If you had to describe your life so far in five words, which words would you choose? Write them down and then read on.
Here are my five words: exciting, varied, happy, long, fortunate.
The last word, fortunate, makes me think of a beloved Aussie book: “A Fortunate Life,” in which Albert Facey described his life of incredible hardships, including his time fighting at Gallipoli. He rose up 11 different times from behind cover to attack the enemy, with his bayonet fixed. He suffered bad wounds but lived for decades, until he succumbed to the injuries. Two of his brothers did not survive the war. His life had many other hardships and losses, from birth on, but Albert took them in stride and considered himself fortunate. If his life was fortunate, mine has been a picnic. Like Albert, I have been fortunate to live in a free country, Australia, where the rule of law prevails and humans have rights and opportunities. I have been fortunate in health, although no one lives long without one health problem or another. The big mistakes I made have not killed me or ruined me.
I see my life as exciting and varied because I have done so many different things and taken up many challenges. I have practised law, worked as a psychotherapist, published scientific research, and traveled widely. By reading many books, I have lived hundreds of lives. One day I live the life of Albert Einstein; the next day I am Cyrano de Bergerac, with an shining sword and a clever tongue. The variety includes setbacks and tragedies. If nothing else, those provide learning opportunities and a valuable contrast to more ordinary or positive events.
Although I am not always happy, I enjoy my life enough to call it happy. Psychologists often study life satisfaction. Mine is usually high, in part because I perceive myself as being fortunate compared to many other individuals.
I have lived for several decades — a long time. If I reach the average for men in Australia, I will be happy. My goal is greater though: 90. If I reach 90, I will dance (if I am able).
I asked other individuals what five words they would choose to describe their life. Their answers are telling. Here are some of the terms they chose: an obstacle course — great prizes; excitement, fun, perseverance, success, progression; meaningless, tiring, ordinary, disappointing, bearable.
The responses of others suggest to me another question: Twenty years from now, what terms do I hope I will choose to describe my life up to that point? I hope for about the same five terms as now, perhaps including the word “productive.” How about you?