5 Lessons on How to Live a Meaningful Life and Become a Better Human Being
“The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love, and to let it come in.”
A package arrived the day after my birthday. I opened it and found a book I didn’t order. That was strange. And then I remembered, my best friend’s wife said she’d send me her favorite book for my birthday. That book is “Tuesdays with Morrie” by Mitch Albom.
I vaguely remember reading about this book. It was actually on my (very long) ‘to read’ list. I just happened to have finished a book and I was intrigued. 24 hours later, I’d finished it. Now it’s one of my favorite books too. Morrie’s humanity, strength, and wisdom touched me deeply. And Mitch’s insights and reflections after made me realize that it’s so easy to focus on the wrong things in life.
I’d like to share what I learned from Mitch and the late Morrie. And please read this book. It’s good for your mental health, I promise you. Especially considering the times we live in.
[All quotes are taken from the book]
On his graduation day, Mitch introduces his favorite professor, Morrie, to his family. They had a special bond and when Mitch says goodbye, he promises to keep in touch with him.
Except he never did. Life happened and Mitch plunged into a life of working hard. Until he sees a documentary on TV in which his favorite professor is interviewed. Morrie is sick and suffers from ALS. He doesn’t have much time left.
Mitch reminisces about his time with Morrie. Morrie the coach who taught him about life.
As if the universe conspired, the unions at Mitch’s newspaper had gone on strike. He couldn’t work. It was time to resume his “classes” with his old professor.
#1: Create Your Own Culture
Morrie: “Dying,” Morrie suddenly said, “is only one thing to be sad over, Mitch. Living unhappily is something else. So many of the people who come to visit me are unhappy.”
Morrie: “Well, for one thing, the culture we have does not make people feel good about themselves. We’re teaching the wrong things. And you have to be strong enough to say if the culture doesn’t work, don’t buy it. Create your own. Most people can’t do it. They’re more unhappy than me – even in my current condition. I may be dying, but I am surrounded by loving, caring souls. How many people can say that?”
What does Morrie mean by creating your own culture? “How we think, what we value – those you must choose yourself. You can’t let anyone – or any society – determine those for you.”
So many people are running. Running in circles, chasing the next thing they think they need. Like a new car, another job, a promotion, buying a house, getting the latest iPhone. And once they get it, there’s a brief moment of satisfaction, until their minds start worrying about getting the next thing.
I’m guilty of this as well. Although recently I turned my life upside down. I have to start from scratch. But I do so deliberately because I want to stop running in that circle. I want to break out and create my own life and culture. I want to dedicate my time to the craft of writing while supporting myself financially through freelance marketing gigs.
I don’t need the latest MacBook, rather, I want to meet up with my travel buddies in France next month. I want to go camping with my best mates next week. I want to be surrounded by friends and family more than working my butt off doing a job I hate in order to ‘keep up’.
“We are too involved in materialistic things, and they don’t satisfy us. The loving relationships we have, the universe around us, we take these things for granted.” - Morrie
Avoid a Meaningless Life
“So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they’re busy doing things they think are important. This is because they’re chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.”
Have you ever thought about this? Have you ever considered why you do the things you do? Why you crave new (material) things? What does it means to you when you get it? What do you think about our culture, about society? Do you agree with that way of life? If the answer to the last question is no, consider taking a look at your own values. How do you want to live instead?
#2: On Connection and Compassion
“Only an open heart will allow you to float equally between everyone.”
One of the things I’ve come to realize more and more in the last year is that friendship and being connected to other people (even strangers) gives me the most joy in life. Good conversations, learning about a new culture, listening to someone’s life story. According to Morrie, one becomes fully human when they connect to the society around them. “You can’t substitute material things for love or for gentleness or for tenderness or for a sense of comradeship.”
When you’re in trouble you turn to those you love. When they are in trouble they hopefully turn to you. I’ve experienced some pains and hardships last year and I’m lucky enough to have friends who were there for me. All of them. This is invaluable.
Care For Strangers Too
“Do the kinds of things that come for the heart. When you do, you won’t be dissatisfied, you won’t be envious, you won’t be longing for somebody else’s things. On the contrary, you’ll be overwhelmed with what comes back.”
Last summer I did volunteering work at a children’s summer camp. These kids were mentally challenged and very insecure. It was our job (under the supervision of psychologists) to work with these kids, help them boost their confidence and prepare them for high school. I’ve never experienced anything like that before. It was hard work, but seeing those kids flourish and gain confidence filled me with pride.
I had two boys whom I ‘mentored’ and the changes they went through were remarkable.
Ostensibly a simple thing, but when was the last time you helped a stranger out? I need to make more time for this as well, even if it’s only once a month.
I sometimes volunteer at a soup kitchen like concept. In my neighborhood in Amsterdam, volunteers cook up a three-course meal with leftover food from local supermarkets for the homeless and people who live on public welfare. Normally I would never interact with them, but I heard painful and both wonderful stories while I was enjoying the meals with them.
We’re All in This Together
“The problem, Mitch, is that we don’t believe we are much alike as we are. Whites and blacks, Catholics and Protestants, men and women. If we saw each other as more alike, we might be very eager to join in one big human family in this world, and to care about that family the way we care about our own.”
We all have different ways of life, that’s what makes people unique. Morrie says: “We all have the same beginning – birth – and we all have the same end – death. So how different can we be?”.
In our true and humble essence, we are the same no matter what story other people try to make you believe. I know, if only it were that simple.
Show compassion. Especially — but not exclusively — to those closest to you. Be compassionate to strangers too. Accept people who are different than you. What have they ever done to you except for being not ‘like you’? As humans, we’re always stronger together than when we’re divided.
#3: How to Love Yourself and Others
“The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love, and to let it come in.”
In the television interview, Morrie is asked how he will teach when he will lose his ability to speak. Morrie jokes that people can still ask him yes or no questions. After that, he tells about his friend, Stein, who was going deaf. Morrie is asked how they will communicate once Morrie loses his voice. Morrie answers: “We will hold hands and there will be a lot of love passing between us. We had thirty-five years of friendship. You don’t need speech or hearing to feel that.”
Wow. Just wow. Simple, heartfelt and honest. Most people will shy away from saying something like that. Even from allowing to feel themselves like that.
What happens if we open up more like this? I’d like to live in a world like that.
“Love each other or perish.” – Auden
On Loving Yourself
“We need to forgive ourselves. For all the things we didn’t do. All the things we should have done. You can’t get stuck on the regrets of what should have happened. That doesn’t help you when you get to where I am [dying].”
This is an ongoing battle in our minds. Fear and courage battle it out every day and usually fear wins. It makes us human. But because we punish ourselves for being afraid, we start hating ourselves.
It’s hard to fully love yourself. To care about yourself, to accept and respect who you are. It’s an ongoing battle. I’m getting there more and more. What about you?
It’s liberating once you start accepting who you are. And it’s true what everyone says, once you (start to) love yourself, it’s easier to love others.
On Loving Others
“Love is when you’re as concerned about someone else’s situation as you are about your own.”
Love can manifest itself in many forms. It’s not only about loving your partner in life. It’s about loving your friends, family and other members of your community. Like caring for strangers too as I mentioned before.
Even though I’m currently not in a relationship and have never been married, the following piece of advice from Morrie struck me big time. These seem to be the ingredients for a happy relationship. When applying this to my past relationships, one or two of these were usually missing.
“There are a few rules I know to be true about love and marriage: If you don’t respect the other person, you’re gonna have a lot of trouble. If you don’t know how to compromise, you’re gonna have a lot of trouble. If you can’t openly talk about what goes on between you, you’re gonna have a lot of trouble. And if you don’t have a common set of values in life, you’re gonna have a lot of trouble. Your values must be alike.”
#4: How to Deal With Emotions
“Wash yourself with the emotion. It won’t hurt you. It will only help.”
In the past, I’ve always tried to suppress negative emotions. I know I’m not the only one doing this. We all do. Morrie has a great way to accept your emotions, fully feel them and then to let go.
I think it’s a really powerful way of staying mentally healthy. If you feel a strong emotion, feel it completely for however long you need (minutes, not hours preferably) and then let it go. Put it aside and focus on the other emotions you’re feeling. Detach and let go.
#5: On Aging and Death
“Once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.”
I’m only thirty and not very concerned yet with death, although I do feel it’s important to realize that one day we will all die. Memento Mori. Realizing this can even bring more quality to your life because it inspires to get the most out of life.
Morrie: “Aging is not just decay, you know. It’s growth. It’s more than the negative that you’re going to die, it’s also the positive that you understand you’re going to die, and that you live a better life because of it.
One last thing I want to share with you are Morrie’s thoughts on death and the love you leave behind: “Love is how you stay alive, even after you’re gone. […] Death ends a life, not a relationship.”
Isn’t that beautiful?
“As long as we can love each other, and remember the feeling of love we had, we can die without ever really going away. All the love you created is still there. All the memories are still there. You live on – in the hearts of everyone you have touched and nurtured while you were here.”
This book has touched me deeply. The above quotes and insights are only fragments of things that spoke to me. The book is packed with wisdom. And the beauty of it all is that deep down Morrie’s words don’t come as a surprise. We know what he is saying, but we often fail to lead a life that is in accordance with it.
Basically, it’s about living a life full of compassion. Towards yourself, your loved ones and strangers.
At the beginning of their Tuesday lectures, Morrie poses the following questions to Mitch:
Have you found someone to share your heart with?
Are you giving to your community?
Are you at peace with yourself?
Are you trying to be as human as you can be?
Try and find an answer to these questions yourself. Who knows how much quality the search for these answers can bring you.