What is "living life to the fullest"?
May 23, 2008 11:12 AM   Subscribe

What is "living life to the fullest"? How to do it?

Sometimes I get bored by my life. I am not in the habit of doing a lot of activities outside the home (partly because of a limited budget). Also, it's easy to get stuck in a routine and get too busy with life's responsibilities. I am always thinking about future goals and often forget to enjoy the moment. This seems to be in large part a symptom of modern life. Sometimes, too, I feel pressured to make the "responsible" choice rather than the enjoyable one. For example, I probably could do a more traveling, but that would mean I might not get to save enough for retirement.

Recently I was wondering what I would do if I knew I only had one year left to live. The only thing I could really think of was traveling! Probably I would also watch less TV since I don't think it really enriches my life.

This is a two part question:

1. What is YOUR definition of living life to the fullest? What activities would you be sure to add to your life? What would you change?

2. How can someone get out of a routine/rut and discover new, fun and interesting things to do?
posted by mintchip to Grab Bag (18 answers total) 79 users marked this as a favorite
1. My definition of living life to the fullest is making sure I continue to learn things. Doesn't even have to be anything major - I'm not learning a language a week or anything like that, but stasis = death. Read a book by an author you've always been curious about. Listen to a band you've heard good things about. Go to the ballet. Whatever - just push your boundaries a bit.

2. Don't be afraid to dislike something you try. Most of the reason people tend not to try new things is because of the old "what if I don't like it?" fear. Well, so what if you don't? At least you tried it. If you want to discover new things to do, look in your local weekly paper or go to your local coffee shop to find readings, gallery openings, and other culture-type events.

Mostly, don't be content sitting still while life whizzes by you outside your window. Definitely watch less TV. None is a bit extreme, but do you really need to watch (insert vapid reality show here)? Does that really add to your life? Probably not. Go experience things. Have fun.
posted by pdb at 11:26 AM on May 23, 2008 [5 favorites]

1. My definition is being mindful of every moment and trying always to live in the present moment. Not that that always happens, but that's what I strive for. There is no time to "waste," I don't have enough of it as it is!

2. I like to make lists of things I like to do. It's pretty easy when I'm at work to make a list of all the things I'd rather be doing. As far as new things? I love doing things I've never done before, and there are a lot of them 43things might be good for inspiration.
posted by fiercecupcake at 11:27 AM on May 23, 2008

One thing I think about is that, at least to me, the chance of me making it to a reasonable retirement and the chance that I'll either a) die in the meantime or b) we'll experience a total economic collapse that will render all 401ks, pensions, etc totally meaningless are about equal. I feel like the retirement/big house/kids thing is buying into someone else's value system.

I think living life to the fullest is different for everyone. I'm not sure it's an enviable goal, necessarily. A lot of people I see who appear to do this are super self absorbed people who thrive on impulse and kind of suck as friends. For me, I think living up to your own value system is what's important, and that's going to be unique to you.

Move to a different town. Get out of your car. Plant a garden. Read a lot.

Oh yeah, the biggest and most difficult one. Shut off the damn computer. Still working on that.
posted by sully75 at 11:28 AM on May 23, 2008 [3 favorites]

1. constant search for new things to try. (can be as simple as going into a sketchy looking restaurant you pass everyday but would never go to, stopping for a few minutes at a little park you notice but have never gone to and discovering whats there, or even playing basketball with a neighborhood kid)

2. its easy, see #1.... (ok for a better answer, just break from the norm. drive/walk/ride home a different way. drive someplace by making alternating left and right turns until you find something interesting or end up lost - all the better. think of a food you never had then seek it out... ethnic stuff is great: "i've never had Armenian blood sausage. I think i'll go to little Armenia and find a mom-n-pop diner and get some. maybe you find a cool new park, street, diner, friend, maybe you don't by as usual in life the "getting there" is usually as much a reward as the result)

PS forget enriching your life from watching tv and just enjoy it. watch it only for entertainment (Thats what it was expressly invented for, so i highly recommend family guy. 21 minutes on DVR, great for several laughs, move on.) which brings me to my last point. spend a few of your tight budget dollars on a DVR if you dont have one. the compulsion to watch so you don't miss something goes away and you reduce your time watching it to a quality few minutes and shows, no more browsing....

good luck, and honestly just take 4 deep breaths and relax. you really do have time to figure it out, just enjoy the process.

posted by chasles at 11:29 AM on May 23, 2008

Something I try to do (especially with SOs when things get stale) is to have the other person set up something to do. This works when someone knows you fairly well, and will have an idea of things you absolutely will NOT do, or are terrified of, but in this setup, you're not to have any input into where you are going, just when. I've been exposed to some pretty interesting things, that I thought I had no interest in using this method, and some crappy ones too... but usually we alternate week by week to get the other person exposed to my interests as well....

As far as living life to the fullest, simply being thankful for what you have works fairly well. If you're always wanting more things to do, things to see, and people to meet, you will never be fulfilled. Not saying you shouldn't explore and try/see new things, but don't make that the crux of your life, or you'll never be satisfied.
posted by Debaser626 at 11:36 AM on May 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Spend time with the people you love in your life. Once they're (or you're) gone, it will be too late. Don't shy away from telling them how much they mean to you.
posted by Flying Squirrel at 11:39 AM on May 23, 2008

There are a lot of "Lifestyle Design" bloggers writing about this. Some are really cheesy but others are very fun to check out from time to time. Like zenhabits and The Growing Life and Chris Guillebeau. You can get lost in reading all that regularly rather than trying their suggestions if you're not careful, though.

Simplifying and automating the boring maintenance stuff like bills and cooking and shopping is a good habit, and something I've started to do recently. Limiting late nights in the office - making a point of walking out at 5 at least a couple of days a week - is good too. Not going home after work (where there's always a risk I'll sit on my arse and not get up again) is another habit I'm implementing. Then with the free time I've made myself I go to free city events, use meetup.com to meet fellow expats, look through a little list I keep of "stuff I want to do some day" and try to work my way through it, go to sporting events, phone acquaintances and see what they're up to, etc. Most of this doesn't cost much at all. And I try not to turn down invitations and suggestions.
posted by jamesonandwater at 11:41 AM on May 23, 2008 [2 favorites]

Turn off the TV, turn off the computer. Fly jets now while you still can. Are you young? Do your travel now, there's not going to be any better time. After you leave work, force yourself not to go straight home. Go sit somewhere different for an hour. Once you get home you're not leaving. Talk to one stranger each day, even if you just say hi or comment on the weather. Join meetup.com and go to a meetup. Say yes to everything, even if it sounds dangerous.
posted by rhys at 11:41 AM on May 23, 2008

I read this quote not too long ago:

"Security is mostly a superstition...Life is either a daring adventure or nothing." Helen Keller

I think it's important to have some adventure in our lives. I'm not the type to jump out of an airplane or ski double black diamonds but I like to fly in an airplane to somewhere exciting and beautiful.

I think it's very important to be open to new experiences. If you have to go to lunch why not try something new? You could go somewhere in your city that you've never been, like a landmark or museum or theater house.

Living life to the fullest for me is having fulfilling relationships with people, appreciating beauty, and having plenty of fun. Sometimes I don't have enough fun and I only have myself to blame. There is plenty of fun to be had even if you only have five bucks in your pocket.

For the past four or five weekends I have been visiting a different state park or landmark. They're mostly free admission. I love to walk the trails, admire the nature that is around me and learn new things . It has been a lot of fun and is better than sitting at home or trolling the mall.

I wouldn't be too hard on yourself about the TV. Do you enjoy it? Do you laugh? If so, keep it.
posted by LoriFLA at 11:42 AM on May 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

1) My definition of living life to the fullest is to love life like I'm a little kid, and get as much joy as I can out of small moments. It's kind of like living with few expectations, but enjoying what is happening now. You don't have to be impulsive as Sully75 pointed out, but it's getting pleasure out of noticing the how cool the engines are on a big plane; going outside during a thunderstorm and enjoying the wind on your face; or noticing that all the bricks on a sidewalk are stamped with the names of different companies and thinking about that. It's running in for an awesome hug from someone you haven't seen all day.

2) Waking up early and eating a good breakfast.
posted by barchan at 11:45 AM on May 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

life to the fullest for me is making sure i enjoy every single day. enjoyment is very subjective, of course. for me it looks like: being with friends, thinking deeply (evaluating what i believe and why), taking some time to watch tv and enjoy a good beer, playing disc golf, etc.

there are so many things we cannot control, including life itself. the most important thing, i think, is to acknowledge that lack of control. removing the expectations from something, even something as broad as being alive, can really boost the satisfaction and enjoyment derived from that something. by being aware that i didn't die in an accident on my way home from work, i can enjoy just sitting and watching tv. likewise, being aware that i could die tomorrow helps me to acknowledge the importance of today.
posted by ncc1701d at 11:47 AM on May 23, 2008

1. Probably not exactly what you want to hear, but my definition of "living life to the fullest" is nauseating cliché. I think it's a phrase that has been overused to the point of meaninglessness, and further I think that if most people who claimed they "lived life to the fullest" actually did, they'd bankrupt themselves and wind up on the streets.

2. That said, I think chasles and Flying Squirrel in particular have good advice. For the latter's advice, I almost always find that my favorite times are spent with good friends, even though I'm an enormous introvert. Sure, I have to have quiet time and recharge afterwards, but even when we just sit around and shoot the shit, I'm happiest when I'm spending it with people I care about. And I think that's really important; you can do all kinds of exciting, enjoyable new things, but if you don't have someone to share them with, the experience will pale. Traveling, I've found, is definitely one of those things. So if you truly enjoy traveling (I'm honestly a homebody, and would much rather spend an evening in one friend's or another's house than sitting on a plane, being lost in a strange city, or not sleeping well on a hotel bed), travel with somebody. Or, at the very least, sign up for tour groups of some sort and make friends with someone new on your tour.

In regards to chasles's advice, trying new things is awesome, really. I love to try new beer and wine or new kinds of foods whenever I get a chance. But there's also something to be said for finding things you really enjoy and then enjoying the shit out of them, which is generally the way I roll when I'm flying solo. Of course, don't take them farther than necessary. Once you stop enjoying a recreational activity, there's not much point in continuing it.

In regards to TV, the DVR thing is a fantastic idea. Or sign up for a Netflix account and watch things you know you'll enjoy the season after, which is how I generally operate. Once you've heard from friends and critics what's actually really worth while to watch, you can avoid all the dross, as well as the random flipping through channels trying to kill time.

(Not to say other people's advice isn't good, but those two pieces I felt I could elaborate on from personal experience.)

One last thing; if you don't actively enjoy what you do for a living, at least the majority of the time, consider changing careers. It seems silly to spend most of your time on something that you don't enjoy.
posted by Caduceus at 12:14 PM on May 23, 2008

If we examine every stage of our lives, we find that from our first breath to our last we are under the constraint of circumstances. And yet we still possess the greatest of all freedoms, the power of developing our innermost selves in harmony with the moral order of the Universe, and so winning peace at heart whatever obstacles we meet. It is easy to say this and write this. But it always remains a task to which every day must be devoted. Every morning cries to us: Do what you ought and trust what may be. -- Goethe
posted by netbros at 12:21 PM on May 23, 2008 [4 favorites]

Sometimes I get bored by my life.

This is a universal experience. You have to change your routines, force yourself to do things differently, even slightly, every day. I would recommend reading David Foster Wallace's commencement speech at Kenyon College. He talks a lot about breaking out of your "default" setting:

"Here is just one example of the total wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe; the realist, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely think about this sort of natural, basic self-centeredness because it's so socially repulsive. But it's pretty much the same for all of us. It is our default setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth. Think about it: there is no experience you have had that you are not the absolute center of. The world as you experience it is there in front of YOU or behind YOU, to the left or right of YOU, on YOUR TV or YOUR monitor. And so on. Other people's thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real."
posted by mattbucher at 12:31 PM on May 23, 2008 [2 favorites]

Try to make something.

It doesn't have to be a sideline craft business or anything serious, and it doesn't even have to be some creation intended for anyone else; but so much of the modern life is about consuming stuff that others create -- watching someone else's movies, listening to someone else's music, drinking another person's beer, etc. On top of this, many of us are employed in jobs that only create some nebulous and intangible form of 'value'.

Why not take something that you enjoy and love and figure out how to do it yourself? Even if you're creative within your everyday job, learn to create something else. Sometimes that sideways step gives you another perspective on the creativity in your regular occupation; and if your standard job isn't necessarily creative, then encouraging yourself to make something would exercise possibly dormant bits of your brain. Plus, the effort of studying, refining and sharing our craft can make for brilliant methods for focusing one's idle time.
posted by bl1nk at 12:39 PM on May 23, 2008 [5 favorites]

Taking risks.
posted by bryanjbusch at 1:03 PM on May 23, 2008

Free will sans hesitation.
posted by semi at 6:05 PM on May 23, 2008

To me, it's just about enjoying whatever I can and whatever I have. If you can't do something because of financial issues, you can try to figure out a way to make it possible. If it turns out that it isn't possible, the important thing is to not dwell over how much you'd rather be doing that than what you can actually do.

I think as long as you make an effort to live without negative emotions to the best of your ability, you will have taken an important step. In other words, if much of your time is spent being angry, resentful, jealous, petty, depressed, paranoid, stressed, or full of worry or anxiety, that's time you're not really taking advantage of the joy life can bring. Those emotions are natural in a variety of circumstances one can find himself in, but I would venture the majority of people make those times worse than they have to be. If you can ever find the slightest reason to be happy, no matter how terrible the situation, embrace it. Whatever doesn't kill you really can make you stronger. In other words, even if something seems terrible, you'll survive anything but your own death. No point in spending that time feeling unhappy in some way, because it won't change anything except your quality of life.

Once you can do that, you'll probably find lots of small things to be happy about when you're already happy. As someone upthread said, it can be as simple as going outside during a thunderstorm and having fun. I agree with the idea of enjoying life as a child does. When you do that, minus the "childish" emotional immaturity that leads to a lot of negative emotions, life is really great. I've noticed that as a lot of people get older, they quit delighting in the same things that made them happy when they were children. They become over-concerned with "acting their age" so they don't do things that are essentially inconsequential but otherwise childlike.

Basically, I think it's possible to live life to the fullest without necessarily having shloads of new experiences. I would hate to think that "living life to the fullest" is closed off to people who are struggling to make ends meet and maintain some sort of security net. I think if there were some crazy disaster and I was locked in my apartment for the rest of my days, I would find a way to be happy still. It's free to enjoy the love you can give other people, for example. It helps, sometimes, to go into something you normally dislike and tell yourself you're going to enjoy it today. This even works for me when I do the dishes. Right now my parrot is crawling all over me for attention and sometimes, if I'm not thinking about it, it can be very irritating because I'm trying to type something. But when I'm thinking about it, I stop and tickle him and giggle with him and remind myself it's not the end of the world if it takes me a half hour to make a five minute post. Just changing your perspective can make a world of difference.

If that's all old news to you, you might just feel like you're stuck in a rut. Changing your perspective can still be helpful there. Sometimes when I feel like that, I just tell myself, "I'm going to read this book that's been sitting here and it's going to be AWESOME," or "I'll just sing some songs for a while and it'll be AWESOME," or, "I'll just play with my bird and it'll be AWESOME."

Which is not to undervalue new experiences. There are plenty of free ways to have new experiences if money is keeping you from the things you'd ideally do. And lets face it, money keeps the majority of people from doing the things they'd ideally like to do, so no point in obsessing. That's a surefire way not to enjoy life. If you like new ideas, the library is a good option. Meeting people is only as costly as you make it. And so on.

Go travel if you can find a way to afford it, by all means, but don't wait until that's possible to start living.
posted by Nattie at 6:34 PM on May 23, 2008 [5 favorites]

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