. Soon after the mock interviews, we broke off into QnA sessions. The list of existential questions inundated us. What is the meaning of life? How do I know if I’ve picked the right major? How do I pick the right career? Our group of volunteers gave some great non-answers but these questions dug a little deeper than they should into our psyche. The right answer should have been: “I don’t know and I’m afraid I’ll never know.”
The reality is that a “good” life comes in many different flavors. However, we’ve also learned that there are common elements/patterns from people that have lived incredible lives, driven by intention. And their recommendations/studies are remarkably simple but often neglected. Here are 4 simple but powerful ways you can practice to live a more intentional life.
TIP #1 – Find your Core Values
Living life without a core set of values is akin to finding your way in a completely dark room or sailing a ship without a compass. Your core values are what you hold to be true for eternity. In a society so saturated with consumerism, our values are often skewed towards the attainment of power, money and fame. Today, we know that the drive to have MORE can actually produce a less satisfying life. While our GDP has increased, so has our use of antidepressant. In his book, Regrets of the Dying, Bronnie Ware outlined that almost everyone yearns to spend more time with loved ones and families at the last chapters of their lives. Never once did anyone regret not working more or not making enough money. Jeff Bezos calls it regret-minimization. And how do we minimize regretful decisions? Have a solid set of CORE values! This is particularly useful when we encounter stressful/difficult decisions. Should I move my family to middle-of-nowhere USA for a better paying job or stay here because my kids are doing well in school and loving this city? This seemingly stressful decision may have an easy answer if you have a solid set of values to fall back on. Naturally everyone will find their values through different routes and experiences. One powerful way to jumpstart your core value definition is by simply asking yourself what do I want people to note as my legacy at my funeral? Or to pull a page from Ware; Will I regret this decision on my deathbed? Defining your core values is the first step to living a more intentional life.
TIP #2 – Buy Happiness
2 years ago, I visited a friend in San Francisco for a week. As many of us may know, SF is America’s most expensive city and the trip put a big dent on my checking account. But I enjoyed every minute of it not because of the money that I spent but because the experiences that it afforded me. In fact, studies have shown that when you spend money on experiences (trips to visit a friend, new cooking class, etc.) the return on investment (memories/happiness) is stretched further into your future. Alternatively, spending money on others has been shown to also create a lasting sense of reward and happiness. This doesn’t mean that everyone should jump on wall street and rob a bank. In fact, the correlation between money and happiness does taper off after roughly $75,000 of annual income. In sum, to live a more value-driven life, let your values guide your spending.
Tip #3 – Go with the Flow
Growing up in a family-owned restaurant, I was the defacto sous chef. That 10,000 hours of prep work gave me an appreciation for the process of chopping and peeling. You might find this hard to believe but I look forward to dicing up the garlic bulbs after everyone of my grocery trips. To me, it’s a personal art that I’ve mastered. I have absolute control over the granularity and texture of each slice. When I’m chopping away with the heavy side of the blade, I find myself lost in time and space but also surprisingly…euphoric.
Mihaly CZ (a positive psychologist) calls it a state of Flow. Flow is a state during which personal mastery meets focus to produce total immersion. What’s interesting about this theory is that work or the action in itself may be a source of happiness and fulfilment. This goes hand in hand with the old adage: Life is a Journey not a Destination. What’s surprising about flow is that everyone may have experienced this or has the potential to achieve flow regardless of your socio-economic status. A sushi prep might find flow in the kitchen. A CEO might find flow in his morning announcement to his executive team. A teacher might find FLOW in helping her student solve a math problem. Flow is about looking inward to explore how simple actions may help create a moment of bliss. And sometimes, that’s rewarding enough.
Tip #4 – Invest in Good Relationships
People are social creatures. That’s why we constantly look forward to connecting with our loved ones. That’s why Facebook grew to over 1 billion users. Even for the misanthropes among us, the relationships that we keep are often the single largest influencer in our lives. So why do people burn bridges and lose contact? If our relationships are so important, why do so many fail? The first step to developing a fruitful relationship is early and consistent investment in the connection. Don’t expect the friend that you haven’t called for years to suddenly lend you a hand when you’re moving. Like growing a plant, relationships need persistent attention and watering. Some might argue about the impossibility of maintaining regular connections with their 1000+ friends. The truth is that if you have 1000+ equally important friends, you are diluting your relationships. Stop doing so because the grass isn’t always greener and finding the handful (10-12) of people that you genuinely care about will help you build a deeper/stronger set of relationships. This is actually very difficult to accomplish because social media has made it so easy to have loose connections. The trick is to practice intentional minimization and ask yourself, who are the few that really share my core values? How can I focus on these few relationships that truly matter to me?
An intentional life hinges on a core set of values. These values help you align your intentions with actions. A good life is lived through consistent and persistent realignment so don’t undervalue the importance of introspection and self-awareness. Good Luck!