How to Live a Life that Counts?

How to Live a Life that Counts?

Reading Time: 6 minutes

We are Dying…

I deeply remember learning a shocking but yet valuable lesson as a young undergraduate. There I was, sitting in my university Sociology class when my lecturer mouthed these words…

“We are dying the moment we are born.”

As shocking as it may sound, you cannot deny that there is truth to this profound statement.

“… death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.”
~ The Bible (Ecclesiastes 7:2 NIV)

Even though many of us try to avoid the topic of death like a plague, we cannot deny that it is the final destination for every one of us. Everyone, well, dies at the end of the day.

But the good news is that, while death is certain, so is life on this side of the equation. We can live meaningful and thriving lives that count. But how do we live such a life?

Starting Point #1: Others’ Deathbed

Perhaps we can glean some insights into how we can live a life that counts from considering others at their deathbeds. Because, often times, when we stare death in the eye (either our own death or that of another), we are jolted into an introspective mode, as we examine the time we have left and how we are living the remaining life of ours.

“Better to spend your time at funerals than at parties.
After all, everyone dies—
so the living should take this to heart.
Sorrow is better than laughter,
for sadness has a refining influence on us.”
~ The BIble (Ecclesiastes 7:2-3 NLT)

Bonnie Wares is an Australian nurse. After having provided care for countless patients at the end stage of their lives, she compiled the top 5 regrets commonly cited by the dying. And these are:

  1. I wished I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish I had let myself be happier.

Look through the list. Which of the above do you identify with? I am not sure about you but I can sure identify with especially point number 2.

The good news is that, regardless where we are in our stage of life, we do still have time to start making changes to our lives, so we can avoid having these same regrets at our deathbeds.

The late Anthony Yeo, a leading counsellor in Singapore, wrote a book titled “If Tomorrow Never Comes”. Set against the backdrop of the 104 who tragically lost their lives in the SilkAir flight MI185 crash and whose “tomorrows never came”, Anthony helps us to begin to contemplate about our lives.

  • What do we value in life and how should we live?
  • Is life only about material well-being and economic advancement?
  • Do we continue to live as if there will always be a tomorrow?
  • Or do we make the most of each day because we don’t know if tomorrow will come?
  • What should one’s priorities – the things that really matter in life – be?

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”
~ The BIble (James 4:13-15 ESV)

So think about it, what will you do differently about how you live your life so you will not die with regrets? That if tomorrow indeed never comes, you would have looked back and considered that you have lived a full life; one that counts.

Starting Point #2: Others’ Success

Death is just but one starting point to start taking stock. In the study conducted by Karl LaRowe and Ravi Vig, they reviewed the top regrets of successful people around the world. And in a similar thread to the top 5 regrets highlight by Wares, LaRowe and Vig wrote in their book You Are Good Enough (2019) that the top 5 regrets of successful people are:

  1. I wish I had spent more quality time with family.
  2. I wish I had valued relationships over results.
  3. I wish I had taken care of my physical and psychological health.
  4. I wish I had the courage to be who I really am.
  5. I wish I had found more meaning in my life.

Remember, these are the regrets of people who are successful; people who have “arrived” and who should be fulfilled and happy. But yet, success comes with regrets. If you think that you will “get to it” after you have arrived at success, think again.

Now over to you, review the two lists above; the regrets of the dying and the regrets of successful people.

Begin by critically asking yourself:

What regrets do you have now about your…

  • Relationships?
  • Health?
  • Sense of self?
  • Sense of meaning?
  • Level of joy?
  • Feelings?
  • Way of spending your life and time?

Be truthful as you answer these questions for yourself. Your truthful answer will help you to begin to know where you are and to also begin to make the necessary changes needed for a life that counts.

Starting Point #3: Your Eulogy

Lastly, think about your own funeral. As people recount your life at your funeral and summarize your years into words, what would these words say about the way you lived? Don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating that you live your life so you will be seen in a positive light by others. Rather, these words spoken in your eulogy serve to be like a final account of how well you have lived the life you have been given.

Perhaps we can look at it in another way. New York Times columnist David Brooks put it aptly when he said that there are two kinds of virtues of our lives; one that looks good on our resumes and one that is said at our funerals.

Often times, we spend great efforts to build virtues for our resumes only to neglect the virtues spoken of in our eulogies.

Will you be recounted as having lived the life that counts? A life that:

  • is marked by integrity?
  • has helped to encourage and grow others?
  • is filled with hope and purpose?
  • is filled with clarity and resolve?
  • has blossoming relationships?
  • is a good account of you using well the experience, skills and giftings you have been blessed with?
  • is a result of good health?
  • is full of infectious joy?

Here’s a touching and meaningful video about a beautiful ending.

We encourage you to begin to take stock.

  1. Think about what is the life that counts to you.
  2. Think about where you are.
  3. Think about what you need to do, and
  4. Share this with someone close; someone who you can journey alongside with and who you both can mutually keep each other accountable.

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How to Live a Life that Counts?

by James Lim
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