“Art is long, life is short.” Hippocrates
The phrase art is long and life is short is a proverb that suggests that works of art last much longer than human lives. There is so much knowledge to acquire that a lifetime is not sufficient and good work takes a long time to accomplish. The ancient Greek medical doctor Hippocrates said these words which were then repeated over the years by many artists and writers including Seneca, Geoffrey Chaucer, Goethe, Longfellow and Browning.
Most people die having never maximised their potential or self-actualized mainly because they directly chase happiness. Human science studies have revealed over and over that true and sustainable happiness is not found outside of us, but within ourselves. It is this misconception about happiness that causes so much pain and eventually leads to depression. I like what Seneca said about this shortness of life, “It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest of achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it.”
Henry David Thoreau famously stated in his book – Walden, which was first published in 1854, that “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” He thinks misplaced value is the cause. We feel a void in our lives and we attempt to fill it with things like money, possessions and accolades. This means that people are not enjoying their lives. They do not have any time to look inwards and are constantly living with anxiety and self-doubts. Thoreau further said, “Meeting basic necessities of life is sufficient and easy to achieve. It is the greed to want more luxurious and unnecessary things in life that is causing all the anxiety and leading to quiet desperation. Most people go to the grave with the song still in them.”
The purpose of life is not just to focus on making a living but on living the making. Living the making is about singing our song – expressing our gifts and self-actualizing. But because we waste a lot of our time – the very short time we are given, chasing ‘better things’ that do not lead to any sustained happiness. While chasing these “better things” we create so many problems along the way, such as: unnecessary debt, ruining valuable relationships, choosing wrong careers to get what we think will bring us happiness by hook or crook, etc. It dawns later after acquiring those so-called “better things” that the happiness you were chasing becomes short-lived and is not worth what you sacrificed for it. There’s nothing as forever after when it comes to happiness. We are adaptive beings.
So much time gets wasted because of the myths of happiness. Sonja Lyubomirsky – a professor at the University of California wrote a book entitled – The Myths of Happiness after studying and researching about happiness for over thirty years. In her book she says, “We think that getting certain things will make us happy once and for all. You get married and you are happy but the truth is you don’t get happily ever after. You make a certain amount of money and you are happy, but you don’t get happily ever after. Well, not so fast, it’s not quiet how it works. The reality is, we adapt so quickly to things we thought would make us happy for a long time – this is Hedonic Adaptation. Researchers and Behavioural Economists call this Poor Effective Forecasting – we have poor ability to forecast on an emotional well-being in the future after we achieve certain things. We are never exonerated from a work of showing up.”
So, in order to maximize our short time on earth, we must improve with speed the art of living. To improve the art of living means to master ourselves and to enter into a partnership with every age. This is about learning from the wisdom of the ages. What has been learnt before us and take advantage of that wisdom and build from it. The art of living starts by understanding yourself – self-awareness. This is about knowing your natural strengths and passions and finding your element, zone or flow. Self-actualization happens only when you are operating in the area of your natural strengths and passion, that’s when your potential is realized. This is not what the school will teach you, it’s the journey you need to embark on yourself.
Living a misplaced life, the life of chasing “elusive happiness” by filling a void in our lives and attempting to fill it with things like money, possessions and accolades is an indication that we are lost. In the book – Man’s search for himself, the author Rollo May, states that, “The opposite of courage in our society is not cowardice, it is conformity, people wanting to be the same as everybody else.” This is one of the reasons why we miss out on true happiness, we want to be liked.
If you really want to bring the element to life, we need to decrease conformity. Don’t just do what the majority does even if it doesn’t make sense to you. You need to develop the same level of non-conforming courage which Ralph Waldo Emerson called it Self-Reliance.
Yes, for your non-conformity, the society will mercilessly beat you up and whip you with displeasure. Society doesn’t like non-conformists. As human beings, we want to be comfortable and liked, no one wants to be challenged. For you to live a happy life, you need to have the audacity to dream of what is possible and not conform. You must rebel with a cause or else your life will be too short and not count for much. You deserve the best that life has to offer, claim it!
Veli Ndaba is a Professional and Motivational Speaker, Life-Coach and Neuro Linguistic Programming Practitioner, Author of four books (You Are Born to Win, Your Dream is Calling You and SWITCH ON! And Set Your Soul On Fire!), Newspaper Columnist and Entrepreneur. To book him to speak at your next event or to help you and your team unleash your greatness, contact him on firstname.lastname@example.org, www.velindaba.com or +27 83 304 9773