What are you going to do with the rest of your life?
Be the person you might never have become. There’s still time left in...
YOUR UNFINISHED LIFE
The Power of Knowing and Becoming Who You Really Are
Inspirational Quotations and Stories to Guide You
Kindness and Happiness
“It’s never to late to become who you could have been.” - Sally Field
The search for happiness is a universal and endless quest. It seems only logical it should center around us. Instead, it really centers around others. Jeremy Bentham said: “Create all the happiness you can create, remove all the misery you can remove. Every day will allow you to add something to the pleasure of others, or to diminish something of their pains. And for every grain of enjoyment you sow in the bosom of another, you shall find a harvest in your own bosom; while every sorrow which you pluck out from the thoughts and feelings of a fellow creature shall be replaced by a beautiful peace and joy in the sanctuary of your soul.” (Happiness: Lessons From A New Science -Richard Layard)
How often are people called to our attention and we think it’s not our job, or that somebody else will help? It can be as simple as giving or lending money, cutting someone’s lawn or listening to a friend’s problems.
A decent, thoughtful man was walking home late one night and saw a pathetic drunk laying in the gutter. Suddenly, he found himself under a horrific attack of cynical thought and said to himself: “God, why do you let this man lie in shame. If you truly exist, why don’t you help him?” And into this man’s mind came this sentence: “I am helping him. I just brought him to your attention.” ( Dr. Robert Schuller - Power Thoughts)
Opportunities for kindness present themselves daily. It requires attentiveness. As the antennae of insects scan an area to sense their surroundings, it’s beneficial for us and others to develop an enhanced sensitivity to our social environment. We’ll start to notice things we haven’t seen before. People will be helped. And we'll make ourselves more authentically happy people in the process.
How To Have A Happier Life
You are the prospective parent of your own fulfilled self and your own happiness. Dr. Martin Seligman, Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, in his book Authentic Happiness says this about true happiness:
“The pleasant life, is wrapped up in the successful pursuit of positive feelings, supplemented by the skills of amplifying these emotions. The good life, in contrast, is not about maximizing positive emotion, but is a life wrapped up in successfully using your signature strengths to obtain abundant and authentic gratification. The meaningful life has one additional feature: using your signature strengths in the service of something larger than you are.”
Mother Teresa was of the same mind: “I wouldn’t touch a leper for $1000, but I cure him willingly for the love of God.” It doesn’t necessarily have to do with God or religious faith. It simply has to do with doing something worthwhile for a higher purpose.
Students in Dr. Seligman’s classes wondered if happiness came more readily by showing a kindness or by having fun. They were asked to engage in one pleasurable activity and one activity involved with helping others. Dr. Seligman reported that “the pleasurable activity paled in comparison with the effects of the kind action.” Kindness is not the sole road to gratification, but it clearly meets the standards of being an important source of it.
To determine what your strengths are, purchase Authentic Happiness and take Dr. Seligman’s VIA Strengths Survey. A fuller version of the test is also available online at: www.authentichappiness.org. Reading his book will provide an improved understanding of your strengths and how they may be best applied in leading you to a satisfying life.
Kindness As A Strength
Kindness is an important strength all of us can practice. It clearly meets the definition of applying ourselves to something outside ourselves, something larger than we are. Being kind usually isn’t difficult. It requires no special training or equipment. It only requires attentiveness and willingness to help.
While sixty, seventy or eighty years of life, may seem like a long time, time for all of us is finite. Joel Osteen, pastor of the Lakewood Church in Houston notes: “Life is a mist. We’re here for a moment. Then we’re gone...Don‘t just make a living. Make a life.” We have limited control over how long we live, but we have a great deal of control over how we live.
Our own life, when compared against the expanse of eternity and the generations that have preceded us, is startlingly short, but nevertheless it can be productive. How productive have we been so far? How meaningful are we going to be in the time we have left? Are we going to leave a legacy worth remembering? Maria Shriver puts a fine point on it in, And One More Thing Before You Go: “You want to feel good? Then do good.” Joel Osteen mirrors that thought in his self-help book, Live Your Best Life Now: “You will never be truly fulfilled as a human being, until you learn the simple secret of how to give your life away.”
Touchstones of Kindness
How do we know what to do and when to act? Jean Guibert in his insightful work, On Kindness, provides a memorable guide for kindness when he says, “wherever there is misery, there it speeds”.
This book provides commentary on two classic, and largely long lost works: Jean Guibert’s On Kindness (1911] and Frederick Faber’s Kindness (1892]. Guibert was a French priest. A Google search of his name produced no results. It should have. His wonderful words are his legacy. Faber was a British priest and poet, best known as a hymn writer. The wisdom contained in their writings is both affecting and timeless. It might seem that kindness just operates by instinct. Often it does. But like many other things in life, some guidance can be helpful in producing better results. A principal purpose of this book is to selectively bring some of the beautiful thoughts from these works to the light of day again. They were deemed necessary by their authors a century ago, when times were far simpler. How much more must they be needed today?
Since Fathers Guibert and Faber came from a Catholic tradition, not unsurprisingly God is mentioned in their writings. Their books are about doing good and extending kindness. Your Unfinished Life isn’t intended as a religious book however. It’s goal is to be inspirational and spiritual in a broader sense. Its principles are applicable to people of all faiths, or of none at all.
Their thoughts have been supplemented by excerpts from Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations on living a worthwhile life, by the insightful words of Mother Teresa, and by the quotations of other wise observers as diverse as The Dalai Lama and George Foreman, and many others.
You probably haven’t always been kind. I certainly haven‘t. I’ve done some unkind and insensitive things, sometimes out of thoughtlessness, other times out of selfishness. Kindness never ceases to be a challenge. It is far easier to talk about and write about, than it is to extend. Famed opera singer Beverly Sills said we should all ask ourselves: “How do you take a life and make something of it?” An answer Gandhi proposed was to “be the change you want to see in the world.”
Moving Your Life In The Right Direction
We all have something to give, whether its time, money, expertise or other gifts. It may be helpful to imitate the example of others but, in the end, the best gifts we can give should be uniquely ours, as the following tale suggests:
Joseph, a Jewish man, goes to heaven and meets St. Peter. Joseph says to him: “Tell God I wish I had been like Moses or Abraham. God told Peter to say to him: “Tell him I’m sorry he wasn’t more like Joseph.” Model after others if it motivates you, but be uniquely yourself.
We should give as often as we can. For some of us it will be frequently, for others only occasionally. It all helps. It might take us a while to get there, but as with any other worthwhile direction we’re moving in, we don’t always have to be running or walking toward it. It’s ok to crawl sometimes too.
When done frequently enough, it might allow us to gain the same surprising insight that Walt Whitman did: “I am larger, better than I thought. I did not know I held so much goodness.” When we can live this revelation, it not only helps others, it can help us discover what’s missing in our own lives. There is always time. As the highly talented actor Sally Field remarked: “It’s never too late to become who you might have been.”
Dr. Stephen Covey, in his best selling book, The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, mentions a story about two men standing by the casket of a deceased friend. One said to the other: “How much did he leave?” His friend said: “He left it all.” No matter how wonderful something tangible is, you can’t take it with you.
In a material and self-absorbed society, it’s easy to focus on ourselves and our own egos. Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations furnishes us with a vivid perspective on the folly of self-absorbed acquisition and of manufactured self-importance:
“All things fade into the storied past, and in a little while are shrouded in oblivion. Even to men whose lives were a blaze of glory this comes to pass; as to the rest, the breath is hardly out of them before, in Homer’s words: “they are lost to sight and hearsay alike.”
A pensive walk through any cemetery reminds us that regarding anything of the world, it all comes to a screeching halt at a piece of stone and a small patch of earth, even for the wealthiest, most glorious and egocentric among us. But what then is lasting? All we can really take with us is the good we’ve left behind.
This obituary appeared in The New York Times on Sunday, September 15, 2002: “Salvatore Altchek, ‘the $5 Doctor’ of Brooklyn, Dies at 92”. He saw patients until two months before his death. He gave up house calls, which he made on foot at 87, and charged $5 or $10, or nothing at all. One woman said: “He wasn’t out to make money; he was out to help people.” Another said: “He is a physician who treated the poor (as well as lawyers and longshoremen], and never asked for money from the oppressed community. They paid him when they had it, and he treated them as if they were Park Avenue residents.” For more than fifty years, he began his workday at 8AM, took half an hour off for dinner at 5PM and closed the office door at 8. He then made house calls, often until midnight.” Most of us can’t be physicians, but all of us can be Dr.Altcheks by following his example in our own way.
Writer Charlotte Forten pondered: “I wonder why it is I have this strange feeling of not living out myself” Have you ever had this feeling, that part of what you really are is missing? That you’re not fully being who you really are?
Joseph Campbell, the famed lecturer and writer tells us: “The banality of our current life is always waiting to yield a greater story…Too many of us accept the sadness of inauthentic lives…The best way to help mankind is the perfection of yourself.” This book is about trying to authenticate lives – yours and mine –through kindness. As playwright Arthur Miller said, reflecting on the inspiration that spawned the Brooklyn Bridge: “You too might add something that could last and be beautiful.”
The End Game
The Dalai Lama, remarking on the role of kindness in life said: “My religion is very simple: my key motivation is love. My religion is kindness…All religions (and the ethics of any good person] share a common root, which is limitless compassion. They emphasize human improvement, love, respect for others and compassion for the suffering of others. Insofar as love is essential in every religion, we could say that love is a universal religion.”
(The Dalai Lama’s Little Book of Inner Peace].
In the French film, “The Barbarian Invasions“, a dying man, who led a selfish life, searches for meaning in his final days. Near the end, he thinks of himself as a failure. He says he wants “to leave a mark, so he can die in peace.” What mark will you leave? Will you die with the peace you want? What is the meaning of life after all? It’s the meaning we decide to give it. Deathbed enlightenments, like the one in this film are better than none, but they’re hardly a substitute for a valued life, well lived.
After composer Gustav Mahler died, admirers sent a funeral wreath which read: “Bereft of the saintly human being Gustav Mahler, we are left forever with a never to be lost example of his life and impact.” It would be a nice epitaph to work toward - although some of you might have to join me in having the saintly part left off.
Former President Jimmy Carter noted in his excellent book Living Faith:
“ The most unforgettable funeral I ever attended, maybe with the exception of my own family members, was the service for Mrs. Martin Luther King Sr., mother of the nation’s greatest civil rights leader…The Reverend Otis Moss from Cleveland, Ohio preached a brief, but remarkable, sermon about ‘the little dash in between’ (on a grave stone, the dash between the year someone was born and the year he/she died]…He said everybody has what might be called ‘a little dash’ to us, but with God, it is everything. The question is what do we do with that little dash in between, which represents our life on earth… We have to remember that our lives will become shrunken, if we act only from a cautious sense of duty. It is the reaching, the inspiration, the extra commitment that provides the foundation for a full and gratifying life. After we satisfy all our personal needs and desires, then what? It is not through gratifying our physical needs that we find our purpose in life. We shouldn’t carry around what we are in a closed jar and use a medicine dropper to expend it. The little dash in between can be a glorious experience.”
If you’re not satisfied with the quality of your own contribution at this point, there’s still time left to do something about it. As Wayne Dyer commented: “you can’t be concerned about the wake your boat has left so far. All you can do is to propel yourself forward with kindness to make some difference now.”
- (10 Secrets For Success and Inner Peace]
There’s still lots of time left for most of us to do many things to benefit others, by words, actions or example, whether we’re living an active daily life, or leading a confined existence caused by the care of children or a family member, illness, advanced age, imprisonment or other circumstances.
Finding success in life can sometimes be elusive. The Seven Habits of High Successful People offers a well-structured plan to get there. A basic step is to define what success means to us. One suggestion Dr.Covey offers is to write your own eulogy. What would you want people to say about you? Then using those benchmarks, guide your life. Naturally, you can change them any time you wish, but they can provide a solid basis for making life decisions and for focusing your efforts in the proper direction. On the lists of many people would be the goal of “doing something worthwhile” or of “making a difference”. Your Unfinished Life examines kindness and offers help and encouragement to guide you along your path. “We get to discover how much of us is lead and how much is gold. Like the alchemist, we get a chance to turn lead into gold by our own thoughts, words and actions.” ( A Short Course on Kindness - Margot Silk Forrest]
The Challenge Of Everyday Life
Sometimes truths are right in front of us, but are obscured by our daily routines, by work, or by raising and supporting a family. Just being too busy with life. Eventually, we learn many truths through experience, reading, the passage of time, and reflection: “The quieter you become, the more you can hear” – Baba Ram Dass. It’s taken me sixty-two years to get this far. I wish it hadn’t taken so long. Maybe some of this will help you learn some of these priceless truths faster than I did.
Actor Naomi Watts, in an interview with James Lipton on the excellent interview program “The Actor’s Studio”, said she was an assistant fashion editor when she decided to take a weekend acting class. During the weekend she said she realized: “I’m living a lie. This is what matters to me.” Afterward, she quit her fashion job to focus on acting.
We might not exactly be living a lie, although some of us may be, but we might not exactly be living the full truth either. When we give our life some thought and learn to be kinder, we’ll not only find out what matters to us, but we’ll also get to know the fuller truth about ourselves. It can bring a lot more happiness to ourselves and others as a result. “What you give is yours for good. What you keep is lost forever.”
- (From the French film, “Monsieur Ibrahim“]
Stairway to Happiness
Time Magazine in “The New Science of Happiness” reported that happiness is based on gratitude, savoring the good things that have happened to us, and kindness. Based on her research findings and those of others, University of California psychologist Sonya Lyubmirsky cited eight steps toward a more satisfying life:
1. Count your blessings
2. Practice acts of kindness
“These should be both random (letting someone go ahead in the checkout line) and systematic (bringing Sunday supper to an elderly neighbor). Being kind to others, whether friends or strangers, triggers a cascade of positive effects. It makes you feel generous and capable, gives you a greater sense of connection with others and wins you smiles, approval, and reciprocated kindness – all happiness boosters.”
3. Savor life’s joys
4. Thank a mentor
5. Learn to forgive
6. Invest time and energy in friends and family
7. Take care of your body
Getting plenty of sleep, exercising, stretching, smiling and laughing all enhance your mood in the short term.
8. Develop strategies for dealing with stress and hardships. Religious faith has been shown to help people cope, but so do secular beliefs enshrined in axioms like “This too shall pass” and “That which doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” The trick is you have to believe them.
Danger: Do Not Enter
Life passes through stages. The latter stage of life has some marked differences from earlier years. Dr. James Hollis in his book, Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life: How To Really Grow Up, quotes Carl Jung with his advice on how to stay away from trouble: “I have frequently seen people when they content themselves with inadequate or wrong answers to the questions of life. They seek position, marriage, reputation, outward success or money, and remain unhappy and neurotic, even when they attain what they are seeking. Such people are usually contained within too narrow a spiritual horizon. Their life has not sufficient content, sufficient meaning. (What Joseph Campbell called ‘climbing ladders in life, only to find out later that they were placed against the wrong walls.’ ] If they are enabled to develop into more spacious personalities, the neurosis generally disappears.”
Dr. Hollis says: “We need to be strong enough to examine our lives and to make risky changes.” Many of those changes can involve risk, but not all of them. Extending kindness usually involves little or no risk, yet helps satisfy the prescription Dr. Hollis advocates: “The ego’s highest task is to go beyond itself into service, service to what is really desired by the soul, rather than the complex-ridden ego or the values of the culture.”
Self-Evaluation and Completion
How will we know when we have done enough to find happiness and to bring it to others? We can answer by asking : What does it take for you to be proud of who you are? As Richard Bach wrote so poignantly in Jonathan Livingston Seagull: “How will I know when I have completed my mission?” The answer: “If you are still breathing, you are not done.”
There is no heavier burden than a great or unused potential. Rocky Balboa in “Rocky 6” asks himself if he “still has anything left in the basement”. Nearer to the end of our lives, most of us will ask ourselves the same question, and also the one Private Ryan did at the graveside of his rescuer, at the end of the gripping film “Saving Private Ryan”: “Have I been a good man (woman)?” Your Unfinished Life will help you make a difference, help you feel happier about yourself along the way, and help you find more contentment at the end of your life, so you can answer that question with confidence and peace.
This self help book contains many inspirational and kindness quotations to guide your path, as well as many inspirational stories. It will build greater dignity and help combat selfishness that can block paths toward personal growth. Please continue along with me as we work work together to locate and to give breath to becoming more authentic, kinder, more fulfilled and happier people.
“Success rests with having the courage and the endurance and, above all, the will to become the person you are, however peculiar that may be. Then you will be able to say: “I have found my hero and he is me.” – George Sheehan
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