Reflecting on a funeral I attended recently, I thought of the qualities one is remembered by on such an occasion.
Those who know us will remember us through our acts of kindness, our sense of humour, that we made time for our relationships and friendships, that we showed up when it was important, that we helped others, the memories we created together, and how our presence made them feel - the reflection of a successful life.
What isn't remembered or talked about is how much money we made, how big our house was, what car we drove, how successful we were in our career, or anything else acquired through money, status and power, and yet many of us spend a disproportionate amount of our time and effort trying to "succeed" at these things.
If our definition of success is measured by how much money, status and power we have, this is what we will teach future generations about living a successful life. By putting a greater emphasis on coming first, or having more than others, they learn to make that the goal and believe that once they achieve it they will be happy. This conditional happiness is fleeting because happiness is dependent on the outcome of an event and once the event passes, we need another event to experience this feeling.
Real joy and happiness, the kind that cannot be shaken by anything, and is not dependent on an outcome, comes from the same place for each one of us, regardless of how much material wealth we have - it comes from giving and receiving love, helping others, being kind, and being present in our relationships. Having money, status and power won't make the birth of your child more joyful, or the death of a loved one less painful.
London Marathon runner Matthew Rees demonstrated what our basic human nature is when he helped fellow runner David Wyeth across the finish line after seeing him struggling 200m from the end. The feeling of joy he would have experienced at helping another in this way is far greater, and longer lasting, than he would have felt had he kept running and finished in a better time. This act of kindness attracted much attention in the media and by the public, someone displaying who each of us is at our core - maybe we don't see this side of who we, and others, are often enough.
Coming back to how we want to be remembered.
Imagine it's your funeral. Everyone is gathered.
Who in your family and circle of friends is there? If there are people who are not in your life presently - a partner, children, grandchildren - and you want them there at the end, imagine they are.
What do you want each of them to say about you? What words do you want them to use when describing you? As they talk about your life and achievements, which milestones will they remember? What will be the source of their pride and joy of you? What will they have learnt from you? What memories will they share, and what emotions will these memories evoke in each of them? How will they say your presence made them feel?
This list, and anything else you want to be remembered by, is what a successful life looks like for you.
Now imagine your life as a TV series. Your funeral is the last ever episode. Some seasons were already filmed and have brought you to today but you are writing the script from here - what is going to happen in the following season for you to reach the next milestone in your successful life?
When you're coming to the end of each season, starting writing the next. If you don't like the script partway through the season then write a different storyline and change the episode. You can add in some drama, an affair or betrayal if you wish, it is your show after all but some events can't be undone so be cautious of the direction of each episode and season and how it contributes to the final episode - does it take you closer to it or further away? Who are you going to cast, what kind of characters? These will be the people who will feature in your real life. Some might already be part of the show, some with join during future episodes and seasons, others will be written out because their character doesn't fit in your storyline anymore.
Start creating your seasons, always keeping in mind that this TV series is the life you are going to live, and each season will represent a period in your life that will lead to the final episode of your version of a successful life.