An over reliance on cold cognition & western rationalist thinking has failed us.

After watching Jane Mcgonical’s ted talk for the umpteenth time, I started doing some reflecting. In this talk, Jane speaks about what research shows to be the top 5 regrets of the dying. This research was done through interviewing hundreds & hundreds of hospice workers, patients & people closer to death. It turns out that the top 5 regrets of the dying are: 

  • I wish I had not worked so hard 
  • I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends
  • I wish I had let myself be happier
  • I wish I had the courage to express my true self
  • I wish I had lived a true life that is true to my dreams instead of what others expect of me. 

I’m sure none of these are surprising to any of us. These are things that we know and we ‘get’. Surprisingly though, this is not life as we live it. 

So in thinking around what makes a life well lived, surely it makes sense to structure how we live our lives so that we don’t have these regrets on our death beds? On the one hand I realise my naivety regarding this, on the other hand why not? If we have been grappling with these questions for centuries on end (questions on what makes a life well lived) and continue to do so today, surely they must be important? The wise define a good life as one that is rich in relationships, in meaning, in fulfilment, passion and accomplishment. This is more than just about ‘happiness’ as we speak of it today. It’s more than just about that warm bath of affirmation, hope and joy that most of us feel when things are going well for us. Sometimes the most fulfilling experiences are intensely painful, those which break your heart, those which rile you up, shake you up and leave you a completely different person. A person of substance, a person changed.

The question of what gives life meaning is an age old one, tackled by psychologists, economists, philosophers, theologians and even scientists (I say ‘even scientists’ as if they are in a league of the own. This is because we live in a world which prefers things to be linear, things to have proof and things to follow the scientific method before they can be ‘real’…..alas, that is a post for another day). Somehow, years later we are still asking these questions. Perhaps an over reliance on cold cognition and western rationalist thinking has failed us, perhaps we keep asking the wrong questions. 

A confucian way of thinking suggests that one should live spontaneously in accordance with the natural order and rhythm of nature. A natural order where you’re focusing on the things which truly matter, that is to say things that ignite your human potential so that you can ignite other’s potential. That is to say, things that make you and humanity better; kinder, fitter, smarter, stronger, closer, wiser, tougher, humbler, truer and wealthier in terms of things that add up to a meaningfully well-lived life. This kind of naturalness does not fall off trees but is a hard earned one.  


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