10 Life Lessons I Wish I Had Learned Sooner
Below is a list of ten life lessons and skills that I have learned over the years. Some I was lucky enough to learn early on in my life; others came to me just in the last few years. These are some of the most useful lessons I have ever learned and in all cases I only wish that I had learned them sooner. Hopefully you will find them to be just as useful.
#1: Practice gratitude
Learning to practice gratitude on a daily basis is one of the easiest and most satisfying things that you can do for yourself. Before I started, I had no idea how much more satisfied, happy, and peaceful I could be from such a simple and short exercise. It may sound too good to be true, but it isn’t. Spending literally five to ten minutes at the end of your day making a mental list of approximately five things in your life for which you are grateful is one of the most valuable things you can do for your emotional health. I have found that if I do it right before I go to bed, it not only helps me have a much better night’s sleep, but I wake up feeling so much more at peace and grateful for the blessings in my life. Practicing gratitude on a regular basis will help you to realize how wonderful your life really is. It will make you notice the beautiful and amazing things that take place everyday that you may currently be ignoring or taking for granted. It will help you not only become but remain happier every single day.
#2: Practice forgiveness
There are few things that are more damaging to our emotional well being than holding on to resentment and refusing to forgive. It is literally poisonous to our spirit. We often think that by forgiving someone we are excusing their behavior and giving them something that they don’t deserve. But that could not be further from the truth. When we forgive someone we are in no way saying that what they did was right, or good, or even indifferent. Forgiveness is not so much bestowed for the benefit of the receiver as it is for the benefit of the giver. By refusing to forgive, you may think that you are punishing someone who has wronged you. But in fact the person who is being punished the most is you. You are the one who is feeling stuck in the past and reliving someone else’s wrongdoing. You are the one who is experiencing sorrow, anger, lack of trust, and sometimes even physical pain from harboring your resentment. Every time I forgive someone who has hurt me, either intentionally or not, I feel a huge weight has been lifted. It allows me to leave the transgression exactly where it belongs: in the past. As a result, I am able to enjoy my present and move forward without any unnecessary emotional baggage that will prevent me from experiencing joy in my life.
#3: Practice meditation
Unlike the other items on this list, meditation is actually a skill that requires practice. It is something that you need to learn how to do and subsequently practice on a regular basis in order to get its full benefits. And the full benefits are numerous. Learning the practice of meditation is easier than most people think it is. I was initially intimidated by the idea; it sounded foreign and I could not imagine being able to quiet my mind for so many minutes at a time. The first time I tried it, I found it difficult. My thoughts and my scattered mind kept interfering with my efforts. What was important though, was that I didn’t judge my inability to do it correctly right away. If my mind wandered, I simply brought my focus back to where it needed to be. Slowly but surely, after committing to practicing it diligently, I have found that it becomes easier every day. It also becomes more rewarding every time that I do it. I find myself missing the benefits it brings me on the occasions when I skip it. I look forward to the next time that I will get to spend just a few minutes out of my day meditating and give my scattered mind a much needed break.
#4: All you have is now
This can also be expressed as “live in the present moment.” Consider this: the past is gone forever, and the future will never be here. So all you have is the precious present. Therefore you should focus on doing all you can to make every present moment as enjoyable, productive and meaningful as possible. Of course living in the present doesn’t mean that you don’t plan for the future. What it does mean is that when you are planning (which is something that can only be done in the present), you focus solely on your planning process so that you can do the best job possible. The real lesson is to learn to always focus on what you are doing at this very moment. By doing so, I have come to notice that I am actually more productive, I make better decisions, and the quality of my works improves. I have also learned that each moment is a great yet fleeting opportunity to find and experience joy. When I don’t acknowledge the importance of the present, I lose that opportunity. By realizing that all you have is right now, you too will learn to make the most of every moment that you are given.
#5: Let go of expectations
We all have expectations. They are perfectly normal. But we don’t realize that our expectations can provide us with an unwanted source of stress and anxiety. The truth is that without expectations there can be no disappointment. And without disappointment it is so much easier to find happiness everyday. If we don’t attach ourselves to the outcome of a particular situation, then we don’t give up control of our own happiness to external forces. Letting go of expectations doesn’t mean that you stop expecting people to keep their promises or fulfill their obligations. It means that you no longer will allow yourself to become disappointed or upset should something go wrong. By detaching yourself from the result, you can find satisfaction and peace of mind regardless of what the result may be. I have found that by letting go, I can still hold others accountable for an inappropriate action, or an unkept promise, without becoming emotionally involved in the situation. If you learn to accept that things will go wrong, that people will make mistakes, and that outcomes are sometimes completely out of your control, then you will learn to let go. As a result, you will remain in full control of your happiness and remove unnecessary anxiety from your life.
#6: You can’t change others
Many of the frustrations that we have in our lives stem from our interactions with other people and how they act towards us. Sometimes we get frustrated even if the action has no direct effect on us; we simply wish the person had acted differently for his own or for someone else’s sake. How many times have you said “He makes me so angry,” or “She is driving me crazy”? The truth is that nobody can make you angry or drive you crazy. You are the one who is allowing yourself to feel those emotions. The next time you feel like blaming someone for the way that you feel, remember that only you can control your own feelings. Do not give another person the power to change your mood; that power is exclusively yours. Realize that you can never change what another person chooses to do. Just like they cannot change what you choose to do. You can only change how you react to what he or she has done. Once I realized that I was the only one with the ability to affect my own feelings and emotions, it was very liberating. I became aware of the great power that I had that I was foolishly giving away to others when I didn’t have to. Now that I know this, I very seldom become annoyed by the action of another, and even when I do, it is extremely short lived.
#7: Don’t worry
Worry is normal. We all worry sometimes and hopefully most of the time our worry is short lived. However, there are some of us who are just more prone to worry than others. Worry can be a consuming and debilitating emotion if it is not held in check. It can prevent us from following our passions and dreams, from forging new relationships, and from growing as human beings. To me personally, the worst aspect of worry is the physical reaction that I get from it. I find it hard to sleep, to concentrate, to eat, and it also drains me of energy. Learning to avoid unnecessary worry has literally made me feel better and healthier. Whenever I feel the anxiety that comes along with worry, I try to check it immediately. I assess the situation and ask myself, “Is there anything that I can do about this?” If there is, then I plan what steps I need to take to avoid or resolve whatever is causing me to worry. If there isn’t, then I simply tell myself to stop. That sounds like it is easier said than done. But once you realize that there is nothing that you can do to change a situation, you will quickly realize that worrying about it only serves to make you anxious, stressed and sometimes even sick. You will soon see that letting go of worry is one of the healthiest things you can do.
#8: Don’t regret your decisions
Regret ranks right up there with resentment and worry as one of those natural emotions that we need to learn to minimize (or hopefully eliminate) in our lives. The reason why regret is so damaging is because, like resentment and refusing to forgive, it keeps you trapped in the past. And by doing so, it gets in our way of fully enjoying and benefiting from what is happening in the present. I have learned to deal with regret by realizing that no experience in my life has been a waste. There has always been something beneficial that came as a result of every decision that I have made, even if the opposite seemed true at the time. The trick has always been to look for and find that benefit. And trust me, every time that I have looked with an open mind and heart, I have been able to find it. Even the hardest and most traumatic episodes in our lives can provide us with invaluable lessons. If you choose to also look at those episodes candidly and without judgment, you will see how you can have become wiser or stronger because of them.
#9: Find meaning in your life
I have found that I always feel most fulfilled and happy when I am doing something that brings meaning to my life. When my son was young, my life was full of meaning without my even realizing it. Taking care of, guiding, and teaching him gave me an extremely gratifying purpose. Now that he is a man, living on his own, those activities and responsibilities that were so meaningful to me are gone. That was when I noticed the void that their absence created. I eventually learned that the only way to fill that void was to find a new source of meaning. Rather than finding a single source, I have been fortunate enough to identify several aspects of my life that have become extremely gratifying and meaningful to me. I truly believe that a person who has found something to live for in their life, something that makes their life truly meaningful and valuable, will be able to weather any storm. Once you have found that source of meaning in your own life, you will see how it will bring you the emotional strength and motivation to get through any challenge that you may face.
#10: Happiness is your choice
I used to always wonder how some people who seemed to have so little to be happy about could often appear so much happier than others with many more visible blessings in their lives. What was it about these people that made them so happy? And why did they seem to be so much happier than the rest of us? Eventually I figured out that whether you are happy or not has more to do with your perception than your circumstances. Regardless of what you are currently going through, or what hand you have been dealt in life, how you look at your situation is entirely your choice. People who are always happy already know this secret. They aren’t happy because they have wonderful, problem-free lives. They have the same trials and tribulations as everybody else. Sometimes they even have more than their fair share. Yet they know that being sad or complaining changes none of that. They know that they have the ability to be happy regardless of what comes their way. Knowing that happiness is a choice has been extremely powerful for me. I now know that I never have to suffer emotionally again. Of course there will be events such as the death of a loved one that will bring me pain and sadness. But I know that the pain and sadness need only last as long as I want them to last. I can choose to find something to be grateful and happy for, because there is always something in my life which I can look at as a blessing. No matter how small, I am sure that you can find blessings in your life as well. Look at these as your source of happiness and you will successfully change your perception about your situation.