The Most Important Things in Life
The pandemic has encouraged many people to take a good, long, look at their lives and think about the most important things in life. Who am I? What am I doing here? What am I supposed to accomplish? What’s important and what’s important to me are all questions many are pondering now that they have more time to be alone and reflect.
Not long ago I was asked just that question: “What do you think are the most important things in life?” This set me off on some serious pondering. What’s most important to me may not be the most important to you or anyone else. Each of us is unique and we come to older age from different backgrounds, places, experiences, and education.
I have had a long and full life. In my 84 years (no, that’s not a typo) I was in nursing, administration, a Congressman’s wife, the mother of two boys, a businesswoman, a state government employee, a hypnotherapist, a blogger—and more. What did I learn; what was important, and what made me happy? As I look back I see that my list was not static, but a dynamic, ever-changing list corresponding to my life situation at the time.
Let’s begin by looking at what others have said:
What others say about the most important things in life
The Odysssey lists these as the top three:
Goal Cast lists these top five:
- Your Calling
According to Career Addict the 10 most important things in life are:
- Food, water, sleep, and oxygen
While I agree that all of these things are important, they do not reflect my life and what hindsight shows me. The “most important things in life” are not static. They are dynamic, changing with age and circumstances.
From an academic point of view, I tend to go back to Maslow and his hierarchy of needs. They correlate beautifully with what is most important.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
- Physiological needs— these are biological requirements for human survival, e.g. air, food, drink, health, shelter, clothing, warmth, sex, sleep. If these needs are not satisfied the human body cannot function optimally. Maslow considered physiological needs the most important as all the other needs become secondary until these needs are met.
- Safety needs—protection from elements, security, order, law, stability, freedom from fear.
- Love and belongingness needs—after physiological and safety needs have been fulfilled, the third level of human needs is social and involves feelings of belongingness. The need for interpersonal relationships motivates behavior. Examples include friendship, intimacy, trust, and acceptance, receiving and giving affection and love. Affiliating, being part of a group (family, friends, work).
- Esteem needs—which Maslow classified into two categories:
a. esteem for oneself (dignity, achievement, mastery, independence) and
b.. the desire for reputation or respect from others (e.g., status, prestige).
Maslow indicated that the need for respect or reputation is most important for children and adolescents and precedes real self-esteem or dignity.
Self-actualization needs—realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences. A desire “to become everything one is capable of becoming”(Maslow, Toward a Psychology of Being, 3rd Edition, 1987, p. 64).
These needs are often represented by a pyramid with the basic needs as the foundation and the self-actualization needs at the apex. Each level builds on the one below.
My list over the years
As I look back in review of my life, I see that what I thought were the most important things in life was based on where I was in relation to Maslow’s needs. Let me tell you what I mean.
As a young person, still dependent on my parents, my needs—or what were the most important things in my life —were:
- food, clothing and shelter,
- the need to be safe and
- the loving care of family and friends.
I was not able to provide anything for myself. Fortunately, all these were available to me. With hindsight, I know my parents were struggling to recover from the Great Depression but I was never made aware of it. I was allowed to grow, play, and learn without restraint and without fear. I was one of the fortunate ones
As I moved into the late teens, while these lower three levels were still critically important, self-esteem came into play and I began to respect myself and others, know who I was and what I wanted. We moved a lot, but I always managed to have friends and positive experiences in my family, school and community.
During this period the most important things in life were:
- Food, clothing and shelter. I was becoming aware of designer labels, who lived in the big houses and the division between “us and them.” I was generally a part of “us.” I know now that my parents struggled to keep up, but I was unaware and I never felt deprived.
- Safety took on new meaning as I was allowed to drive. We lived on a farm and that meant a 10 mile drive into town. My parents never questioned my ability to take care of myself and I can’t remember not feeling in control.
- Friends and family saw some shifts as I seemed to bring my friends in closer and move my parents out a bit. It was a time of discovering who I was. Church and God became very real to me as I began my search for more meaning in my life.
The things that were most important in my life were basically the same:
- Food, clothing, shelter was still at the top (Now it was going to be up to me to provide these for myself. YIKES!)
- Friends and Family—I was going to school approximately 250 miles from home. How do I stay close to my family? How do I even survive without my family? My family was my “rock” even though they were far away. They were very high on my priority list. Friends became more important than ever and now, all new faces. Deep friendships developed here that lasted for years.
- Self-esteem. Building a meaningful career brought self-esteem int the forefront. I was proud of who I was and who I was becoming. I was going into nursing, the career I had dreamed of since I was 10 years old.
As I grew older my needs changed.
- Love and belonging headed the list as I met “the” man, married, and started my own family.
- Self-actualization was in process as I solidified my own values and became more aware of my own strengths and weaknesses, desires, talents and so on.
- Self-esteem was at an all-time high. My successes far outweighed my failures.
- Health. (physiological needs)I tried to keep my weight under control but it was a struggle. I exercised regularly and did those things I knew I needed to do to remain healthy. It was becoming a challenge to do so.
The “Golden Years”
Entering the “golden years” brought more reflection and a shift in what is most important to me. Pondering the question, “What are the most important things” brings new answers and a new arrangement of the list. (BTW, whoever called these years “golden” must have been color blind)
- Health. This is included in the list of things categorized under “Physiological Needs.” For many senior citizens, it soars to the top of the list as the years pass. and we wish we had taken better care of ourselves when we were younger. Joints become stiff and painful, balance is off, the mind is sometimes “fuzzy,” energy to do a job is depleted.
- Self Actualization brings reflection. Am I kind? Do I respect myself and others? Have I become everything I could become? Have I reached my potential? Did I live with integrity?
- Transcendence. Have I fought the battle and won and am now ready to make my transition to what comes next? In his later years, Abraham Maslow explored a further dimension of motivation— the fullest realization in giving oneself to something beyond oneself. He equated this with the desire to reach the infinite.”Transcendence refers to the very highest and most inclusive or holistic levels of human consciousness, behaving and relating, as ends rather than means, to oneself, to significant others, to human beings in general, to other species, to nature, and to the cosmos” (Farther Reaches of Human Nature, New York 1971, p. 269).
Oh, come on, get real. In these days of old age here’s my REAL list of the most important things in life:
- Laughter. Laugh a lot. Find reasons to laugh. Look for funny situations and laugh. Find others to share your laughter.
- Lovie and be loved. By significant others or spouses, children and friends. If you’ve outlived all your friends and family, then get a dog or a cat—something warm and fuzzy to love.
- No guilt and no regrets. You did the best you could with what you knew at the time.
- Honesty and integrity in me and those I am in contact with. Speak your truth even if it is not politically correct!
- Do things that bring joy and a feeling of fulfillment. What did you always want to do? If your physical and financial health allow it, DO IT!
If all else fails, kiss a camel (or a giraffe)
What are YOUR most important things? Let me know in the comment section below.