A few thoughts on how to waste your life:
- Forget that family and friends come first. Don't neglect yourself, or sacrifice everything about yourself trying to always please others. But likewise don't forget that we matter very little without those around us.
- Create a routine like "wake up, go to work, come home," and never vary a thing. Yes, we all have to work. Yes, we all have routines like cleaning the house and taking the kids to school. But find some way of doing something new every day. You won't remember the routine when you 80. You will remember the new things you did.
- Read the newspaper every day and scream about politics. Listen to talk radio or cable news and scream about politics. Read political blogs and write snarky ALL CAP comments screaming about politics. It is human nature to want to keep up on the latest news, just as we all love to share in neighborhood or work gossip. It's part of what makes us human. But if you are spending hours each day doing any of this, you're wasting your life. Try cutting your news intake back to once a week. 99.9% of what we call news is unimportant. I promise if something important happens, you'll hear about it.
- Lose your temper over minor things in life. Yes, life is full of irritations, many of which are highlighted day after day in the news. We all have things we'd like to change about the world. But change doesn't happen by screaming and jumping around in response to the world's outrages. Change happens on an individual level in one-on-one interactions with people. Live the life you'd like to see in the world, and the world is one step closer to being your ideal.
- Watch TV or play video games instead of taking the kids, your family, or your friends to the park, camping, walking, or some place where you can sit and talk. Amazing how I don't remember many details about all the video games and TV I did as a kid, but I remember the trips and fun stuff our family did. And don't mistake spending money with doing stuff. Life's best memories are free.
- Obsess on anything. There is a difference to being dedicated to something, like fiction writing, and obsessing on it. I've never heard anyone say "Gee, I'm glad I obsessed on ____."
- Believe you can be more productive through lack of sleep, neglecting your family for work, excessive cell phone use, spending all day on Twitter, or any other of today's modern addictions. Things which most people believe make them more productive actually have the opposite effect. For example, if you are talking with someone, don't stop the conversation to answer your cell phone. As Tolstoy pointed out in The Three Questions, the most important person is the one you're with and the most important time is now. Nothing can make you more productive than that.
- Don't understand why you do what you do. Self awareness is the key to understanding life. If you don't understand your everyday reactions--why did that person make you angry; why did you yell at the kids--then you can't understand life's bigger mysteries.
- Mistake material goods for self-fullfillment. This should be obvious, but isn't.
- Don't be a part of something larger than yourself. It goes without saying that we're all better people when we take part in something greater than our own selfish day-to-day needs.
- Don't set a goal and work your way toward it. If you want to write a novel, write a little bit each day. Even if your goal changes halfway there, you will accomplish more having a destination in mind than never knowing what your goals in life are.
Now, I'm sure someone will point out that there are many cliches in this list, and that much of what I've written is self-obvious. That far better people than myself have said all of this before. This is all true. But for people like me, who struggle over not losing our temper over some irritating item in the news, these are the points of life which we must remind ourselves of over and over.
This mystical, self-awareness post is now over. Please return to your regularly scheduled lives.