A while ago I experienced a real shock. I heard from a mother of a lovely young woman I had spoken with on the phone nearly three years before about career coaching. I learned from her mother that this beautiful, vibrant young woman was gone. She had passed away in her home just one month after I spoke with her. And curiously, the young woman was from my hometown.
I was truly rocked by this news. I was so touched by the mother’s beautiful note to me (she hadn’t wanted to just “unsubscribe” her daughter from my newsletter, but wanted to explain, and share the sad news personally). I was deeply moved for many reasons, but one was because I have beloved children myself who are so precious to me, and I can only glimpse of the pain a parent feels at losing her dearest child so young.
And finally, I was rocked at the idea that this young woman’s life and my own had intersected only for a brief moment in time, and I wondered how she would have experienced and remembered our interaction. I prayed she would have thought of it as helpful and caring. I’d deeply regret it if not.
That got me thinking. We strive so hard to live good lives, to be “happy,” to find our way and to create success and joy and share it with others. But it’s occurred to me lately that we tend to over-complicate it.
A client of mine yesterday said “I really have no idea what makes me happy.” I pushed back and challenged that.
I believe we all do know what makes us happy. We have just stopped acknowledging it in our daily lives, and we fail to be fully present in the moments when happiness is within us. And we’ve stopped focusing on creating more joy, peace, and well-being. We’re focused intensively on achieving outer “impressive” things and vanity metrics instead.
Really, it’s very simple. Living well, with happiness and without regret, is about demonstrating in physical reality five essential traits that help us leave this world a better place than we found it.
If it were truly this simple — just five essential behaviors — would we all do a better job of living without regret, of embracing and sharing joy and love with others and feeling more connected to life every moment of our existence? I think so.
Below are the five traits I’ve found to be essential for regret-free, joyful living:
Kindness is the sweetness of life. It’s a gentle hand when we’re down, a non-judging, listening ear when we have a problem and an unselfish act that puts the best interests of others first. It’s giving without looking for “what’s in it for me?”
I, like you perhaps, interact with hundreds of people each month, and I endeavor to be kind to each one, but sometimes I fail. When I’m tired, over-worked, stressed, frustrated — you name it — my kindness wanes.
Truthfully speaking, I can often get grumpy and agitated when strangers desperately want and demand something from me. But I have found that I can overcome that agitation and I am more successful at that when I’m more “present” in my life. When I can step back from what’s at hand, take three deep breaths and remember what I’m doing here on this planet. When I connect to a higher dimension of myself that isn’t so worn down from the obligations in front of me, my access to kindness opens. Then, I’m able re-calibrate and re-energize and find my heart again. It’s not hard — it just takes commitment and practice.
Kindness heals sorrow, binds broken relationships and mends souls (our own and others’). So why then are we so unkind?
What takes you away for your kindness and what helps you restore it? Can you make a habit of rekindling your kindness each day?
To me, caring is about taking the time to give a hand to someone, to show that their issues and problems are important and their worldview matters. Caring means that you validate the individual before you and show that you understand who they are at their core and love and respect that essence.
The opposite of caring is the snarky back-stabbing, gossiping, hateful behavior we see around us every day — online and in person. Making someone wrong and judging them mercilessly is a hallmark of it. This lack of caring reveals that you’ve forgotten one core truth — that everyone is inextricably connected and each person is a facet of you. So if you’re hateful to another person, you’re hateful to yourself.
Are you as caring for those around you as you’d like to be? Are you caring to yourself in equal measure (that’s where most women fall down.) What holds you back from exhibiting more care and concern for yourself and for others?
Of all of these traits, I believe compassion is the most powerful to heal the world. Compassion represents the feeling of gentle, loving understanding — from the heart — of others, the emotion we feel in response to the suffering or experiences of others that inspires in us a desire to be helpful. We don’t have to have lived the life experience of another individual to have compassion for him/her. We just have to commit to understanding their worldview and acknowledging it even if it’s drastically different from our own.
Today, in our highly polarized times, we’re hating more and more, and understanding less. We’ve grown rageful at and disdainful of people who think differently, and we’ve barricaded ourselves off from those with different ideologies and from learning from people who think and act differently. This act of barricading is deeply corrosive to our world.
In my former work as a therapist and now as a coach, I’ve observed that those who were raised without compassion, without empathy — by parents who offered only conditional love and were narcissistic, cruel, distorted and unable to feel compassion — are those who suffer the severest forms of pain and isolation.
Is your compassion for others and the world somehow being strangled by your current struggles and your mindset? Can you find a new way to expand your compassion for yourself, and for others?
In working with women who want to move away from unhappy careers and become stronger leaders in both life and work, there is inevitably a sense that true meaning, purpose and passion in their lives is missing and they long for it deeply.
As Maria Nemeth shared in her powerful book The Energy of Money, “we are all happiest when we’re demonstrating in physical reality what we know to be true about ourselves, when we’re giving form to our Life Intentions in ways that help others.”
I know too many people who focus only of what they have in front of them (or what they think is missing) — either their struggles and strife or, on the flip side, their wealth, achievements and outer “things” (toys, cars, houses, bank accounts) they are amassing — with no regard of how they can be of help in the world in a bigger sense.
In the end, if you focus only on yourself and how impressive you can be to your circle of peers and colleagues, you’ll be wasting your talents and your abilities
and losing a precious opportunity to make a real difference in the world. The result will be that, at the end of your life, you will experience deep sadness and regret that you wasted your precious time, energy and your life trying so hard to stroke yourself and your ego.
Who around you is in need of a mentor, advocate or supportive friend whom you can help today?
5. Brave truthfulness
Finally, I’ve seen that people experience deep pain and suffering from the lies they’ve told — to themselves and to others. Lying reflects a deep-seated fear that we are not “enough” — not strong, smart, courageous, good or powerful enough — to deal with the real consequences of our actions and beliefs, so we lie.
But lying hurts. When you lie to yourself, you rob yourself of the chance to evaluate accurately and fully how best to move forward. And lying to others cripples their ability to make the right choices and decisions for themselves.
The bottom line is that lying stops you and others from growing, living and loving to the fullest.
The flip side is brave truthfulness — sharing the truth as you see it, saying what needs to be said, but doing so with love and compassion in your heart. And that does indeed set you free. Truthfulness allows you to be more accepting of yourself and lets others be more of themselves as well. And it guides you to live your life with more strength, authenticity and transparency.
Where are you being false, and what truth can you share today that will change everything for you?
These five traits can be viewed as agreements you make with yourself. If you commit to being more kind, caring, compassionate, helpful and bravely truthful each day, I guarantee, without reservation, that your personal and professional life will improve dramatically, and your regrets will begin to fade.
For more from Kathy Caprino, tune into her Finding Brave podcast, and join her in a coaching program to live and work happier. And check out her TEDx talk “Time to Brave Up.“