Wednesday, January 9, 2013

More thoughts on a meaningful life

One of the other big thoughts that stuck with me from Rabbi Kushner's book was this quote from the Talmud: In the world to come, each of us will be called to account for all the good things God put on earth which we refused to enjoy.

The quote provides an interesting perspective: instead of looking at choices in terms of morality, the quote invites you to look at choices in terms of meaning.

I consider myself (and the majority of people) a moral person. I'm not going to, for example, have to seriously think about whether I would rather go to work or sit in a dark alley shooting up heroin.

So the idea that, at the end of my life, Saint Peter and I will go over an audit of my moral failings doesn't really give me a direction to live. Yes, I come across moral crossroads from time to time (ie do I give change to this "homeless" person? Is the person really homeless?), but, in terms of life satisfaction, I need a different guidepost.

I find that this quote from the Talmud gives me a better direction in terms of day-to-day choices. (It also plays well into Catholic and Jewish guilt, as having to witness all of the times where I could have been happy and chose unhappiness would be depressing, especially if it also involved hurting other people)

For example, in my working life, I've given up vacation time in exchange for money. I've been on vacation and felt compelled to check in with the office.

That type of situation is the one where the Talmud, to me, gives perspective. What enjoyable things am I giving up today in exchange for things that may or may not give me pleasure in the future?

At my job where I was paid for unused vacation time, out of about two weeks of vacation, I would use a few days, and get an extra paycheck for the year in exchange for my unused time. The extra money did serve my need for financial security and provided some buffering for my emergency fund. also burnt me out on my job a lot faster than if I had taken the vacation time and spent it recharging.

The Talmud quote keeps me more "in the moment." I am a goal-oriented person, and I try to make decisions that set me up for future success. Sometimes "future success" can be nebulous. If I don't have a clear vision of where I'm going, then why sacrifice current happiness to get to that unknown destination?

Because of my need for security, I need to have hard answers to the following areas of my life:
1) Where do I want to go with my career?
2) What are my health/fitness goals?
3) How much of an emergency fund is enough?
4) What do I need to save for retirement?

(Full disclosure, I don't have hard answers to all of these questions, but I'm working on them!)

With those questions answered, I have the perspective to see the good things put on this earth for me to enjoy, like my family and friends. (OK, at this point, I guess I also have to disclose that my interpretation may not be the Rabbinical interpretation of the Talmud quote. However, as I've stated before, I'm very Type A, and I have difficulty just letting life happen to me. More on this in a future post.)

One of my friends put it best during a breakfast conversation, "I'll never look back on my life and regret the time that I spent with my family. I'll never say, 'I wish I did X rather than spend time with my kids.'"

Today I am grateful for the time yesterday that I spent making empanadas. One of my goals is to get better at cutting foods uniformly (onions, vegetables for cooking), and my onions were pretty awesome in this recipe. I also think I perfected the technique for prepping the filling, the shell and and the frying to minimize the stress of the entire preparation process.

I am also grateful that I have FINALLY (FINALLY!) started working through the large collection of scented candles that I have. My goal, at some point, is to have 1 large candle and 1 box of tea lights. I'm not there yet, but I'm 1 box of tea lights and 1 large candle down!

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