How to Discover True Happiness Outside of Your Bucket List

“Your life is made up of two dates and a dash.”

These words and this poem have been meaningful and influential to me over the last several years. You might say that it’s been somewhat of a mantra or words I’ve tried to live by. We all know people who either didn’t get to make the most of their dash or filled their dashes with things they wish they hadn’t. This picture pops up in my Facebook memories every year. For me, it is a good reminder of the fact that we only have an undetermined, finite period of time on Earth to fill our dash and the importance of happiness.

In my line of work as an executive coach and consultant I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about happiness: what makes us happy, how to be grateful, and how to pursue things that make us feel joy. Most of my work has been centered around helping my clients find the road to happiness, which usually entails exploring things they can do to reach their goals or things that allow them to feel joy and happiness.

This year when the memory popped up, I began my annual ritual of reading the poem and reflecting. I grabbed my cup of tea and sat down. Dangling off the side of my cup was a Yogi Tea tag with the phrase “Your great happiness is based on the warmth of your heart”.

I mulled this over in my mind and as I reread the poem there was one particular line that seemed to stand out for me: “For that dash represents all the time that she spent alive on Earth. And now only those who loved her, know what that line is worth”

Three thoughts immediately emerged as I read that line:

1) The reality that your entire life will ultimately be reduced down to one simple dash
2) What you choose to fill your dash with, defines your legacy
3) The value of your legacy is determined by those you have impacted along the journey or those you leave behind

Then I asked myself the question: What would change if I lived my dash believing its value was based on the warmth of my heart?

Like many people, I have sought out and invested in opportunities to fill my dash with what I will call “bucket list” items: goals, hobbies, travel, memories, experiences, and accomplishments I wanted to achieve in my lifetime. This is what brought me feelings of delight, joy, pride, and achievement. But now I sit and wonder what value did those things truly bring to my dash?

Certainly, the experiences and memories I created with others brought value. However, I discovered what brings far more value to my dash, and frankly stronger feelings of happiness and satisfaction, are the little things. Things like acts of kindness, lending a listening ear, non-judgmental acceptance, support, selfless actions, unconditional love, relationships, and the people who I have had the privilege to know and help along the way.

I realized, like happiness, making the most of your dash has less to do with consumption of experiences and accomplishments, and more to do with what you have given.

So when it comes to living your dash and finding happiness it’s important to remember it doesn’t always live inside your “bucket list”.