Sometimes at night when I can’t sleep, I start to think about life and death. What if I didn’t wake up the next day? Would I have made my mark on Earth? How would people remember me? Would I feel ready to go? These questions give me a sense of urgency, like I have so much more to do yet, so many places to see.
I don’t believe in life after death or Karmaesque second chances. Nor do I believe there is intrinsically any more value in having lived a life where you have an impact on millions of people as opposed to a life where your impact only extends to your immediate family and friends. It’s not about how big an impact you make. That is important only in the egotistical carve-my-likeness-in-stone kind of way.
These questions I have are mostly about whether I have used this chance to live to the best of my ability. I wouldn’t want to die mid-way. If I died now, it would be the same as if I was flying to Hawaii and was stopped at the Finnish Customs. I’m 37 but I feel like I have barely even started yet.
I’ve been meaning to make a bucket list for a long time. I made one when I turned 34. It was a long list of all kinds of cool things I might want to do before I turned forty. I used the Internet for some ideas, asking myself: “What experiences should a woman have had by the time she turns forty?” like life was some sort of checklist, or a test that I could fail. Like if I hadn’t traveled on all continents and climbed Mt. Everest, I couldn’t say that I had lived.
But life is not a checklist. Thinking about what I would do if I only had a few more days or weeks to live (as bucket list instructions ask you to do), I always come to the same conclusion. I would spend every moment of that time with the people I love, doing my best to show them how much I love them, cherishing their closeness and talking to them. That is what is truly important in my life, not mountain climbing or sightseeing. The impact I have on my children is the biggest impact I could wish to make in this world. Neglecting that in favor of money or near-death experiences would not only be immature but foolish.
Life is about priorities. Bucket lists are all very fine and well as a way of charting things that you enjoy and want to increase in your life, but they have precious little to do with true happiness. Checking off all the items can’t be a measure of success in life.
I’m still trying to learn that real happiness is first about having the right mindset and only secondly about where you are and who you’re with. Real success in life is about having (and using) your chance to help others. That’s where true success and happiness are found, not at the bottom of a bucket list.
Having said that, I have to add that I’m still planning on riding a horse in the Mongolian desert and surfing in Australia one day. It’s great to have so many interesting things to see and to do in this world, and I intend to use as many chances to enjoy those things as I can.
But for me, the best things in life are right here at home.