I ran across this quote by Mark Twain the other day: “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”
It takes most of us a long time to “find out why.” Unfortunately, I was in my early 50s before I finally figured it out. I always assumed that my goal was to advance as far up the ladder with my company as I could and to provide an enjoyable life for my family. That was the goal of my parents and of our extended family, thus it became my goal as well. Only in my 50s did I realize that my life on this beautiful planet went beyond that simple goal.
We have all heard many times that money cannot buy happiness, but a recent study contradicts that emphatically. It shows that over the last few decades people are more inclined to say that having sufficient money in their savings account relieves a lot of financial pressure and makes life easier. That has been the case in my life, and I don’t know anyone with sufficient financial resources who is unhappy unless they have health problems. On the other hand, I know several who lack those resources and struggle daily as a result.
The only bone of contention I have with the study is that it cannot acknowledge the degree of happiness that financial independence brings. Personally, I believe it only gets you on the first rung of the ladder. Other things allow you to advance upward, such as sustained health for yourself and for your loved ones; having a significant person in your life to share your life with; and having an extended group of family and friends that are involved in helping you live a robust, yet relaxing lifestyle.
Some say that as we grow older we gain a “crystalized intelligence” that will continue to get better as we age, and that we will often become more agreeable and less prone to anger. Scientists haven’t been able to pin this down but they think that older people are able to control their emotions better and focus on how to make life happier.
Now we get to the “find out why” in Twain’s quote. When we eventually get past the desire to collect as many “things” as we can to prop up our feeling of self-worth, and after we have travelled to the many places we thought would add adventure to our mostly dull existence, we come to realize that something is missing. It took me a long time to think outside the bubble of my life where the question was always, “What’s best for me?” As I got older, I thought about what I could do for others. My wife and I live a comfortable life and can help. We have decided that we want to help those people in our lives who need a helping hand. We have all heard the old axiom, “It is better to give than to receive,” but I doubt many of us felt that to be true, especially if your life has been a series of financial struggles.
As a younger man, I could donate to charity by having my employer withhold a generous amount from my bi-monthly paycheck and each year I could look with satisfaction at the amount. After I retired, that option wasn’t available, so I had to figure out another plan. Now when December rolls around, we sit down and write checks to our favorite charities. The satisfaction derived from this effort definitely lowers my stress levels because we know that we are helping people who are, perhaps, unable to help themselves.
Yup, it took me a long time to find out why I have been placed on this earth. I am confident that a lot of us never figure that out. If I had asked my parents that question, they would have responded, “to raise you two boys,” and they would have been content with that answer. I remember my mother calling me about a year after my father passed away in 1986 and saying, “Tommy Joe (she never called me Tommy), I want to let you know that I have $50,000 in the bank.” This was Dad’s goal in life—plus a Lincoln Continental sitting in the driveway😊. That was it, no higher motivation, no helping the sick or poor, no helping the sad looking Vietnam veteran sitting at the stoplight with a cardboard sign pleading for money to buy food. This is the way it was back in my hometown all those many years ago. There was no safety net if your life took a rapid turn for the worse, so people weren’t inclined to help.
But in my many yearly trips back home, I have seen that change, not because the people there are now wealthier, but because they have become more enlightened. They too, have come to realized why they have been placed on this planet, and they know it’s not just to accumulate $50,000 in the bank. You may think I’m being critical of my parents and the people in my hometown during that time, but you would be wrong! I’m proud of my hillbilly heritage, and my core values came from those fine people, but it’s difficult to visualize a higher purpose in life when you’re struggling to put food on the dinner table. I probably have an ulterior motive in my enlightened attitude: “I’m not looking for a hole in the ground, I’m looking for one in the sky.” —Keen Mountain Boys.
Two weeks ago, my wife and I were walking one of our favorite trails and came upon a fellow standing by his bicycle taking a break. As we approached him, he started a conversation, so we paused to talk with him for a while. He informed us that he rode this trail on his bike every day and wanted to know how often we walked it. I informed him that we walked it every Wednesday, and then I pointed out in a friendly manner that the trail was three miles long, but for him to get the same cardiovascular benefits as us he would have to bike 21 miles. A one-mile walk was equal to seven miles of biking. In retrospect, it was probably impolite for me to make that point, but I did, and he didn’t seem offended. During our conversation, I also glibly told him about the monthly walking challenges I have with my three granddaughters. He responded that at his age (he appeared younger than me), he no longer wanted to create challenges in his life. That caught me by surprise because challenges to me are part of what makes life interesting. Reminds me of a quote often attributed to Glenn Campbell (the singer): “I can still jump as high, I just can’t stay up as long.”
Come to think of it, my life is full of challenges: writing this weekly missive, getting 10,000 steps daily, getting 7 hours of sleep each night 😊, lifting weights—I could go on, but the list would be way too long. I can only imagine how boring my life would be if I didn’t have daily challenges. Some are a lot tougher than others, but they all dance to a tune that make my life taste like a piece of pecan pie with a big ole slab of vanilla ice cream on the top. 😊 “Challenges are what make life interesting and overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.” —Joshua J. Marine
New Word for the Day:
Philomath: a lover of learning, a student or scholar. One of my granddaughters is a philomath. I just love learning unfamiliar words. I hope wherever you are on this wonderful planet that the people you love return that wonderful feeling in abundance. —Tommy