Ask 100 different people what goes into a happy and successful life and you will get 100 different (and correct) answers. This variety helps keep life interesting, of course, but it also makes accurate lifestyle metrics hard to come by.
When it comes to the quality of your lifestyle, how do you know how well you’re progressing? You don’t! It’s all more or less subjective, scientific method be damned.
I’d like to propose a quick and easy barometer for whether or not you’re making the best possible use of your life here on Earth.
Get into a conversation. In one? Good. Now tell a story.
Is the other person bored to tears? Politely smiling and nodding but clearly thinking about the last episode of CSI? Are they doing their best to change the subject to absolutely anything else or to draw someone else into the conversation (so that they can make a quick getaway in the confusion)?
This is a pretty good indication that you need to make some changes.
The ideal situation looks more like this:
You walk into the room and people go out of their way to start up a conversation. At any given moment 3 or more people are held by every word that comes out of your mouth, whether you’re regaling them with tales from your latest vacation or the freshest news from work.
Talking about the family? That trip to the mall? Building that doghouse? Building that new company? All interesting stuff, if you’re playing your cards right.
Even the most mundane situations are interesting to the right person (someone who does things differently, or is able to wring deep insight from even the shallowest of experiences). If you are that kind of person, you’ll be able to make others see the extraordinary in the ordinary the same way you do.
It’s true, generally the people who have really full and interesting lives have very interesting and non-standard things going on, anyway. And really, that’s part of the point: ideally, the mundane and the extraordinary will blend together seamlessly.
Consider this: The first few years of high school, my life was pretty damn trivial. I worked at a bookstore, which could have been interesting to the right person, but mostly my life revolved around video games, Magic cards, comic books, junk food and…ah…that’s about it. Needless to say, I mostly talked to my handful of good friends (who had similar obsessions) and no one else. No one else really cared about that rare card I traded for or the 30 cans of Mountain Dew I drank that weekend.
In college, however, I was able to tell fellow students about the deals I was making with local businesses for the culture magazine I started. I was networking with the hottest local bands, writers and artists. I was also writing a column for the newspaper (news analysis pieces), double-majoring in graphic design and illustration, doing freelance design work on the side, and playing competitive inter-collegiate Ultimate Frisbee.
And you know what? After I had learned how to live a more fulfilling and interesting lifestyle, even when I was working a fairly boring job, I made my own adventures. After moving out to LA, I was working in a 9-to-6 office-bound design position, so I started up a project wherein I would create a photograph, an illustration, and a piece of short writing every single day for a year. It was such a simple thing, but people I talked to about it became enthralled with the idea, some even undertaking similar projects themselves.
“So why does it matter if people think you are interesting in conversations? You’re not living your life to impress others, are you?”
No, you definitely shouldn’t be living your life for anyone else, and especially not to try and impress some stranger at a party. But such a stranger’s opinion is a fairly decent (and relatively unbiased) yardstick with which you can measure your own progress as an ‘interesting person;’ that is, someone who is living an extraordinary life; a life that strangers will tell their friends and family about after meeting you.
So give it a shot and if you find the response you get to be unsatisfactory, consider shaking things up a bit by becoming inspired, traveling, going on a date, playing Tetris, or plotting some asymmetrical warfare.
Even if none of the above gets you too excited, at least you’ll have a new story to tell next time around.
Update: April 24, 2016
Re-reading this post for the first time in years, it strikes me that I probably could have done without 80% of it. The points I wanted to make are in there, are still legitimate, I think, but they’re drowned in fluff.
The important points as I see them today are:
There’s no one correct way to live.
Even the mundane can be interesting if you, yourself are passionate about it.
Ideally you share your passions with others.
A lot of the rest of what I wrote can be taken a lot of different ways, and some of those interpretations conflict with these keys points. One of the major shifts in my writing style after all these years has been cutting excess fluff and making sure that the words I use are necessary, rather than just space-fillers.