If you were on your deathbed looking backwards over your life, how would you know if you lived it well? How would you know that your life was worth it?
The implicit answer from society is that you are successful if you: accumulate as much wealth as possible, fatten your bank account, eat at the most exclusive restaurants, and wear the latest fashions. In this model success is measured by consuming as many goods and hiding away as much money as possible.
But society gets it dead wrong.
Consuming as much as possible, while seductive, is a trap. Collections of things and having more money than your peers will never make you happy or successful. When you rely on outside sources of validation, whether those are cool possessions or other people’s opinions, you are forever giving your power over yourself away to other people. If they like you, you feel successful and valuable. If they don’t like you, you will feel like a failure. When you rely primarily on outside validation to feel successful, you will die feeling as though you didn’t live up to your full potential because you didn’t contribute to the overarching human experience in any enduring way.
The trick to making your life successful is to provide, not consume, as much value as you can.
What does it mean to provide value? It means to live in such a way so that other people’s lives will improve due to your involvement and interaction with them. It means helping others when you can, in the ways that you can. There are numerous opportunities to provide value. They range from the mundane like donating $10 to your local food pantry, helping a friend get a job, or genuinely being present with the people around you, to dedicating your career to public service, tithing, and working hard to improve the status quo.
The trick to becoming a successful and happy human is to provide value. As you become someone who provides value for others you’ll notice something magic: reality starts to bend to your will. By creating value for others, people will want to provide value for you and they will help you succeed. Since you helped your friend get a job, she will appreciate you and want to return the favor in some big way. Since you are giving more of your money away you’ll feel a sense of abundance and realize that generosity is one of the keys to happiness. Because you’ve helped many of the people in your life, when you yourself need help, you’ll have a small army waiting to invest in your success and happiness. When you proactively provide value, doors that you never noticed will appear and you’ll pass through them with ease. Opportunities will fall into your lap and generosity will flow towards you because you have helped so many people, many of whom will eagerly help you.
But there is an important distinction to make: you can’t give to get. That’s manipulation.
If you start helping as many people as possible because you want to be someone who is owed a lot of favors, that’s a guised version of the consumption mentality. You must become a value provider because helping others brings you a deep sense of meaning and joy.
When you become a value provider, you will know that you are living well.
By becoming the type of person who provides value for others, you will be able to pause at any moment in your life, whether that is right now, or as you lay on your deathbed, and look backwards, knowing that other people’s lives were better because you existed. Your life will become rich (in the full sense of the word) and will overflow with vivacity, light, love, and the contentedness that comes from knowing that the world is better off because you existed. You will be deeply successful.