Have you ever wished you could send a letter to your younger self and share advice that would prevent you from making mistakes or help you find joy and peace?
Writing the letter is easy, but delivering it gets tricky. So John Izzo did the next best thing when he wrote The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die: he asked thousands of people to nominate “one person who had lived a long life and . . . had discovered purpose and happiness.” He then interviewed hundreds of these people aged 59+ and compiled the 5 ‘secrets’ they shared that were so common they were impossible to ignore.
Secret #1: Be True To Your Self
The first secret sounds suspiciously like the ‘follow your passion’ mantra that is all the rage at the moment, but who are we to argue against this cohort of wise, happy people who have been there, done that, and bought the t-shirt? Hindsight is 20-20, so let’s
avoid any more clichés like the plague give them a chance to convince us.
“When you follow your heart, it makes a world of difference. I saw again and again the consequences of being true to one’s self and the bitterness that can overtake us when we fail to do so.”
Izzo found that everyone’s path is different because everyone’s dreams and values are different, but that if we stay alert and off auto-pilot we’ll fare better. We should continually ask ourselves if our lives are headed in a direction we choose or if we’re floating on the cloud of someone else’s dream.
We don’t need to have life all figured out from day one, we just need to pay attention to what leaves us fulfilled and focus on finding more of it. Whether that’s sports, children, nature, teaching, music, art, or accounting doesn’t matter; what matters is that it makes you feel more like the real you.
Secret #2: Leave No Regrets
Is it better to take a chance, fail, and deal with the consequences or to choose the safe path and always wonder what might have happened? As painful as the consequences of failure can be, the overwhelming consensus of these interviewees was to take the leap and avoid a lifetime of wondering ‘What if?’
Choosing not to try guarantees you won’t succeed.
“Death is not what we fear the most…What we fear most is not having lived to the fullest extent possible, to come to the end of our life with our final words being ‘I wish I had.'”
I hope we all live long, healthy, happy lives, but life offers no guarantees. Don’t let meaningful opportunities pass you by.
Secret #3: Become Love
While we can’t make others love us (or even like us), we can love ourselves and choose to share that love with the world. Even our thoughts can grow into reality, so choose kindness and plant flowers rather than weeds.
“It is not just the receiving of love that matters . . . the secret to happiness and purpose is also to be a loving person.”
We also need to direct our love toward relationships where it can thrive. As one interviewee noted, “My BMW doesn’t come to visit me in the nursing home.”
I’ve had the pleasure of knowing several people who learned this lesson and mellowed as they aged. My grandfather was the epitome of love–he overflowed with smiles, hugs, and compliments for all of his grandkids, and our parents marveled that they could no longer recognize the strict father they knew when they were young.
It’s never too late to choose love.
Secret #4: Live The Moment
As we age, we’re confronted more often with reminders of our own mortality. Friends and family members die or suffer illnesses and injuries, and we realize that our days are numbered.
“We need to make sure that we are living our life rather than simply planning our life. If we are not careful, we find ourselves forever getting through things on our way to what we think will bring us happiness. We may find ourselves continually telling ourselves that we will be happy if or that we will be happy when. It is not that we should not plan or yearn for things we have not yet achieved or experienced, but rather that happiness is always found when we are able to live in the present moment.”
Instead of sadness, anticipating our eventual death can inspire gratitude and joy for each sunrise and sunset we are lucky enough to experience. It encourages us to remember that each moment is a gift to be savored and lived in full. Why not begin sooner while we have more days to appreciate?
Secret #5: Give More Than You Take
We’re all here on this planet together, and great joy comes from making the experience better for everyone.
“One of the reasons that giving more than we take is one of the secrets to happiness and purpose is because we have a great deal of control over what we give (but almost none over what we get).”
By choosing to live with kindness, love, peace, and generosity, we leave the world better than we found it. Sometimes it seems we’re fighting an uphill battle, but people do notice. Even if they never tell you explicitly, you’ve made a difference in their lives.
“There are ten-minute funerals and there are ten-hour funerals.”
Life isn’t about taking as much as we can. It’s about earning enough to live well, then helping the goodness multiply so that everyone benefits. Eventually we must stop thinking just of ourselves and start caring for future generations as well.
Will You Listen?
We don’t have letters from our future selves, but we do have Izzo’s book. Will we ignore it because we think we know better, or will we listen?
“Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you’d have preferred to talk.”
Learning from the experiences of others can make our own lives infinitely better. Thanks, Dr. Izzo, for these wise words.
Have you found these secrets to be true? What would you tell your younger self?
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