As someone on an endless quest to refine my identity and define my purpose, I often try to summarize my findings to-date into a catchy motto or creed by which I should live, some sort of shorthand standard or “rule of thumb” (for those not afraid of useful cliches of patriarchal origin). I need a slogan. A cheer. A cheat sheet.
Or how about this: an algorithm.
An algorithm is a set of instructions for accomplishing a certain task, ideally with the fewest possible steps necessary to complete the task satisfactorily. Or it can be a set of rules, preferably the fewest rules necessary to govern the situation and handle all possible or likely inputs and outcomes.
Here’s my algorithm for living a happy life, a life that I love:
Spend as much time as possible doing what you love with whom you love.
How did I come up with this? I sat down this evening and thought about whether I love my life. The answer: sometimes. The follow-up: when? When I’m doing the things that I love to do. Or when I’m with the people I love.
Synthesis: chocolate and peanut butter, dude. Why not both?
I love my life when I’m spending time doing what I love to do: writing, cooking, entertaining, performing. I also love my life when I’m spending time with people I love to spend time with: my wife, my children, my friends.
It stands to reason that I love my life the most when I’m doing what I love WITH the people I love. Conversely, I love my life least when I’m spending time doing things I don’t love with people I don’t like or just don’t know very well.
This conclusion has two key lessons for me.
First, I need to maximize my time in that “loved things and people” quadrant. Whatever I can do to get there as often as possible and stay there as long as possible is a good move.
Second, if I find myself in the opposite quadrant — the sad little quadrant of “unloved things and people” I can improve my situation in one of two ways: either substitute loved activity for unloved activity — for example, by volunteering to write the executive summary for a project instead of handling an account reconciliation — or start loving the people I’m with — for example, taking the time to get to know my co-worker, seeing what hobbies or interests we have in common.
By the disjointed narrative above, you can tell I’ve got to do some more thinking about this idea, this new motto of mine: Spend as much time as possible doing what you love with whom you love. In the meantime, I challenge you to answer this call to action:
List three activities that you love and three people that you love. Then make some time this week to do at least one thing on the first list with at least one person on the second list.
Extra credit: come up with your own motto, your own one-sentence algorithm for living a life you love. I’d love to hear it.