Why do most of us realize the importance of something when it is no longer there? We spend our lives planning for the future or regretting the past, when the one thing we plan around, i.e. time, has no guarantee.

Watching my patients die and saying good-bye is one of the hardest things for me. Some of them leave behind young families, ambitions, and what could have been great futures. Impending death makes people realize what they missed out on life. They often say, “I wish I worked less”, or “I wish I spent more time with my family.”

My patients’ experiences have made me reflect on my own life. What if I died tomorrow? What would I miss? I spend so much time planning for the future and stressing about the next exam, the next bill and the next appointment, which makes enjoying the current moment so challenging. Meditating early in the morning has helped me change my attitude towards life. It has helped me focus my thoughts and learn to live each day as it comes. I stress less and do more.

Learning to reflect on our own mortality is essential to living well now. One of the happiest people I’ve met was during a rural medicine trip to Peru. I was playing volleyball with a colleague when a 70 year old Peruvian woman asked if she could join us. She outplayed us all and was clearly very fit for her age. Her smile exuded that kind of happiness which was almost infectious. I asked about her secret. She said she didn’t take life too seriously and lived every day as her last. She taught me that happiness is a choice, and it begins when we learn to enjoy the present moment.

How do we learn to live well and enjoy the present moment, so before we die, we can truly be content with how we spent our lives? I asked my patients the same question, and here are a few tips they gave me.

  1. Find your purpose

You must find something that makes your life worthwhile. We are prone to anxiety, boredom and dissatisfaction without a purpose in life. Connecting with our deeper self and asking this question is essential to leading a happy life.

2. Make time for relationships

Relationships, love and support are key to happiness. No matter how busy we get, we must make time for those we love. Numerous studies have shown that nurturing positive relationships leads to happier lives. Despite our busy schedules, it is vital we make that short phone call, or send a daily text and schedule regular social gatherings to foster healthy relationships.

3. Laugh and enjoy the little things

As Robert Brault once said, “Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.” Enjoy the hugs, the smiles and the small gestures. Learn to take pleasure in walking and getting some fresh air. Enjoy a short break listening to your favorite music. Laugh at yourself and use humor as a coping mechanism.

4. Stop wasting time

I think we set ourselves up for disappointment if we count the number of hours spent scrolling on facebook, instagram, snapchat and other social media platforms. Instead of talking while at dinner, we are constantly checking our phones for new notifications. While technology has definitely helped us stay connected, misuse or overuse of it is draining us of real experiences that are yet to be lived. Developing habits to disengage with our phones, and spending our time wisely is necessary for truly enjoying the current moment.

5. Learn to forgive yourself

We cannot enjoy the present if we are constantly dwelling on the past. It is important to let go of our mistakes, learn from them, and be kind to ourselves. Moving forward in life and being happy requires us to let go of the past. Regrets don’t help us travel back in time, they only steal our current time.

6. Take care of yourself

Finally, developing a regular exercise schedule with yourself or a friend not only prevents diseases, but also keeps us happy. Making health a priority is no easy task, but with discipline, support and positive relationships, it can be implemented. A healthy diet is a well-balanced diet. Regular meditation and reflection can help achieve better mental health, and lead to a more meaningful life.

Let’s start living well today!

Originally published at medium.com