“As long as you have your health…” These words were often uttered by my grandmother and later as an aphorism from my mother every time I faced disappointment.
As a child who was healthy, these words offered little solace to whatever ailed me. Health? Everyone around me seemed healthy, most of the time. Why would that matter when issues of fear, loneliness, heartbreak, or ridicule loomed bigger than life?
Now, at 72, with all those years of experiences, readings, and self-reflections under my belt, health, in the scheme of things, really is important. Health is up there on the list of what many people of my vintage would argue, really matters. But is that what matters most?
Another consideration I gleaned has to do with relationships. As I read and reread endless profiles of women registered with online dating sites, a large majority firmly declare that strong relationships with family and friends are something of which they are most proud and something they seek in a potential mate. How can I disagree with the notion that positive relationships are what really matters. I’ve often remarked that even sunsets seem more beautiful when viewed with someone you love. And the last entry in Chris McCandless’ journal (Into the Wild) read: “Happiness is only real when shared.”
There are other really important things that I could list here that would answer this query about what is important. After all, isn’t life replete with complex shades of gray, varying in hue based on individual perceptions? Yet, pushed to hone it all down to one core belief, I would say that having a healthy and reflective relationship with myself is what really matters. If I truly know myself and am truthful with myself, when all else falls away, I remain grounded. That is to say, if I’m content with my own companionship I have a solid foundation from which to face all desirable and undesirable experiences. I can recover from the blinding joys or crippling tribulations that come my way and remain focused on living purposefully. My dependence is on myself.
We often add up what we’ve accomplished and accrued and use the total as evidence of having a life well lived. Perhaps those of us who do so should make a conscious effort to be certain that’s what really matters and to consider the words of Einstein who wrote, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”
Having written all of this after much thought and deliberate reflection I am clearer about what matters less and what matters more. Naturally, I don’t know what future challenges loom. But I do know that for the rest of my life I want to concentrate on living in alignment with how I want to be remembered and how I conduct myself on a daily basis.
Have you given thought to what really matters to you?
And, are you mindful to act accordingly?
Recipe for What Matters
I agree with everything Henry wrote…health, relationships, knowing yourself and being comfortable in that knowledge of course. But that seems like a baseline for what matters. There is a lot more…. and those things are like ingredients in a favorite recipe. They are what made me…. ME! A cup of memories that I shared with my brother growing up matters. Memories of my kids when they were little…all kinds of memories! They can’t be left out or substituted because then the final dish won’t taste like it’s supposed to.
Add a tablespoon of the touch of others. Caresses, massages, tickles, and pats matter. Also shaking hands with people you meet or hugs with friends matter. You can always tell when that ingredient is missing. Beauty matters! Mix in a cup of beauty- audio and visual, natural or manmade- a sunset, an autumn leaf, a beautiful painting, the sound of a babbling brook or a thunderstorm——a favorite tune that transports you back to your youth to a special person and a specific place, not to mention a teaspoon of the aroma of my dad’s tomato sauce or a crackling fire in the winter. And don’t forget to sprinkle in those deep belly laughs shared with people, the kind where you can’t catch your breath and fill your eyes with tears of happiness. Cook all these ingredients for a lifetime and it adds up to someone special—YOU! And that matters!
Too Big for My Brain
Well written, George! You make a good case to add a celebration of the senses to ‘What Matters’: straight-up epicurean. But isn’t ‘what matters’ simply what you decide should matter – a personal choice.
Some might say that what matters is what you lack/what you need. In certain circumstances, what matters most is living one more day, hanging on to your identity, or being self-sufficient. Remember Abraham Maslow’s need hierarchy: from safety concerns to self-actualization? Different areas of focus follow need fulfillment. Does ‘what matters’ change over time – or is it eternal? Maybe what matters is not even our choice after all. Isn’t this question the very essence of philosophy? This subject is too big for my brain – and this page!
However, at its heart, I’d argue that what really matters is the purpose you bring to life and the elegance with which that purpose is applied. I guess I’m adding a moral compass to Henry’s conclusion (‘know thyself and be comfortable’). After all, intention guides action. When your actions are consistent with your purpose, you have achieved that “impeccability of word” that we have discussed – or what Jordan Peterson describes as minding your patch. Okay, that’s good enough for me!
Be aware of your intentions. If you cannot express a purpose for your being in the world, embark on a journey to find one. Refine that statement of purpose as you learn more.