Socrates said, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” 2016 begins with national discussions about federal spending, taxes, unemployment, the economy, turmoil overseas, and tragedy at home―things over which most individual Americans have little or no control. But if we review our own lives carefully, much of what we find most personally significant is within our power to change for the better this New Year.
A palliative caregiver writing for AARP says her patients taught her five basic insights about living well. As they near death, she explains, people wish they had discerned their true calling and followed it, rather than other people’s desires and expectations. They wish they had simplified their lifestyle to spend more time with spouses and children and less on a work “treadmill” to pay for things they didn’t value in the end. They wish they had summoned the courage to express difficult emotions, to grow through resolving difficulties, and to become less mediocre. They wish they had stayed close to friends because “[i]t all comes down to love and relationships in the end.” Finally, they wish they had broken stale habits that curtailed personal growth and stifled laughter and joy.
An examined life is indeed worth the effort and is possible regardless of circumstances beyond our control. If we reflect deeply on our values, choices, and who we are called to be, we can live with purpose, integrity, and authenticity, regardless of the myriad problems in the world that cause us worry or sorrow.
Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland program at Cascade Policy Institute.