Earlier this month, my mother was going about her normal life when suddenly she doubled over in intense pain. She was rushed to hospital and had to have an emergency operation. It was pretty serious, but the doctors were amazing and she made it in the end. She had to stay in hospital for several days, most of it in a daze falling in and out of consciousness because of the pain medication.
As she was lying in the hospital bed, connected to tubes and drips, I spent several hours a day by her side. We talked deeply about the important things in life. Through something like this happening to someone close to me I could finally see that too often it’s not until you get close to death that you finally wake up.
She told me as the pain took over her, all the priorities in her life narrowed down. The first things to go were thoughts of money and possessions. She would have traded all the money in the world to make the pain go away. For my mother, who was raised in a society that is intensely materialistic, this was a revelation. When it comes down to it, the things that were supposed to be important, like how much money you have or how big your house is, meant nothing at all.
If something did happen to her, she thought, what a shame it would have been to have spent most of the best years of her life chasing after things that didn’t really make her happy, while neglecting the people and things that did. She could never get the time in the past back, but she was lucky enough to have a second chance going forward.
Of course, this is what practising minimalism has taught us from the beginning, that life is not about impressing others with your fancy clothes. Your net worth isn’t your life worth. Sure, it’s easy enough to agree in principle, but many of us dedicate our lives to doing exactly this—getting into debt or working long hours at jobs we hate to earn money to pay off the credit cards for things that don’t actually add value to our lives.
You don’t have to live like a monk, or go backpacking around the world, everyone has their own happy medium. Most people live on autopilot, going about their cycles of hedonic adaptation without stopping to question what kinds of things are most worthwhile. Unfortunately they don’t realise they’ve wasted their life until the very end, by then it’s too late to do anything about it.
If we’re lucky and open minded enough to discover minimalism before we’re near death, then we can count ourselves in the fortunate minority. Starting today, we can make wiser decisions on how we will spend our limited lives so that when we reach the end, if there is one thing we will have, it’ll be fewer regrets.
Book I’m currently reading: Time and How to Spend It: The 7 Rules for Richer, Happier Days
‘On Waking Up’ was originally published via Minimalist Meditations.