A MANIFESTO FOR LIFE
by Nicola Dela-Croix
Welcome to ‘A Manifesto for Life’ – 10 ways to achieve happiness, contentment and meaning for ourselves and others.
Working with bereaved and terminally ill people I have a unique insight into what makes a meaningful life and what matters most when that life draws to a close. So I’ve combined these experiences with my belief that being aware of our mortality is the single most important factor in helping us decide what we do with these precious lives of ours.
The result is a set of guidelines, motivations, good intentions… however you choose to look at them! But I truly believe if we can follow these steps, share these thoughts and values, we can achieve a more meaningful life for ourselves and those around us.
1. Appreciate it’s a miracle we’re here.
It may not feel like it sometimes, but we’re the lucky ones. Do you know what the chances are of having been born at all? Scientists say it is one in fourteen trillion! Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins wrote, “The potential people who could have been here in our places but will never, in fact, see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people”. You’ve hit the DNA lottery jackpot! And you said you never win anything... It does, however, mean we have to die at the end of it. But it’s all or nothing; you can’t have one without the other. You’re still one-in-a-zillion with a world of opportunity. So try to be grateful.
2. Accept we don’t all grow old.
Virginia Wolf wrote: “what an accidental affair this living is”. And she was right. We enter the world and take our first gasps of life, but how many more we get is uncertain. There is no guarantee of growing old, no matter how many vitamins we pop, or gyms we visit. Some of us don’t make it to childhood, some of us will be involved in accidents, some of us will face illness or disease. It has always been this way, and, despite our medical prowess, it is happening all around us now. Just switch on the news or read your local paper. There is no such thing as ‘before our time’ – only ‘our time’. And if our time, or the time of someone we love, is shorter than we hoped, don’t add to the inevitable pain and grief by asking ‘Why? Why them, why me’? We’re all in this lottery together – equally vulnerable. The question is actually, ‘why not me’?
3. Take a nature lesson.
It’s out there, everywhere, staring us in the face. You can’t miss it – the biggest clue to understanding the cycle of life and death, and all the triumph, tragedy, joy, sorrow, beauty and beastliness in the middle. It’s nature – not usually preceded by the words ‘the wonder of…’ for nothing. Every year, season, month, day, moment we see it in action; sunrise and sunset, fresh shoots and bare branches, new-borns and the not-so-lucky. She’s a harsh teacher, Mother Nature, but her lessons are beautiful. Immerse yourself daily – spring, summer, autumn, winter – she’ll repay you with a happy heart, clear head, contented spirit, uplifted soul and rosy cheeks.
4. Treasure your loved-ones
Those closest to us are treasures. It may not feel like it when they leave washing all over the floor or forget our birthday. But they are. From the moment we are born our lives become intertwined with others – we form relationships, we make friends. And these people are like gifts. And, if we are lucky, they become gifts that keep on giving, helping, loving, supporting, caring, making us smile… We need to cherish each moment with them, appreciate their uniqueness and accept them for who they are. And if, alongside the love and laughter, you lock horns, try to make peace before the sun sets. It’s not so easy to put things right once they’ve gone.
5. Talk about death and bereavement.
It’s not easy – who on earth wants to talk about death?! Life is all about living, right? Well, considering someone in the UK dies every single minute, that’s a lot of individuals, family, friends, colleagues, and carers whose lives are touched by death, and they’ll probably want to talk about it. As a society we can’t let fear and awkwardness stop us from talking about death. For the sake of all who face death and those who are grieving, we have to end this ‘death is taboo’ nonsense. Because every single one of us will experience the loss of a loved-one and, one day, the loss of ourselves, and if we don’t talk openly and honestly about how we’re feeling, or what we want to happen at the end of our lives, then all we are doing is denying ourselves the comfort and support we so badly need.
6. Be in tune with the needs of others.
We’re all shoulder-to-shoulder on our little island, trying to make our way through this crazy thing called life, in whatever time we have. As Alan Bennet said: “Life is like a tin of sardines – all of us are looking for the key”. So wouldn’t it be lovely, knowing that we’re all in the same ‘tin’, marked with an invisible sell-by date, if we showed each other kindness and compassion? We’re all capable of giving, listening, helping, caring… and the wonderful, warm and fuzzy feeling you get from an act of kindness is matched only by the feeling you get when you receive one.
7. ‘Present’ yourself.
It’s hard to live in the ‘now’ – especially with all this talk of death and endings. But it’s only by appreciating and accepting ‘the end’ that we can really enjoy the present. And what a great place to be – no worrying about what’s been or what’s to come, seizing and squeezing every minute for all its worth. Because it’s those moments of ‘present-ness’ that will offer you contentment throughout your life, as well as every multi-coloured, sensory-overloaded, unforgettable memory when you are sat in your rocking chair.
8. See the potential in grief.
When the person we love is separated from us forever, we are taken to places deep inside our heart and soul we didn’t know existed. And when we emerge, those newly discovered territories give us the opportunity to expand our outlook, beliefs and values in life, to make whatever time we have left more meaningful and fulfilling. Even if that person we love isn’t there to share it with us.
9. Know that your life matters.
You are a glorious one-off. No-one else in the entire world looks like you, sounds like you, has your individual mix of character and qualities, talents and skills, your unique life story… There has never been and never will be another you. That uniqueness will make you hard to say goodbye to when your time comes, but oh-so-easy to remember. Because your own special brand of magic lit up the world and touched the lives of others. You mattered in your own lovely, quirky, special way. Don’t ever doubt it…
10. Embrace the fact that mortality gives life meaning.
If we’re told we are terminally ill, life instantly becomes precious. If we survive a bad accident, we see life with new eyes and try not to take anything for granted again. When we leave a funeral service, we want to hold our family and friends that little bit closer. These encounters with death are the mortality memo marked ‘urgent’, the red bill, the final notice. But don’t wait for things to get critical before appreciating the fact that we could be experiencing our last day on this planet. Death is always a whisper away. It’s a given, a constant possibility, inevitable. So we should cherish life... always.