Don’t Just Live Longer, Live Wider and Deeper

Flaming Birthday CakeMost of us want to live longer (as long as we have our marbles intact), and we talk a lot about how to blow more and more candles out on our birthday cakes. We’ve even talked together here about how to live to 100 — and some of us are actually thinking about adopting the “80% rule” someday (you know, the live-to-100-tip to stop eating your meal at — brace yourself — 80% fullness?).

We do like the idea of living longer (especially if experts tell us we get to drink a glass of wine every day, which offsets the disappointment of not finishing 100% of the nachos).

You know what sometimes gets overshadowed in our attempts to live forever? The quality of our lives.

If you’re remotely interested in living a life worth living (whatever that means to you), and I think you are or you’d have stopped reading by now, let’s have the Quantity vs. Quality Discussion. Gather ‘round.

There are two crucial aspects to consider if you want to Live Like You Mean It:

1. WIDENING YOUR LIFE (not in the hips, don’t worry). You make your life wider when you stuff it with vitality and zest — expanding the breadth of the fun, the pleasure, all the experiences that life has to offer.
Think of this on a horizontal scale that ranges from being in a Netflix coma on one end (bored, listless, and eerily zombie-like), all the way over to winning the “A+ Participant in Life” ribbon on the other end (exuberant, playing full-out, sampling the full buffet of life’s pleasures, every-day-is-a-carnival!).

Where would you plot yourself on the vitality spectrum right now in your life?

You make your life deeper when you infuse it with meaning — a heavy hitter in the world of well-being — involving connections to others, doing what you do best, getting in touch with something bigger than yourself, belonging, helping, giving. All great things.
Think of this on a vertical scale that ranges from feeling meaningless on the bottom end (empty, pointless, and hollow), all the way up to feeling meaning-full (oozing with purpose, direction, and a sense that you’re here on earth to do more than generate greenhouse gases).

Deepening Your Life With Meaning 

Where would you plot yourself on the meaning spectrum right now in your life?

Marrying these two axes together…

Something fantastical happens when you jam an x and y axis together: quadrants are born!

Through my research I developed this “Astonishingly Alive” framework that illustrates the relationship between the width and depth of our lives:

The Astonishingly Alive Zones

  • VITALLY EMPTY: So much pleasure going on (orgies of pleasurable excess! All the toppings and trimmings and tasting menus that life has to offer!)… but empty inside.
  • MEANINGFULLY BORED: So much rich and meaningful purpose… but woefully short on joie de vivre.
  • THE DEAD ZONE: There’s a pulse… but it’s faint. Life’s feeling dull and pointless and in need of some serious jumper cables.
  • ASTONISHINGLY ALIVE: Life’s getting lived around here… with width and depth! You’re feeling the “rapture of being alive” (as Joseph Campbell fabulously said), and you’re feeling fulfilled + significant.

What to do now, to really live before you die?

Step 1: Diagnose the dead zones.
One of the fastest ways I’ve found to spruce your life up is to clearly identify where things are feeling flatlined. Take Astonishingly Alive Assessment from FTM to determine where your life is lively vs. coma-laden, and meaningful vs. mired in the doldrums of emptiness.
Oh! And if you haven’t completed it yet, this “How Alive (or Dead) Are You Quiz” will shed bright light on your zone-of-the-moment. You’ll automatically get my Guide to Being Totally Alive after completing it, and that alone will elevate your life 😊.

Step 2: Pick & stick.
Identify ONE THING to zero in on between now and the end of the month, in an effort to look alive out there. Your temptation might be to pick seven things, and while I identify with you and your desire to overachieve — you eager beaver you — it’ll be more sustainable if you pick one thing and actually stick to it.

Maybe you’ve identified that you need to Go for Gusto? A few ideas to widen your life with vitality:

  • Reflect back on the times you felt more vitally alive: what were you doing then? What activities might you want to pick back up?
  • Give yourself permission to get curious about new things. Explore what interests you, even if it feels awkward — like taking a cooking class, reading a new genre of book, learning conversational French… anything new and out of your comfort zone.
  • Keep a month-long journal of new things you have tried, to help hold yourself accountable to at least one new thing a week. The more willing we are to adopt a curious, novelty-seeking mindset, the likelier we are to flourish and thrive.
  • Re-try something you used to like as a kid, like skateboarding, shoplifting, or playing guitar.
  • Barrage yourself over the next few weeks with the following positive emotions (one week per emotion): joy, gratitude, serenity, hope, interest, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe, and love. Vitality can be derived from the pleasure of these emotions.
  • Make a list of things that make you happy (big and small), and commit to doing at least one thing on your list each week (like calling a distant friend or eating fudge).
  • Identify at least one thing you are positively anticipating, and keep it top of mind.
  • List ten habits you abide by as though in autopilot, and systematically blow up the habit for at least one day (e.g.: eat a different breakfast than your usual bowl of Cheerios, walk a different route than usual, eat dinner in bed, etc…).

Feeling a little empty and lacking in purpose? A few ideas to deepen your life with meaning:

  • Reflect back on the times you felt like you had more meaning in your life. What was different then? What can you do now to re-activate some of that meaning?
  • Rate your current level of meaning/ purpose for waking up each day on a scale of 1-100. What would it take to notch it up just two points?
  • Think of someone you know who has a deeper life purpose. What do you notice about them? What can you emulate?
  • Assess whether you are being too hard on yourself for not having a “big enough” purpose. Are you actually doing meaningful things and just judging yourself?
  • Let’s pretend you passed away (R.I.P.). How do you want people to remember you? How can you tweak your life to lead to that kind of legacy?
  • How will you know when you’re feeling like your life has more meaning?
  • Ask a trusted family member or friend what kind of meaning they think you have in the world. Their answer might inspire you to double-down or make a shift.
  • Consider exploring your spiritual side, volunteering, helping more people in and out of work, offering random acts of kindness, donating $, consistently living up to your values, reading Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning… etc.

Let’s go for both quantity and quality in life, shall we? Let’s shoot for the ripe old age of 100, but not if we’re bored and empty when we get there. Only you know what it might take to feel like you’re living in the “Astonishingly Alive” zone… so how about committing to one small way to widen and/or deepen your existence? Let’s blow out lots and lots of candles, with lots of vitality and lots of meaning. That sounds like lots of life — the kind of life we definitely won’t bail on when we’re 80% full :).

Jodi Wellman

P.S.: Oh and just in case you missed it… I’d love you forever if you took 16 minutes out of your life to watch my TEDx talk!

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