Redefining Life Values after 40
“If … time is suddenly brought forward and tomorrow were the last day of your life in this world…”
What comes to your mind looking back at the life you have had?
What would you like to do in the next 24 hours, your last on earth?
What would your loved ones and people close to you say or think about the life you have had?
What would you like them to say about you?
This is what Jack has to say:
“Looking back at my life, although I did many things, I have many regrets. I spent a lot of time feeling as though something was missing and I don’t know why. For the next 24 hours left in this world, I would like to spend quality time with my loved ones, something I never really did before. I think people would think that my life has been rather uninteresting and uninspiring, that I just kept to myself – not much they can say about me really. Deep down inside, I wish people would say that I was a kind person, a loving partner, and someone who always strived to do his best in life. But it is too late for me to change now.”
And Jill has this to say:
“Looking back at my life, I have lived fully and have done many meaningful things. I especially love making a difference in people’s lives and influencing them in a positive way. For the next 24 hours left in this world, I would like to be with all my loved ones and treasure every moment with them, like I have always done. I think my folks and buddies would agree that I have lived life with no regrets. I hope people would talk about who I really was as a person, and the meaningful things I have done, so that other people can learn from my rich journey in life.”
Jill’s response teems with satisfaction — her final point in life is a celebration of what she has done. Jack’s response is heavy with regrets — he is lamenting what he hasn’t done, and even in his last moments, is ‘rushing’ to make up for it. Whose situation would you rather be in when life’s curtain falls?
TRAPPED IN AN UNHEALTHY ECOSYSTEM
By the age of 40, many of us would have been ‘inflicted’ with certain ravages of modern living — Jack and Jill are not spared. We would have spent a considerable amount of time in a world very different from the one just over a century ago. Picture this. For over 50,000 years or perhaps even 100,000 years, humans have evolved and learnt to live with nature (plants and animals included), forming a very close emotional relationship with one another. However, rapid modernisation and urbanisation have created a lifestyle that is totally different—one that is goal-focused and dependent on unnatural products and inventions. At the same time, larger issues such as social inequality, global warming, geopolitical tensions and religious intolerance appear to rob us of what little peace of mind we have left. This ecosystem and the lifestyle it forces upon us would have been unimaginable to our forefathers.
Instead of understanding ourselves and connecting with our emotional lives as well as with others, we are faced with rising consumerism and the never-ending rat race. Instead of knowing what really matters to us — things that bring meaning and a sense of purpose to our lives and those around us, we prefer to indulge in activities revolving around incessant use of electronics and pursuits of materialistic gains, which give us the ‘kick’ and ‘high’ to fill the emotional void. And if you grow up in Asia, it is likely that you have been prescribed a ‘pathway’ to follow since birth:
Do well in exams
Go to University
Get a respectable job
Build wealth & expand
Anything that deviates from this path would make one a failure in the eyes of society. It is no wonder that our minds end up trapped in this maze. We feel lost and frustrated. We lose motivation and a sense of direction in life. We enter midlife, a very challenging phase of life, weary and uncertain. Not only do we notice physical signs of ageing more conspicuously, many of us would have achieved (or not achieved), the goals we set for ourselves in our younger days such as getting a degree, getting a job, and getting married. Now, what is next if we did achieve these goals? Do we set more goals and tick off more boxes? Not to mention additional responsibilities such as caring for young children and aged parents, relationship issues, feelings of inadequacy or incompleteness from unattained goals.
How then do we bring vitality, empowerment and a sense of direction back into our lives? What makes Jill different from Jack?
THE CHOICE THAT MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE
Although we cannot change what has already occurred in the past, we can however, choose to live differently, by making good choices from this point on.
The human life is filled with complexity and nuances, and this can be attributed to our highly developed prefrontal cortex which is capable of complex functions such as planning and emotional reactions. The prefrontal cortex however, is not fully developed until around the age of 25. We can probably attest to this when we look back at our younger days — all the rash decisions and emotional outbursts.
WE NEED TO CLARIFY AND REDEFINE OUR VALUES NOW.
Some of the brain’s capabilities are naturally endowed, while others are nurtured by the environment, e.g. through the learning opportunities that come our way or those which we actively seek out. All these factors jointly shape the development of our brains and affect our ability to self-regulate — to choose. The brain can be rewired. It has the ability, called neuroplasticity, to reorganise itself by forming new neural connections throughout a person’s life.
Life after 40 can be especially challenging and demanding, but if we rewire our brains right, we are likely to live on a balanced keel, and enjoy a full and fulfilled life. We need to clarify and redefine our values now. When we have this new roadmap, a new plan, we will be directed to do and act in ways that maximise our emotional well-being. One of the main problems people face is that even as they approach midlife, they are still revving up to pursue the next goal, and the next, only to discover that there is little fulfilment and meaning at the end of it. Why is that so? Humans have not evolved to develop positive emotions while adapting to such drastic changes in a goal-based environment, not in a short span of 50 years anyway. Thus, it is not surprising that the ‘happiness’ outcome eludes many, including those society considers successful and wealthy. Many are actually suffering in silence from loneliness and failed relationships.
This is not to say of course, that there is no one who is both successful and has attained fulfilment at the same time. What then, marks the difference between one who has a fulfilled and meaningful life, and another whose life is chaotic, unfulfilled and meaningless? Jack and Jill have obviously chosen differently. Jill recognises something beyond goals.
VALUES AND GOALS
Goals give insight to where we are heading, our destination(s) in life. Values on the other hand, are much more empowering as they give our life a sense of meaning and purpose, and guide even the smallest of our actions. Values are always about here and now, what is important to you and how you want to conduct your life.
Many travellers set their eyes on the destination. They complain about the long journey and once they arrive, in an anti-climax fashion, they say: “Oh is that it? What else is there to see now?” On the other hand, some enjoy the whole travelling experience — the ride, the beautiful scenery, conversations with fellow travellers, and learning about the history of the country.
The difference between a goal-focused and value-based life can be appreciated from another example. Someone who finds meaning in helping others (a value) might work towards getting a Social Work degree (a goal), to enable him to be more effective in his work. The value of helping others will be lived out while on the journey to get the degree. Graduation, the destination, is another point in the continuing journey to help others, rather than an end. Without values to guide a person, graduations and degrees become mere trophies that will lose their shine over time, beckoning new pursuits and search for new excitements.
People often unknowingly, and to some extent led by a supposed formula or pathway to happiness, labour over the next goal under the illusion that achieving the next goal will bring happiness. Alas, what awaits at the end of the quest is a sense of emptiness, restlessness and frustration. This is especially true of material pursuits. On the other hand, when people become aware and choose a value-based life, the values they hold guide them from moment to moment, leading to a greater sense of fulfilment, contentment and satisfaction.
LET VALUES LEAD
Are you living the life you want at this moment? Are you focused on doing things that are truly meaningful in your life? If your answer is “no” to either of these questions, it is time to reorient your life directions by clarifying and redefining your values. Make a commitment by following a value-guided plan to keep you on this path. Always ask yourself: if these plans/goals were achieved, what would I do differently and how would I behave differently in the areas or domains that are important to you — relationships with family and friends, parenting, career development, personal and spiritual growth, recreation and social life, environmental and civic responsibilities, and physical, mental and emotional health.
REMEMBER THAT LIFE WILL ONLY CHANGE WHEN YOU THINK DIFFERENTLY AND DO THINGS DIFFERENTLY. SEIZE THE DAY LIKE IT IS YOUR LAST..