By Paul Bonea
Guest writer for Wake Up World
It’s so easy to be sidetracked in life and miss the bigger picture, to look at what others have achieved and wonder, “What have I done this whole time?” But all feelings of inadequacy you experience are caused by losing yourself in the minutia of human life: the race be more productive, more successful, to get ahead.
Sure, those things are important, but only to a point. If you concentrate on them too much, you risk ignoring the forest for the trees. You’ll feel guilty for not being as successful as you dreamed to be, envious of people who are, or bitter if you put in the work and sweat, but things don’t seem to click.
If that happens, stop a minute. Zoom out, and look at the bigger picture:
Your own life is a miracle. At the moment, we do not know for sure if complex lifeforms (meaning bacteria and above) exist on other planets. As far as intelligent life goes, the odds can be as low as 1 in 100,000,000 planets (maybe even lower).
Viewed on a cosmic scale, the existence of a single human, you, is wondrous.
But what makes this even better, is that you are not a single wonder. As you are reading this, 7 billion other souls are breathing the same air as you, to say nothing of all the other living beings on our planet.
Why does this matter? Because you do not exist to be alone. No human exists independent of humankind, even hermits.
If you see humankind as a whole, and track it’s evolution and progress in history, you’ll notice that (almost) everybody participated to push our species further, to learn more, to better ourselves. And they did so simply by existing, and trying to make a better life for themselves and people they hold dear.
Some estimate that the total sum of humans that have ever existed is over 100 billion. Out of these, only a few thousands are celebrated and mentioned. A vastly higher number are not, even though they certainly deserve it.
But all humans have played a part in taking us from sticks and stones, to rockets and the Internet. Past generations didn’t build them directly, but they made the stepping stones that later generations needed to climb on.
And the result of this work and toil is nothing short of amazing. To put it into perspective, the average American of 2018 has a far superior quality of life compared to the wealthiest king in the 1850’s.
Once you view mankind as a whole, you realise that no human can live without affecting another. It doesn’t matter if they live 2000 years apart, or 2000 km apart.
A well lived normal life will ripple across time and space to impact the lives of countless others. You will likely never know how many lives your actions will improve, and nor will the people who benefit know how much you helped them.
And that’s ok. It is estimated that the total number of humans who have ever lived exceeds 100 billion. It’s impossible to remember them all, so we celebrate just a few thousand “great people” at most.
But even these celebrated few are periodically forgotten and replaced by newcomers.
In fact, chances are that the most famous and successful people alive today will be entirely forgotten in 500 or 600 years from now, except for a few passionate history buffs.
This might sound deeply depressing if you thought you were somehow special. But there’s another way to look at things:
Nobody is pressuring you to be the greatest, except yourself.
Getting to terms with both the rare wonder that is your existence, but also it’s fleetingness and insignificance, will ease the stress you place on yourself, and allow you to connect to the only real thing: the Now.
Viewing your life from a cosmic perspective is both a choice, and a journey of self discovery, that is unique to you. Still, here are a few places to start:
1) Don’t work to earn things, but work to become a better you
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the more goods you own, the happier you will be.
To a point, that’s true. You can’t be happy if you have to constantly worry about surviving until the end of the month.
But what really brings enjoyment to life and contentment is becoming a better person, either through learning about the world, or acquiring new skills.
The people who most enjoy life do things that challenge them to learn, to grow. Often times, this brings material rewards as well, often times more than if they had simply worked for these from the start.
2) Learn how the world works
Socrates famously said “The unexamined life is not worth living.” He uttered this phrase after he was sentenced to death by the Athenians, for questioning the nature and existence of the gods, and corrupting the youth.
In another great philosophical work, Plato claims in Phaedo (through the voice of Socrates), that philosophy is nothing but a preparation for death.
When it comes down to it, all of the material goods we will ever own simply make our lives more comfortable, but not more meaningful.
There is nothing shameful in wanting a better material life, indeed it is desirable. But our lives are short, and we owe to ourselves to learn, as much as it is possible, where we have come from, and where we are going.
3) Enjoy the people in your life
On a more worldly note, countless studies have shown that what truly brings us happiness is doing good for others, and nurturing our relationships with other people in our life.
Biologically, we’re built to be sociable. Our entire evolutionary history has us living in packs, ranging in size from a few dozens to millions. Embrace this side of you, keep in touch with friends, distant family. Be the first to call, even if they don’t. It might seem like you’re doing it for them, but in reality, everyone benefits.
About the author:
Paul Bonea is the blogger behind Hasty Reader, a book and self-improvement blog where you will find summaries (not reviews) and actionable ideas taken straight out of the books we read. You will also find articles on various tips and tricks that can help you out in various situations, and useful concepts your reader can use in your life journey!
Visit hastyreader.com for more.