Maybe the greatest gift you can ever give yourself is to live a life fully aligned with your values.
When you spend your money, time, and energy on the things that bring you happiness today and joy tomorrow, you experience peace, confidence, and satisfaction in the present life you have chosen to live.
Unfortunately, in many respects, we live lives that are too easily pleased. We rely on possessions and money to satisfy our heart’s desire. Or we get caught up in other selfish pursuits, like fame, accolades, or notoriety.
We often fall into the assumption that the secret to a fulfilled life is the possession of more belongings and the achievement of personal gain.
But while we are settling for the temporal pleasure of material possessions, is it possible we are missing out on something better? Is it possible we are missing things that would bring even greater satisfaction and more lasting pleasure to our lives?
Could it be that we were designed for something greater than material acquisitions? And that the greatest act of self-care we could partake in is to stop settling for anything less than the best?
C. S. Lewis said it this way: “Our desires are not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
This quote has become one of the most influential in my life. It can be applied to so many different areas of our lives.
It is foolishness to trade a vacation by the sea for mud pies in an alley. And yet that is what many of us do when we neglect to live centered on our values, tossed about by cultural expectations instead.
Consider this: rare is the person who lists money and possessions among their greatest goals in life, but we spend most of our time and energy trying to acquire them. In fact, according to one survey, 70% of us say our desire for acquiring more money influences our daily decisions.
But our hearts long for something greater. We long for family, love, relationships, and impact. We speak of making a difference with the one life we live. We long for “a holiday by the sea,” but settle for “mud pies” instead. Somewhere along the way, the world has come along and hijacked our passions and directed it toward temporal, unfulfilling pursuits.
As a result, we begin living haphazardly—so involved in the day-to-day meanderings of life that we are no longer able to visualize anything different. Our pursuits are being dictated by the voices and culture around us, rather than the heart inside us.
And if we’re not living haphazardly, we’re living selfishly. We worry about our career, our house, our car, our appearance, and our own glory. We offer little concern toward the plight of others.
On one level, it is important to focus on our needs and work hard to meet them, but it is also life giving to give concern to the needs of the people around us. The size of our universe shrinks significantly when we place ourselves at the center. And most of us deep down understand that and desire to live for others.
When our passions and values are hijacked by the world, we begin to pursue the wrong things.
But as Albert Einstein is credited as saying, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”
There are invisible things in this universe that will bring far greater joy and satisfaction to our lives than what everyone is chasing.
Don’t Waste Your Life
Recently, I spoke to a room full of high school students. I was told by the organizers speak about “anything you think is important.” Given all the possible conversations someone could have with a roomful of high schoolers, that was quite a broad invitation.
In the end, I chose to speak a message that I titled, “Don’t Waste Your Life.”
This is a message important to all people and not to be wasted on only the young. But the younger we are, the harder it is to embrace the reality that life is finite and we only get one shot at it. However, the sooner we free up our lives to live the one we want, the longer we get to live it.
Among the advice I gave them, I offered this nugget of truth: “Don’t just drift through life. Live with intention and purpose.” This is a central decision to not waste our days. And even when we learn it once, we need to return to it daily. Living with intention and purpose is not always easy:
Living with intention requires us to examine ourselves and study who we are.
We need a strong handle on our passions, talents, abilities, weaknesses, and guiding worldview. This is an endeavor that requires time and energy, but it is one of the most valuable things we can do.
Living with intention requires us to realize that our lives are the sum of our choices.
Every morning is a new day full of decisions and opportunities, and we get to pick our attitude and our decisions. Sure, there are times when circumstances and expectations require us to follow through with commitment.
But we don’t have to let the circumstances of our past (or present) determine the pattern of our lives in the future. We always have a choice in the matter—even if our choice is to stay true to the trial we are currently facing.
To live an intentional life, we must evaluate the culture we are swimming in.
Life is not lived in a vacuum. It is lived surrounded by a culture that is moving somewhere, and the culture around us forms a swift downstream current. Living with intention will require us to take a step back and evaluate the flow of the stream to determine where it is headed, how it is affecting us, and if it is taking us in a direction we desire.
Minimalism: Pathway to Intentionality
Fourteen years ago, I was introduced to minimalism—a lifestyle of purposefully owning fewer possessions.
At the time, I was only looking for a little relief. I was weary of living paycheck to paycheck. I was tired of spending so much money on myself, knowing there were others in need. And I was upset over the time and energy being wasted on cleaning, organizing, repairing, and maintaining our stuff.
Our decision to intentionally live with fewer possessions was motivated by discontent. But regardless of our motivation, shortly after the decision was made, we found countless life benefits: freedom, productivity, rest, and a whole bunch more.
But the greatest benefit that we discovered was intentionality—and in places we never imagined.
Embracing minimalism brought a way to align my money, time, and energy with my greatest values.
Minimalism brought intentionality to my finances.
Owning less did not provide me with more money (except for the items we sold), but it did provide me with new opportunities for my money. Once the hold of consumerism on my checkbook was broken, I could use my money for more valuable purposes than the clearance rack at the local department store.
Minimalism brought intentionality to my habits.
Six months after discovering minimalism, I was faced with a pending birthday. After spending so many months removing clutter from my home and life, the last thing I wanted to receive was anything that could become clutter. Brainstorming nonphysical gift ideas, I took notice of a new fitness gym that had just opened down the street from my house. And for the first time I had space, the motivation, and the finances to get in shape and place a priority on the fitness of my body.
Minimalism brought intentionality to my diet.
The last thing you want to put in your body after working out is junky, processed food. So I started making healthier food choices: more fruit, more vegetables, less sugar. I began to form new friendships with other simple living advocates—many of whom modeled intentional diets.
Over the years, I have experimented with many of their ideas. Each time, I discovered new foods to eat and an increased understanding of the food I put in my body.
Minimalism brought intentionality to my faith.
Minimalism offered the opportunity to slow down. As I began to realize how much of my thinking had been hijacked by advertisements and a consumer-driven society, I was drawn to the practice of meditation and solitude. I was drawn to find new voices for guidance.
Being raised in a religious home, I was also drawn to find the voice of a higher power—one who knew more and could reorient my life around greater, more eternal pursuits. Minimalism isn’t necessarily a spiritual pursuit for everyone, but it became one to me.
Minimalism brought intentionality to my relationships.
Owning less opened the door for new relationships in my life. I was able to become more involved with my neighbors and community. I was more willing to have people in my home, as preparing for their arrival became easier. I spent less time shopping and cleaning and organizing and began to spend more time with the people who made life enjoyable.
My capacity for, and appreciation of, relationships began (and continues) to grow.
Minimalism brought intentionality to my work.
The longer I lived with fewer possessions, the more my view of money began to change. It became less important. My essential needs are met and I have enough left over to practice generosity—what else is needed?
As my view of money shifted, so did my motivation for work. Work became less about the paycheck and more about the value and contribution I could provide to people’s lives. It opened the door even wider for honesty, cooperation, people, passion, and joy at work.
Minimalism brought intentionality to my “heart pursuits.”
Living with less opened the opportunity for contentment, gratitude, and generosity to take deeper root in my heart. It forced me to redefine happiness. Happiness was no longer for sale at the department store.
Instead, I discovered it was a decision available to us all along. And once I stopped looking in the wrong places, I was able to find happiness in the right places.
Minimalism brought intentionality to my values and passions.
Minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of everything that distracts us from it. And while this looks different for each person, it always requires its pursuer to further define his or her passions—and discover intentionality because of it.
I entered into minimalism because of discontent in my life. But among its greatest gifts it brought intentionality. And I couldn’t be more thankful. Because if you only get one life to live, you might as well make it the best one possible.
After all, the greatest gift you can ever give yourself is to live a life fully aligned with your values.