What is there in life that I wish I had learnt many years ago and applied much earlier?
I reflect back to my father’s words when I was a child and wish I’d paid more attention.
A true test of manhood, my father said, is how you deal with the problems that strike us in life - the curve balls that you don’t expect. It’s about how you deal with adversity.
Such problems normally strike us when we think all is well and we have things totally in control. It’s as though there are forces at work that are determined to keep us on our toes and to keep us moving forward.
We do of course tend to think that such things only happen to us. In fact, I guess we all can be inclined to look at other people who seem prosperous, happy and fulfilled and feel they live charmed lives, with few if any crises to bring them down. We see those about us who seem to have the Midas touch – everything they touch turns to gold.
There are, though, very few people whose lives are as rounded and comfortable as we may perceive. Everyone has ambitions, aspirations, feelings that get in the way and can disturb what could, in the right circumstances, be a life of bliss and contentment. We can be our own worst enemies with feelings of dissatisfaction, discontent, regret, resentment and frustration that if unchecked can lead to disruption and discord.
What is the essence of a happy life? Is it money? Well perhaps. But, if so, why is there so much acrimonious divorce, addiction and even suicide among the ultra rich? If it is money – how much is enough? How much is too much?
We might think 10 million would be plenty, but do we then look at the neighbour with 50 million with a touch of envy?
Is having a nice house and a holiday home enough? Why not two holiday homes?
What about having plenty of money, a beautiful house and holiday home, then waking one morning and looking at your partner and realising that you are no longer in love. To realise perhaps there are places you’d rather be, others you’d rather be with. Jack Nicholson in the film “About Schmidt“ had plenty of money, was retired with few responsibilities but decided he didn’t like his wife’s smell. How do you deal with that?
Is it health? This is something we can easily take for granted. The importance of good health only really strikes us when we don’t have it! The simple truth is that no amount of money, beautiful homes or stunning partners is worth a jot if you are not in a fit state to be able to enjoy them. Interestingly even the relentless pursuit of happiness can be the very thing that brings on the poor health.
So perhaps it goes like this. If you have health you can live life and enjoy the things you are blessed with.
The things you are blessed with are not necessarily related to how much money you have or the size and grandeur of your home. Of course, money certainly helps in removing the stress and fear of destitution! It can even give you a sense of freedom, but as an end in itself it can be the very thing that destroys you.
The ownership of beautiful things brings comfort and peace but not if they are possessions only for the sake of possession and to satisfy a sense of pride.
I guess it comes down to being thankful for what we have and, when things go wrong, being able to deal with them. Having our health allows us to enjoy the benefits and fortune that we are surrounded by if we wish to recognise them.
If health is the most important element of life, what’s the next? Howard Hughes was a billionaire, lived into his 80s, but spent the latter part of his life as a recluse and died in obscurity. Do we want that – where was the happiness? Might not he have found pleasure in getting on a bus or going to the pub for a pint with a couple of friends? Could he have built a school or a hospital, created islands of real help for others and derived pleasure from the friendship and appreciation which his donation and giving would bring?
After health, perhaps the second most important benefit in life is companionship. Our relationship with our children, our friends and, most importantly, our partner.
Why is that? Well if you are lucky enough to be in a close, trusting and loving relationship you have the basis for dealing with any adversity. You are stronger together and you can and will support each other. No one is perfect but in a strong relationship you tend to recognise and overlook any negative aspects and focus on the facets of your partner that you love and admire. Everything else pales into insignificance.
A strong relationship even helps when real crises happen. When I contracted cancer no-one could have been more supportive and encouraging than my wife. No-one could have given me so much strength to enable me to do what I knew I had to do – manage my diet and exercise regime, keep my thoughts positive and constructive, keep on working, take the appropriate rest, not reflect on the symptoms of the cancer and more significantly the debilitating effects of the chemotherapy. Love did this and no amount of money could have replaced it.
So I guess there you have it. The most important element of our lives is health the second, and deeply intertwined with the first, is our partnership.
Down the list come the physical benefits of money, home and environment and even then in moderation and reflecting what we need. Anything beyond that is superfluous and needs to be used wisely for the benefit of others.