It’s a message that’s found in countless motivational speeches and untold numbers of inspirational quotes…
“Just do it.”
“Grab life by the horns and never let go.”
“You only have one life, so make the most of it.”
A thousand ways to say one thing…
Live life to the fullest.
And it sounds like a reasonable piece of advice until you stop to really think about it.
Then you begin to realize that these five simple words are at the root of so many of our problems.
It’s time to put this most unwise of wisdom to the sword.
Time to debunk it once and for all.
You may think that this is just some gimmick. A way to be controversial for the sake of it. To ruffle some feathers.
But stick with me and I think I’ll be able to convince you otherwise.
You see, what I am about to share with you should NOT be controversial.
If my arguments are sound – and I believe they are – you should be nodding along in agreement by the end.
Yes, some people may take offense at what I have to say, but that’s because their views are going to be challenged, perhaps even shattered.
Living life to the fullest really is bad advice to follow and to give.
It Leaves You Dissatisfied With Life
Most people think that the ‘fullest’ life is one in which you take every day of your life – each minute in each hour – and you do something novel with it.
You have to try something new, experience something different, go somewhere you’ve never been before, eat something amazing.
You have to laugh loudly, smile widely, feel ecstasy and jubilation.
You have to make each moment a moment to remember.
But… it’s just too much to expect.
Life doesn’t happen like that.
Not every moment can be a pinnacle of pleasure. You can’t spend your entire life at great heights of excitement and enjoyment.
But you’ve been told that’s what you should aim for. You believe that’s what you’re meant to do in life.
And when you fail to live up to such lofty and unrealistic expectations, you feel deflated. You feel as though you have somehow failed at life.
But you were destined to fail because you were attempting to achieve the unachievable.
Real, everyday life is – let’s be honest – a bit mundane and often repetitive. It’s full of routine and structure and taking responsibility for tasks of varying degrees of importance.
If you strive to live life to the max, these in-between bits are very unwelcome interruptions.
You feel your job is a burden that you are forced to bear. It isn’t to be enjoyed or looked forward to each day. It’s simply there to provide you the means to go on another epic adventure.
You spend day after day dragging yourself to wherever it is your work requires you to be. You begrudgingly see to your duties so that your boss doesn’t fire you.
You spend every minute there wishing the day were over so that you can get on with the really important things in the evenings, at weekends, and during those few weeks you get off in annual leave.
Yes, your job exists simply to suck the life from you.
And where do we start with your relationships?
Your partner, your friends, your family – where do they fit in this ‘full’ life you so wish to live?
The pressure is on them to keep up with you and not weigh you down at all.
But, of course, some of them are bound to let you down. And you’ll resent them for it.
You want the world and everything in it, and if they can’t give you that, you may find that you have to cut ties and leave them behind.
You hold your romantic relationships to such a high standard that as soon as you feel they are stifling you, doubts start to creep in.
Are they your perfect partner after all? Are they going to prevent you from doing the things you want to do to make your life ‘full’?
Is there someone out there whose dreams for life more closely align with yours?
So you struggle to hold down a long term relationship because your requirements are so exacting. You don’t want to spend time with someone who isn’t on the same stratospheric trajectory as you.
Your family, although close to your heart, don’t ‘get’ you and your high octane lifestyle. And you can’t understand why they are content to live such predictable lives.
Your friendship group may be large because of all the people you meet doing non-stop activities, but most are ‘friends’ in the “we’re friends on Facebook” sense rather than really close companions.
You may see a different person each night of the week because no single friend can keep up with you.
But you have to fill your diary with evenings out and weekends away or you feel that you are wasting your life.
And when you can’t find things to do or people to see, you struggle to spend time alone. A relaxing night in sounds anything but relaxing to you.
That’s not to say that you always feel fulfilled by the many activities in your life. And that’s probably because you’re doing them for the wrong reasons…
…you fill your time because you’ve been told to live your life to the fullest and not because you truly enjoy doing so.
You do things for the sake of doing them.
You do them so that you can take photos and post on social media to show others how ‘full’ and vibrant your life is.
And then there’s your bucket list. It’s so long that you can barely keep track of what’s on it.
You’ve literally searched the internet and combined all the “best of” lists into one mammoth agenda for your life.
You’re going to visit as many countries as you can, tackle all of the must-do activities in each one, and sample as much culture as possible.
You have plans to scale mountains, jump out of airplanes, go to as many festivals as possible, rub shoulders with celebrities at film premieres and award ceremonies.
You want to start a non-profit, invent a product and get it into shops, become a figure of authority in your industry, and a million other things on top.
But as much as you may try, you simply can’t tick things off fast enough. And you fixate on all the things you haven’t yet done.
You see your life panning out a certain way and then you feel miserable and anxious when you can’t move quickly enough toward your goals and through your wish list.
You become so focused on your end goals that you are unable to enjoy the journey to reach them.
You are pushing yourself to do more, do it faster, and you won’t be happy until it’s done…
…and then it’s on to the next thing.
You love to plan future adventures. You can’t help but imagine all the things you are going to do.
Or you long to revisit all the wondrous experiences from your past. “The good times” as you like to call them.
If only you could go back and live in those memories rather than have to face the monotony of the bits in between.
That ‘present moment’ that everyone says you should live in – it’s just so boring most of the time.
The only moments in which you can feel truly present are those where you are doing new and exciting things that tick the boxes of living life to the fullest.
Your way of thinking is that if your life isn’t full, it’s partly empty and this emptiness scares the hell out of you.
What’s more, you see other people’s carefully curated social media updates and believe that this is how they really live their lives.
Or you see a friend who is doing better than you and living a more open and adventurous life and you feel like you’re falling ever further behind.
The things you put most value on are those which show a life that is being lived fully. A life that appears successful.
So you covet the big house, the nice car, the expensive clothes, the exotic trips, the lifestyle that says, “I’m doing well for myself and I want you to know it.”
Because a ‘full’ life and a successful life are one and the same to you.
This means you work your backside off – even though you don’t enjoy it – because it will give you what you seek. It will allow you to do all the things you want to do.
And if someone else doesn’t share your same view of life, you judge them for it and look unkindly on their choices.
You see them as lacking ambition and drive, even if they are perfectly happy with the life that they lead.
You don’t want to be like them. You don’t want to have the regrets you think they’ll have when they’re older.
In fact, you don’t want to have any regrets in life, because a regret means you could have done more and you didn’t.
You want to die thinking that your life was one hell of a ride.
…or, at least, that’s what you’ve been told. That’s what people who advise you to live life to the fullest mean.
Then there are the companies, corporations, and magazines who “sell” you an ideal way to live.
They want you to aspire to buy their products and services and spend your hard earned cash with them.
You see their flashy advertising and you adopt the ideas in it. You can see what possibilities lay ahead and you want them all.
And this is a problem because your money is limited. You can only do so many things with it.
The choice of where to spend it is difficult. You just can’t figure out how to weigh up the country retreat for two against a fancy new gizmo that you can show off to anyone and everyone.
And saving… “Ha!” you say, “that’s a fool’s game.” You believe that you should focus on today and spend what you earn because you might get hit by a bus tomorrow.
Why hoard your money away for a rainy day?
What other people might see as reckless, you see as the best way to live.
You may even hit the credit cards or loans hard to get those experiences you want because you’ll be damned if your finances are going to stand in your way.
And as for the impact your lifestyle has on other people, it barely even crosses your mind.
All that travelling, all those things you buy, all those experiences you seek. They come with a wider cost than the one you pay.
The environment suffers for starters. Your carbon footprint is sky high and your need for new things means you burn through finite resources like there’s no tomorrow.
But you’ll say no to plastic straws and always carry a tote bag around… so it’s all good, right?
And the people in the supply chains that provide all those amazing things you buy and the people who provide the services you enjoy… you won’t let them stop you from enjoying all the fruits that life has to offer.
Even if it means they suffer or are exploited so that you can get the life you desire.
It’s all irrelevant. You think everybody should be able to lead whatever life they chose and you chose one that is packed full of everything and anything you can squeeze into it.
Where does it all lead?
I’ll tell you where it doesn’t lead… your happiness.
As I think I’ve just explained in as much detail as I could, your need to live life to the fullest does not leave you with a constant smile on your face or a rush of adrenaline in your veins.
Your relationships are rocky.
You’re rarely able to enjoy the present moment.
You are forever chasing your ideal life.
You feel disappointed when each experience ends.
You search for the next thing to fill you time with.
You do things just because you feel you ought to be doing them.
You constantly compare yourself to others.
You drive toward the typical vision of success.
You can’t bear to watch as others sit idly by wasting their lives (in your opinion).
You are financially irresponsible.
You are environmentally irresponsible.
You just want it all… and you want it now.
Can you relate to any of this?
Do you see yourself in the descriptions above?
And do you yet understand why this approach won’t give you what you want?
There’s a big reason why this approach to living life will not leave you feeling happy…
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Your Happiness Depends Entirely On External Things
Happiness is the wrong word… after all, happiness is a fleeting emotion that comes and goes.
Call it… fulfillment.
Ful-FILL-ment. You see why it’s so appropriate?
Or you might call it satisfaction.
Whatever you wish to call it, when you try your hardest to live your life to the fullest, you inevitably place great importance on what you do and what you have.
These things are outside of you. They are not a part of you.
With material possessions, this is obvious, right? You enjoy spending money on new clothes or fancy gadgets and the enjoyment you get from them depends on you having them.
As soon as you don’t have anything new or exciting to play with or show off, you become dejected. And you long for your next purchase.
With experiences such as trips and meals out and scuba diving, you may think that the happiness comes from within you.
After all, you are enjoying whatever it is you are doing.
But it doesn’t.
Yes, you may be enjoying yourself, but that enjoyment only lasts for the duration of the experience (and perhaps for a short while after).
Then you find yourself longing to repeat it or planning for the next event or thing to fill your time.
These in-between times are not periods of any great fulfillment, satisfaction, or happiness.
They are voids that you suffer when you have nothing much to occupy you.
They are empty. And for someone who wishes to live a full life, this pains you.
Read that again: the times when you are not experiencing something new, novel, or exciting are times when you feel pain.
And yet, this is a large proportion of your life. A large proportion of your life that you are spending miserable and discontent.
Does that sound like the kind of life you want?
I’d hope not.
Luckily, there is another way…
Living Life To YOUR Fullest
A ‘full’ life doesn’t have to be a bad aim, so long as the picture of ‘full’ you have in your mind is one of your own making.
And so long as that picture includes the essential day-to-day activities such as work, household chores, and any other duties you have.
A ‘full’ life can include routine. A ‘full’ life can include the ordinary.
These are not things that should be resisted. As soon as you resist something, you remove any and all satisfaction you may get from it.
When you find satisfaction – even a level of enjoyment – in the everyday, you have less need to fill it with other things.
When you understand that life IS the biggest adventure of all, you won’t obsess so much about what else you could be spending your time doing.
When you place a value on the time you spend working or tidying up or even just reading a book, you give value to your whole life… not just the exciting bits.
What’s important is that you don’t allow other people to define what it means to live your life to the fullest.
That’s like going to a restaurant and letting someone else choose from the menu for you.
You may end up feeling full by the end, but you won’t be nearly as satisfied with the meal as if you’d made your own choice.
You may even feel uncomfortably full because you’d have preferred something a little lighter and less substantial.
Your ‘full’ doesn’t have to look the same as someone else’s ‘full’ and it certainly doesn’t have to fit society’s model.
In fact, if you model your life on these external visions of ‘full’ and adopt their principles, you’re actually living a very constrained life.
You are being told what’s right and what’s worth doing and you don’t have much say in matters.
So, perhaps your ‘full’ does include adventures in foreign countries and dinners out with friends on weeknights…
…but perhaps it doesn’t.
And if it does, you don’t only view these times as being of substance. You include the ordinary in your definition.
This might even allow you to enjoy a delicious home-cooked meal and an evening watching your favorite shows, rather than thinking that this is a waste of your precious time.
Your definition of ‘full’ is fluid and just because you thought you ought to be doing X at one point in your life, it doesn’t mean this will still be the case a few months or years along your journey.
Your definition may even include turning inward at times to really get to know yourself – your true essence – and to develop and grow spiritually.
That alone may help you see how full your life is already. You may find that what matters most to you is enjoying the life you have rather than constantly wishing for a life you don’t have.
And your definition of ‘full’ may include room to breathe. Room in which to feel comfortable and content.
If your idea of a ‘full’ life is jam-packed with things – even everyday things – then it can feel quite claustrophobic.
Just imagine your life as a bubble with you at the center. If that bubble is filled with things you want to do and things you think you should do, you won’t have any room in which to move.
Every which way you turn, you’ll be faced with things to do and see and experience. You won’t be able to just enjoy your space in the bubble and be at peace.
And by keeping back some empty space, you give yourself the flexibility to react to what life brings your way.
You aren’t hung up on a rigid vision of how to fill your time and life. You can take things as they come and make some decisions on an ad hoc basis rather than having everything planned.
A more flexible approach is also far better for your relationships. It won’t be a case of thinking your partner is holding you back – you’ll be able to see how your life and theirs can compliment each other.
You will have space to share their interests and passions… if you wish to.
And you won’t be so hard on those who aren’t trying to cram pack their lives with adventure and excitement. Because you’ll be one of them!
You won’t judge them – you’ll accept that they are living their version of a ‘full’ life while you are living yours.
You’ll also find the present moment is far more accessible to you because you won’t always be wishing away the hours and days until something exciting or enjoyable comes along.
Now, Which Would You Prefer?
Hopefully you’re still with me and you’ve followed all the points I’ve made so far.
The question, then, is which version of a ‘full’ life would you prefer?
The full life in which you are always looking for the next exciting experience to bring you satisfaction.
Your full life in which you can find satisfaction even in your everyday routine and duties while still enjoying adventures from time to time.
If I’ve argued my case convincingly, you’ll probably choose the second option.
And I hope you do.
It is my firm belief that a life truly lived to the fullest is one in which you can end each and every day feeling that it was a day well lived.
Not one in which only a fraction of the days are counted as worthwhile and meaningful.