How Can We Live a Good Life? By Making Each Day Count

In a recent interview on Tell Me More with Kelly Corrigan, surgeon Atul Gawande shared his thoughts on the importance of making each day count. (See https://www.pbs.org/video/dr-atul-gawande-lldnv2/)

Gawande is a practicing surgeon who has shown us some of the struggles in the medical community. He examines its limitations and failures, in both his own practices as well as others’, as life draws to a close. His book, Being Mortal, shows how the ultimate goal is not a good death, but a good life — all the way to the very end.

Sage advice that deserves repeating: Live a good life all the way to the very end. But how do we do that?

Gawande’s advice, greatly simplified, is to make each day count. That’s the goal of using this simple process and our remaining time, however long that may be.

Here’s how.

1. Identify what counts for you

Each of us has different values and beliefs. Are you consciously aware of yours? If so, great. Stop now and jot down a few ideas of your values. If you’re unsure or want to explore the topic, you can visit my website and access the Core Values Worksheet.

Some people have an idea of what’s essential in their lives. Many of my clients say some of their values have shifted over time. For some, it’s part of the aging process. I’m not suggesting people no longer feel honesty and integrity are important. Instead, they define those values differently.

You may have thought yourself honest but are afraid to discuss vulnerabilities. Expressing in that way might open a new aspect of honesty. So, step one is to explore your values.

2. Imagine your perfect day

Sit for a moment and quietly begin to imagine what your ideal day looks like. How would you describe a day that ends with you affirming, “Now today counted”? Make some notes as you experience that good feeling. What were two or three activities or actions you took that contributed to its great outcome? What did you feel as you moved through your day? Was there anything exceptional about the day? What made it feel different? You might include things you’ve never done but have wanted to. Or it may be taking a different look at things you’ve done regularly.

3. Figure out ways to make future days make you feel good

Once you have some ideas of what “a day that counts” looks like to you, brainstorm with yourself, or gather a few friends with similar thoughts and beliefs, to come up with ways to make future days count. If your ideal day included walks in nature, but you rarely do that now, think of ways to incorporate that into your days. Perhaps you want to be more social or to feel more gratitude. Think of ways to make that happen.

4. Set ONE intention for how you want to be in the future

Pick one action or way of being that will result in most days counting. Part of the message of Being Mortal is to live until we die. So, the invitation here is not to give up or give in to age by following traditional definitions of retirement or end of life. You can live “all in” at any age once you know what a fulfilled life looks like for you.

There are stories every day of people living with extreme situations who flourish despite their circumstances. Why not say, “If they can do it, so can I?”

These four steps will help you live a good life until you die. Isn’t that the goal for most of us? It’s time to celebrate life and our age, with NO regrets.

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