Home » Life Lessons Learned » The Only Thing We Have To Do In Life

The Only Thing We Have To Do In Life

I had a teacher in middle school who used to say the only thing in life we have to do, is die.

As a kid, it’s unknowingly easier to understand this concept. Rather than do things because we feel we have to, for the most part we do them because we want to. We dream of becoming an astronaut, ballerina, or movie star, and unaware of the “realities” of life, believe that one day we will achieve these dreams.

As we get older however, we’re bombarded with distractions–from the media, our jobs, our teachers, even our families–that make us believe these dreams are made for someone else–that they’re too outrageous and unachievable for ourselves. And before we know it, we find ourselves swept up in the trivial things we do day to day. Waking up on time, getting to class or work, running errands, watching TV, making dinner. Suddenly, it’s easy to believe we have to do these things. But actually, we don’t.

No matter what we do in life, the end result is the same. We die. Death; it’s the great equalizer. The one thing we all have to do. Everything else simply fills the time.

Knowing that this life will end leads me to believe that the only thing we all want, while we have this time, is to be happy.

So we can choose to be happy one of two ways:

  1. By doing what we are told we should do.

OR

   2. By doing what we want to do (and sometimes these things align with what we’re told we should do-like getting a college degree or falling in love, for example).

Choosing option #1 can be easy, falling into the pre-determined track of life that has been laid out before us. Go to school, get a degree, find a job, get married, have kids, and one day retire to an over 55 living community in Florida. I’m sure there are people who do get fulfillment out of leading this type of life, but I know that there are others who do not. And since you’re still reading this I know I’m talkin’ to you!

That’s why we have choice #2. However, choice #2 requires some work. We must accept that we will die, and then strip away distractions to look within ourselves to see what we want out of life right now, regardless of what anyone else may say. It requires being honest with yourself to see what really lies within. I don’t think it’s easy. I think it takes dedication to yourself and the dreams you had as a little boy or girl. Once we acknowledge our mortality, it’s easier to go after the things we truly want in life.

Many of us have ironically read Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken” in our school years. Frost writes of “two roads diverged in a yellow wood” and the narrator must decide which path to take. Ultimately he chooses “the one less traveled”. I distinctly remember my teacher emphasizing how important it was to take this road “less traveled” in our lives and to not blindly follow others in their choices. We were encouraged to make our own decisions, even if they were less popular. I’m sure others who have studied this poem have been told something similar. Ironically however, as I’ve experienced myself, if we do take the road less traveled, or make a third road of our own-by taking time off of school, or not going to college at all, for example-it’s frowned upon. Frost ends his poem by writing that taking this road less traveled “has made all the difference”.

So here’s what I say; let us make a conscious effort every day to be the judge of what will make our lives fulfilling to ourselves. Let us judge our happiness by our own standards rather than others- a kind of “happy relativism”. Let us not allow others to define what will make our lives meaningful. I think it’s something we must work on every day, but eventually it can become a lifestyle. And let’s see just the difference it can make.

yellow wood2

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289 thoughts on “The Only Thing We Have To Do In Life

  1. I think people get too wrapped up in the notion of dying and forgetting that they need to live. Humans have this wonderful ability to keep what they have rather than risk having something better. These days, in the Western world there is little risk. In other words, if you make an important decision, for most people if it back fires they can survive whether if its on welfare or off of family until you recover. This isnt the plains of Africa, where one mistake could leave you dead and eaten by a lion, we’ve moved on from there but that same fear is still ingrained in us, we need to move past that.

    You are right, number 2 does require work and to build the life you want, you need to take the time out to reach those goals. The world is neutral, it gives us what we need to survive for a period of time and that is it. We need to use that time and not worry about consequences because there probably are none which are that bad anymore. People do not realise that being happy and doing what you want can become the easiest thing in the world, it can take a matter of months to have the abililty to create self perpetuating happiness. I am not afraid of dying anymore, its a just a fact of life.

    • Hi Ashley! You are so brave. Even though I have written this piece and it may seem like I have accepted my death, it is something that scares me every day. I hope one day to be like you. I also think you are totally right in saying that there is little risk in reaching for your dreams (at least in modernized countries) because there is a safety net for us. Thank you so much for sharing your ideas with me and of course for reading! Have a lovely day :)

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  3. Great post and reminder. I think it’s hard, at times, for people to think boldly about their lives until they have, in some aspect, personally dealt with mortality. Losing both my parents has taught me to not take any day, or what may seem like an insignificant moment, for granted. I also try not to think about waiting for the perfect conditions to take risks. I just found out a friend/colleague of mine received word from his doctor that they found a big aneurysm in his brain, he’s 34. Another reminder to love, laugh and live life, on your terms.

    • I am very sorry for the loss of both your parents and the news about your friend. I lost my father when I was 17 and I think that is a big reason why I have come to have this perspective about life. I am still working on it but I am trying to live in the moment each day because nothing is guaranteed. Thank you so much for reading my post and commenting! Have a great day :)

  4. This is unbelievably true. I feel this way every day. I fear that I’m going the more well-traveled route, but I constantly am trying to make my own decisions away from what other people tell me. Other people can be such party poopers. Haha. Fantastic post.

  5. I don’t know if my first comment came through, but I just want to say that I completely agree with this. It is such a challenge but it is my biggest fear in life. People can be so discouraging, and I wish I could be stronger. But you have to do what you want to do.

    • Hi Tatiana! Your first comment came through :) It is hard to have the courage to make your own path and it something I have to work on every day but I think it is so rewarding. Once you experience happiness from forging your own path I think you will be surprised that your fear to be different will disappear and other people’s opinions won’t matter so much because your opinion of yourself will be the most important. Thank you so much for reading and commenting!

  6. I have heard it asked, though I cannot remember where (and Google apparently does not know either), “Is it that the routine kills our creativity, or is it that we lose our creativity and fall into the routine?” Anywho, I thought it was a fitting quotation for your post. Bravo!

      • Ha, that’s a great question! I think for me it has been more of the former. More specifically, it has been my seeking the routine for the sake of eliminating anxiety that has been detrimental to my creativity. I recently published a short story collection on Kindle, and I can tell you that, to get through the final push, I had to take a lot of time off work to pull myself out of the routine and regain that burst of creativity.

      • I completely can relate to you! I had been suffering from anxiety for a long time (and still work on it) and had come into a routine that just helped me feel safe. Now as I work through my anxiety, I feel more creative and more alive. That is awesome that you published a short story collection! What is it called?

      • That’s great! We are both working to a better tomorrow :)

        It’s called “Stories of Who We Are and How We Eat.” It’s actually free today. You should run go get yourself a copy so you don’t actually have to pay me :)

        Out of curiosity, what have you found that works best for your anxiety? For me, it has been writing. It lets me crawl out of myself for a little while.

      • We definitely are! Is the collection only available on the Kindle? And for me, I agree with you that writing has helped my anxiety tremendously. When I don’t write for a period of time (which I rarely do), or if my writing isn’t self-reflective is when I feel anxiety tend to build up. I also try and self-dialogue if I feel anxious and try and find the cause of my anxiety. And if I can’t find a cause myself, I will usually call up a friend and just talk to them to help work through it. It’s really all in the same idea of self-reflection :)

      • It’s great that you have found so many ways to handle the darker days!

        It is only available on Kindle, but, even if you do not have one, I think you can download it and keep it on your computer to read. Being a short story collection, I did not even try to get it published conventionally. Publishers don’t actually care if a book is good or not, it just has to be marketable and short stories are not “hot” right now, so to speak. I hope to get a decent following with it and maybe try and conventionally publish my first novel, which is written, but in serious need of revisions :)

      • Awesome! I am going to check it out now! I don’t have a Kindle, so I’ll let you know if I am able to download it onto my computer. That is AMAZING that you’ve written your first novel! I really would like to write a book one day, but more of a memoir than a novel, and think that’s so cool that you are well on your way to reaching your dream :)

      • Hmmm for some reason, I can’t download it on my computer :( I will ask my roommate for help today to see if she can get it to download on my computer; I’m not the tech savvy one!

      • Hey there! Haha, no worries….I’m not very tech savvy myself (don’t even own a television), but I helped someone else with this recently, so let me see how well I can do this…

        So on the right side of the screen from the cover there is a link that says “Available on your PC.” If you click it, you will be directed to a page where you can download the Kindle App on your PC, which is free. Once you set it up with your username and password, you can then buy it, and it will deliver it to your Kindle Viewer.

        Let me know if that works, and thank you for showing so much interest! I really hope you enjoy it! :)

      • Ha, we have now exited my area of expertise :)

        I feel confident, though, that Amazon, a multinational corporation, would have a Kindle for Macs.

        (Watch, after I say something so confidently, it will turn out to be wrong) :)

        Hope your day is going well!

      • Hey there! I was just curious if you ever got the Kindle App for your computer. Admittedly, I’m anxious to hear what you think of my work.

        And I hope you don’t think I’m just trying to “plug” my work here. I sincerely wish to share my art with you. But if I’m coming off as a door-to-door salesman, please let me know. My dad was a salesman, and trying not to act like him seems to be, at times, a rather respectable aspiration :)

      • Haha! No, it’s totally fine! For some reason I’m having trouble still! I thought it had downloaded onto my computer but then when I went to download it on my computer it still didn’t work. But I didn’t forget, I’m going to try and figure it out tonight! (Classes eat up my days haha!) :)

      • Oh yes, I remember not too long ago when classes used to eat up my days as well. Now it’s work . . . or, I guess, strictly speaking it would be “pretending to work while I read novels and short stories I find on the internet for free” :)

        Anywho, can’t wait to hear what you think!

  7. Getting Things Done: it’s about managing actions. Once I got to mind-like-water – actions in front and folders in back – the last thing I wanted to do was action. I had had enough of it, fitting them into the system. And I trusted it, because now I was content. That whimpering neglect in the corner of a cleaned psyche crept up after lunch on a Wednesday and asked, “Do you know what you ought to be doing?” And I replied, “Not today. I have not energy to do anything today. I shall simply sit.” And that amid the regular cycle of clinical ambition, when projects become vessels to fit our perfect progress: here is how I shall define its success, and it will be grand. But first, but first, but first -

      • Just the idea that we can’t wait for the perfect circumstances to tackle our goals, but to seize the moment. Not to come up with artificial prerequisites like “come home on time” before exercising, or putting things off till tomorrow. Another component of GTD is the weekly review, where the birds-eye perspective can help put everything in context. Maybe that’s what makes it easier to procrastinate despite the organization: knowing what and why we’re doing what we’ve listed to do. Where we would like to be in a month or six, a year and in ten.

      • I definitely agree that we shouldn’t wait for the perfect moment to do things. Instead, we should make the perfect moment. My most recent quote that I posted says exactly that. Thank you so much for reading and commenting!

    • I had a friend tell me that we are all lost. I think she’s right. We’re all trying to find our way. It’s just that we have to accept that we’re lost and then we can enjoy the journey of finding on our own way. Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

    • I am glad that my words have helped you :) I feel as though I’m just the vessel to bring the story to others. Thank you so much for reading and commenting! Kisses from America :)

  8. Wow, I love your idea about making happiness a lifestyle. I agree that the only thing we really have to do in life is to make it a fulfilling and happy experience for ourselves. I think a lot of people need to realize that they are the ones that control their own happiness. They get to choose how meaningful their lives will be, and to make this your goal everyday is a wonderful idea! Thank you for sharing!

  9. Reblogged this on starmerallen and commented:
    I am glad that people have this opinion. Hopefully by spreading this people will begin to see that the only thing youll have when your dying is your memories! So make em worth remembering!!

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  11. I love this post! I am trying to do exactly this by being different and not doing what society, or anybody for that matter expects me to do. I want to do what makes me happy, even if it means that life isn’t so easy for a while or even if I struggle. I want to take the road less traveled but I also want to take the road that isn’t easy.This just reinforces the point. Thanks so much for your words

    • I am so happy to hear that you are doing what makes you happy, even if it may be more difficult. I feel similarly to you in that I tend to take the road that isn’t easy. But that’s what I like; it makes the journey that much more worth while. Thanks so much for reading and commenting! Have a great day :)

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  13. This is the second time I’m reading this. And yet, it still sounds great… I will definitely read it again, some day. When life gets hard and confusing… just like today.

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  15. Hey Abbey! Saw this on my feed and thought I’d check it out. I enjoyed your post. It’s funny to me that I am reading this now, as I was thinking about this same topic myself just this morning. Stressed out about the school work coming up this week, I jokingly thought, “what’s the point? I’m just going to die anyway.” Sounds like I’m on track one, but hopefully someday it’ll bring me closer to track two. Hope you’re doing well and keep up the good work!! :)

    • Hey Jinny! I’m so glad that you took the time to read my post! It’s funny how you come across certain things right when you need them. It seems that was the case with you reading my piece. School can definitely keep us stuck on track one but I think it’s possible to make it part of track two. It’s all about how you think about it. Instead of treating school like something to finish just to get to the next step, try and stay in the moment and treat it as just one adventure out of many in your life. Easier said than done, I know. I try every day to change my perspective on school. It’s a work in progress! I’m so happy to hear from you and I hope you’re doing well too! What are you majoring in? :)

      • Thanks for the advice. :) I’m majoring in Health and Humanity, with an emphasize on Pre-med. We’ll see how that goes. What about you? Are you still pursuing music? Just read “What you left behind” and loved it.

      • That sounds like such an interesting major! And Pre-med sounds awesome! Good for you! I’m so happy you enjoyed “What You Left Behind” :) I actually was going for music until this semester when I switched everything up. Now I’m a Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies major with a minor in Creative Writing and possibly (I’m still thinking about it) Film and Video Studies.

  16. Pingback: What Do You Want To Do Before You Die? | This Is Life.

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