They say “You don’t get older, you get wiser”. This is that kind of a story. All too often, when I was younger, I was going through the motions, you know what I mean? It might be a hindsight thing, but now I believe three aspects of life were missing from my otherwise wonderful teenage years and young adulthood. The 3 M-words I try to live by now: Mindful, meaningful, and minimal.
The bestselling author and teacher of Buddhist meditation practices Sharon Salzberg once said:
“Mindfulness isn’t difficult, we just need to remember to do it.”
It hits the nail on the head. The first M-word I try to live by is “Mindfulness”. It’s a term that if it were edible, it would be a superfood. Highly praised but barely understood.
What is mindfulness? For me, it means being more aware: More aware of myself, more aware of my surroundings, and more aware of feelings toward the important people in my life.
It starts with the little things. Just consciously breathing, for example. You might laugh, but my Apple Watch taught me that trick. With its “breathe” app and the (sometimes annoying) notifications, I slowly and ironically unconsciously began to take notice of my breathing. It has become a daily habit. A couple of minutes.
Another small, yet powerful detail: Showing appreciation through a simple “thank you”. Putting a smile on someone else’s face with those two short words. It always works. I just remembered the following quote that fits perfectly here:
“A moment of gratitude makes a difference in your attitude.” — Bruce Wilkinson.
Mindfulness also means acknowledging and appreciating all the things and people I have in my life. My belongings, sure, but more so my family, my kids, my wife, the time we have together. Appreciating every hug, every kiss, each meaningful gesture. This ties in beautifully with M-word number two.
Meaningful can mean a lot of the same as mindful does, or it can be something else entirely. A famous quote by Indian philosopher Osho sums it up nicely:
“Life in itself has no meaning. Life is an opportunity to create meaning.”
Going through the motions… my words in the first paragraph. It’s the opposite of living “meaningfully”, in Osho’s and — as it turns out — my book.
“Meaningful” can mean a lot of things: Doing meaningful work, or working to create meaning. Having meaningful conversations, or converse meaningfully.
To me, the takeaway has been: The work I enjoy, the passion I pursue is done to create meaningful content. For me and hopefully for others. I wish to someday have done meaningful work. It might not be work in the traditional “9-to-5” office job sense, but rather things like having raised my kids in a meaningful manner, or looking back at my life and being satisfied with and gracious for the accomplishments.
What’s the point of all if all is not the point? Just as “mindful” and “meaningful”, the third M-word means very much… or very little. The American author of novels for children and young adults Jackie French Koller wrote:
“There are two ways to be rich: One is by acquiring much, and the other is by desiring little.”
I’ve tried to chase the former. It’s the latter that’s more difficult. As “minimalism” has become a trendy term, the origin of this life lesson is often forgotten. While I apply minimal principles to different aspects of my physical life — like my wardrobe, my home, or my digital space — it’s the mental aspect that counts. “Desiring little” is, in this sense, synonymous with “less is more” or “having what you need”.
Out of the three M-words, “minimal” is — in the age of consumerism — the most difficult to master. It is for me at least. Luckily, it builds upon mindfulness and meaningfulness. It’s “mindful” to not buy everything right there and then. It’s “meaningful” to make that decision. The outcome is “minimal”. With this mental three-step process, I’ve been approaching numerous decisions in recent years. While I failed a few times, I’ve prevalently succeeded.
Let’s quickly recap what the 3 M-words mean to me and how they might work for you:
- Mindful: Acknowledging and appreciating your life’s accomplishments as they happen.
- Meaningful: Take action, but try to do it meaningfully.
- Minimal: Don’t strive for “acquiring much”, rather shoot for “desiring little”.
Maybe getting wiser means exactly that: Becoming more mindful, more meaningful, and more minimal in your decisions. Or you could be laughing when you’re 60 years old. About the illusions of a “young” mind. Either way, I’m taking these life lessons as I go towards 40. And I’m hanging onto them until something or someone wiser comes along.