March 21, 2011

Worth Living For

When I was a kid, I sat in the back of a lot of dramatic, late-night church services.

Often the preacher or evangelist would tell a story about our fellow Christians in Russia, China, or Cuba (communist countries were seemingly interchangeable) being surrounded by soldiers in a church and forced to recant their faith or risk execution.

No matter the details, the story was always followed with a challenge: “Would you be willing to die for your faith?”

Looking back, it’s easy to see how limited this question was. What’s worth dying for? That’s hard to answer—rarely does anyone get a say in how they die and whether it’s for some kind of cause. Most of us just die whenever the time comes around, whether we’re prepared to make some kind of statement or not.

And yet, every single day, all of us get to answer a far more interesting question: What’s worth living for? If you could only pursue one thing, what would you craft a life around and do every day? And what if real sacrifice was involved… would you stick with it?

Dying for something is heroic; in the rare case that it happens, you go down in a blaze of glory, clutching to your morals or cause. Nice work if you can get it. Years later, Brad or Angelina will play you in the movie.

But living for something can be mundane—and therefore far more sacrificial, because seldom does anyone else notice. You just go on living, beating the drum for the thing you’ve chosen to value above all else. Genuinely living for something, day after day, is much more valuable than looking for the blaze of glory at the end.

So what do you think—what’s truly worth living for?

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Comment on this article

74 Responses to “Worth Living For”

  1. Truth.

    Thanks for sharing Chris.

  2. This is a really good point, Chris.

    I had a friend of mine tell me once that 98% of life is operating in the mundane. It’s being faithful in doing the little things that need to be done behind the scenes. Do enough of the little things and over time you’ll create the big thing you’re dreaming of. Just don’t ever discount or try to avoid the routine.

    I think the reason most people want the big and dramatic is because we’ve never come to realize that the tedious actions we live daily can be directed by our choices. We mostly do what’s expected rather than do what’s needed to achieve a deeply held dream. Many of us don’t really believe that we can live bold lives, and if we do believe, we often forget that bold results often come from consistently unexciting activities.

    Thanks for that reminder. Now I’m off to go do something mundane. :-)

  3. Reminds me of the scene in the movie “City Slickers” (I watch all the classics) where Jack Palance asks Billy Crystal whether he knows what the secret of life is. “No. What?” says Billy, incredulous that the old man really knows. Jack Palance holds his finger up and says “One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and everything else don’t mean shit.” When Billy asks him what this “one thing” is, he says “That’s what you’ve gotta figure out.”

    I must have watched that scene dozens of times over the years, and it rings so true I sometimes bring it to mind when I’m feeling lost, or when what I’m doing feels like a real grind.

    It’s different for everyone, and different at different times in your life. But unless you know what it is for you, right now, what else are you spending time on?

  4. I think discovering your innerself and acceptance for the world around you is the key to having a “life worth living for” in general. In this sense, everything will be worth living for because you will be able to choose if external situations affect you positively or negatively and whether what you choose to do on a daily basis is mundane or not. Too often I think people let the world around them as well as the outcomes of what they try to acheive determine their sense of worth as people as well as quality of life. By taking the flip side to this and choosing not to let external situations affect them and accept outcomes as what they are and keep moving forward, everthing you see in life could be another example of what’s worth living for.

  5. Living quietly sacrificially, sans glory is part of it. But the why is as important as the what. If I’m doing it because it makes me feel good, that’s OK, but really not fulfilling. I can do the same thing, but keep it about God, and then, it matters even more than the task itself.

  6. I’ve heard it said before that beyond the physical necessities of life, everyone needs and is looking for three things: something to do, something to love, and something to hope for. I think it’s a powerful statement that cuts to the heart of human motivation.

    For me, the ‘something to do’ is launching the next phase of my life in which I’ll be exploring the world, blogging, building businesses, and discovering who I was born to be.

    The ‘something to love’ is of course my loved ones, including amazing friends I have, but also the beautiful variety and possibility contained within life.

    The ‘something to hope for’ is a future in which I’m living with meaning each day, building a legacy I can be proud of.

    Those are my three things. :-)

  7. We must have grown up in the same church, Chris. Living for something is rarely as glorified as dying for something. But we do live for something, whether we know it or not. Not knowing what you’re living for is a tragedy. There is a quote at the entrance to the school where I teach in Brooklyn that says “If you don’t stand for something, you fall for everything.” Dying is the easy part. It’s the living that kills you.

  8. Well said Chris. For me it’s a a friend’s laugh, a dog’s wagging tail, and sunshine by the ocean, and maybe if I’m lucky (because I rarely get this right) I help someone feel a little better or bring some peace to my town.

  9. my family is what is what i’ve chosen to value above all else. it takes a lot of determination and perseverance to stay in a marriage that isn’t the dream you’d had as a child (it is NOT abusive however, that would be another issue) and these days it doesn’t feel like i get a lot of positive feedback for staying (from friends and others). but i believe that family is the true north of life and i feel good that our family has stayed together. it’s what i work toward everyday, and sometimes it takes every fiber of my being to keep on keeping on, but i’m proud that i’ve stuck to my belief.

  10. Taiji dolphins.

  11. I would die for my kids, although with 8 of them it is more likely that the stress will kill me before I get a chance to go out in a heroic blaze of glory!

    Seriously, people always want to talk about whether or not they would be willing to die for the things they believe in, when the real question should be are they willing to live them? In the end, the latter may be the more difficult.

  12. Other than family and painting, I live to help people.
    Right now I’m trying to save a historic building in downtown Murfreesboro.
    It’s been a struggle so far, but I think the community could benefit from it.
    After that I want to travel to the pacific coast. I’ve never been on that side of the country.
    And I’d love to raise money to fund a charity:water project or plant trees or donate to Haiti’s still needy recovery.

  13. I love this post, Chris. So well put. I’d have to answer that, in the past two years, I’ve put a stake in the ground around “nourishing people.” But that stake extends beyond the business forms … I’m choosing to live to nourish people through what I do professionally so I can, at the same time, nourish my family, my relationships, my faith, others who need help/support/encouragement. It’s something to live for that makes me excited to get out of bed every day.

  14. I’m lucky enough to be doing what I love to do…so that’s what I live for!

  15. I live for quality and genuineness. My wife and I are starting up a boutique luxury bath products co. And the things we really kill ourselves to perfect go seemingly unnoticed by end users. However what I’ve discovered is that good quality is inherent to any luxury product and cannot be separated. It is perceived by our end user as outstanding even though when prompted they can’t exactly put their finger precisely on what it is that makes it better. It’s facinating to watch. At first it drove me crazy watching people tear into one of our soaps wrapped in hand made paper without even a thought of the weeks it took to make or the years it took to develop that skill- but watching their faces light up upon receiving it as they held it was appreciation that is visible even though not verbalized. It’s the subtle things that make our products world-class and seeing the subtle expressions of appreciation and delight are the 2nd thing I live for.

  16. March 21, 2011

    EliGrama

    Every day a different sensation makes me feel life’s great!
    Tonight it’s when the one you love, tells you that they miss you through every possible mean of communication although he’s on a different continent. A concert of soul/jazz evergreen hits, with a live orchestra and my heart singing and dancing to the music. A little six year old pupil, noticing me in the concert hall and screaming my name just coz she wanted to say hi and wave (non-conformity indeed:)…luckily before the concert began. A glass of red wine with the female part of my family and the midnight silence of the streets, going home feeling you’re exactly where you’re suppose to be and grateful for life’s little pleasures.

  17. Like Anni, it’s my family for whom I’d make the ultimate sacrifice, mostly my wife & son. I’d like to think of myself as really altruistic, but honestly I keep to myself a lot. Still, I wouldn’t wanna be the last one left in a lifeboat, however selfish I can be!

  18. Fun. After living for 64 years, spending most of it angsting about my purpose in life, I’ve come to the conclusion that what makes life worth living is fun. Everyone’s fun is different, of course. My fun is in doing meaningful work I enjoy with people who make me smile.

  19. Something worth living for…hmm.

    I read through the comments so far and I like the range, from wagging doggy tails to world travel to family.

    In thinking about how I would answer, a math concept comes to mind, namely, lowest common denominator. Think back to your elementary school days (pretty far back for some of us). In order to solve certain problems it is necessary to find the lowest common denominator.

    What can help us break down any situation or experience into smaller “pieces” to be handled and processed the same regardless of the contextual variations? I would say the answer to that question is principles.

    You may have guessed where this is going next. Something worth living for (something that makes one’s life worthwhile) are principles. A core set of principles built on a foundation of “Do No Harm” can bring a lifetime of fulfillment and humble pleasure.

  20. Sharing time with friends, family and beloved ones…
    Meeting passionate people !

  21. I love the reframing of the question. Too often we condition ourselves to look at the world in terms of what we want to avoid (i.e., stay as safe as possible) instead of what we want, period.

    For me, what I live for is helping others figure out their own answers to that question and find the courage to embrace it whole-heartedly. It’s what I’ve done with adolescents in my classroom for years, and it’s what I’m trying to do with my blog.

    I wonder if any answer to that question needs to result in scratching our own itches while also affecting the lives of others. Thoughts?

  22. cool post. really made me think.
    i think that what makes life worth living is sensation.
    people want to really feel alive, like their making a difference in their lives and others (most people)
    people want to die for something because they want something worth living for. kay that sounds kindof contradictory, but i mean if someone doesnt have something worth dying for then they dont feel like their living. they need something to hang on to, to make their life worth it. thats probably why people idolize things, (justin beiber, cough cough) people need to have something taking up their life, if that makes sense. it gives them purpose in their life, its like a life goal, something to do and look forward too. some people need that thing to hang on to because their not confident enough- they need confort. it gives them a sort of sense of self, it takes up their brain so they begin to feel like something instead of nothing.
    but i dont mean all ppl of course. just ppl who idolize everything

  23. What’s truly worth living for?


    ..
    .

    To see how amazing I can really be.

  24. Interesting post. Good parents live well by “dying daily,” losing sleep to care for a baby, putting aside their preferences to raise healthy children, working a job they don’t necessarily like to provide for family (esp. in crises). Means we lay our life down for the next generation or for those important to us.

    We define our un/spoken priorities by choosing how we spend our time, energy, and resources. I’d say people – over other creatures – are worth living well for, investing and expending our lives for = the driver behind social care, relief work, putting self in danger to benefit others. Yeah, I support and participate in environmental care and animal rescue. But PEOPLE are worth a lifetime of service and sacrifice. (Including joyful interaction, and the good stuff about being with people, of course, not just hard work!)

  25. It’s simple: I live to the best ME I can possibly be for my husband, kids and all those around me. If I’m the best that I can be, I hope to inspire those around me to reach for their dreams. Everybody loves being around someone happy, content & at peace with themselves and the universe.

  26. A new day, exploring new ideas, pushing out of my comfort zone, being of service, raising the bar, live music, kayaking on a quiet lake, my phenomenal husband, my dear friends and breaking bread.

  27. Art is what I am. Art is what I do. It’s what I live for, and it’s what I fight for, and it will be what I die for.

  28. What’s truly worth living for? This is the ultimate question that is at the center of existential angst. Many have died over this issue, willingly, at there own hands, so it’s no small matter. One of my best friends was one of these people.

    Seems to me this is the central issue of human life and the search for the answer is what makes us human. Ultimately each person will decide for themselves.

    For me, the question sounds like a challenge. It implies weighing one option against another and judging. I don’t vote for that. To me, life is a puzzle and living is the process of putting the pieces of it together. Sometimes fun, even joyful, other times frustrating and sad. Depression comes from thinking that one must finish the puzzle, when its an impossible task.

    What is worth living for? Truly? Each moment, whatever it is, for that is the worth and wealth of your life.

  29. So much is worth living for. When do we ever have time for feeling mundane or bored? I don’t. Not since my childhood…. Life alone is worth living for. Parents. Siblings. Friends. Cousins. Childhood bonds. Love. Pure love with your lover. Business ideas. Dreams. World travel. Speaking a language. Being in a yoga pose. Delving into meditation. Creating art with light when taking photos. Conversations. Experiences. Ten thousand types of experiences. Too many to list here. I can’t imagine not wanting to live for a second and I don’t imagine I’d ever want to die, and if that day comes, I won’t die for a belief or an ideal, I will only die if the life of a loved one were in danger and I had no choice. Otherwise, I’d choose life.

  30. For me, it’s the sheer magnificent, wonderful POTENTIAL of it all. I keep learning, and I keep growing, and I keep seeing more beauty every day – even in the darkest places where many would think beauty has finally departed. Life isn’t a thing to be ‘endured’ or ‘lived through’ with a couple of good ‘things’ to grasp on to to make it worth the ride. It is something you get to CREATE for yourself every minute of the day! So, rather than asking if it is worth living – ask what do you think ‘you’ are worth creating for yourself? Believe me, you are worth A LOT.

  31. Living, really really living, for me is all about the deep turn on that life can bring from deep within, when you “get it”… ahhhh that’s why I’m here, loving what I love, still deeply committed to women, men and planet… the softer states of listening lovingly to Her, to Him, to the whispers within… when I start to hear the rhyme, I know I’m hooking in to the core rhythm’s that we’ve been able to hear for aeon’s… and only perhaps just figuring out what to do with them… beyond the dancing!

  32. -other people, supporting and helping
    - growing, learning, changing
    - experiencing and witnessing
    - appreciating and understanding the gift of life

  33. Christ!

  34. What is worth living for?
    Love. Giving love and receiving love from everyone I encounter on a daily basis.

    I also like Lavonne Ellis’ answer…..Fun!

  35. Terrific. Thought provoking. Thank you.

  36. Something to look forward to, someone to love, work I enjoy, and thousands of adoring fans ;)

  37. March 21, 2011

    Tommy Typical

    Defining your destiny and taking a generalization called living and turning it into tangible moments infused with activities of design and chance that convey constantly “this is unbelievable”. Sisyphus unleashed.

  38. Cool take on those well-known stories! I actually think that what those people saw as worth dying for, is also worth living for. You wouldn’t be ready to die for something you weren’t in some way living for, I think. Living a life that shows belief (I happen to be Christian but you can fill in the blank with your own philosophy of life) in the beauty of the human spirit, in being a true human being and showing empathy for others based on that, seeps into every part of your life & can transform it all: the mundane, the daily grind, the everyday things. Those things have greater meaning–they’re not isolated things, they’re just flashes of glory (and you can have that blaze of glory at the end like you said!) in disguise.

    A poet once said “love is something less than human if it is not something more.” That line has stuck with me for years. It really resonates. There’s something divine in each of us. To me, looking for that divine ‘something’ makes life worth living.

  39. to help others to live their life to the fullest, living their dreams instead of being satisfied with a second-rate tradeoff.

  40. a peaceful death. when it comes down to it you are left with just yourself, the things one accumulated often times cannot be enjoyed, the prestige of a job or jobs held, the life of leisure one always hoped for all these things are not what are with us when one is approaching ill-health and dying. Treating people kindly, giving up our own comfort and need for the comfort and need of another, being present, staying healthy, the opportunity to impact he life of another person in a positive manner on a daily basis. the opportunity to improve others lives. Now the question for me is how do i want to do that. there is more than one way. i cannot always choose my circumstances but i can choose how i want to act towards others. or at least try to.

  41. The other night, watching a rerun of The Closer, I watched one character leap out of hiding to take a bullet — 3 actually — when an assailant fired at his older co-worker. He nearly died. I said out loud, “That is what life is all about” and shocked myself with that clarity.

    It’s that feeling of connection that is worth living for — to feel so much a part of life, so at home with life. And that comes from finding out who you are — and living out the truth of who you are. So — you might say that every moment is worth living for because life gets so incredibly interesting.

    Thanks for posing such a great question!

  42. I live for simple moments. Of kindness or of calm, between people or in nature, it helps keep my belief that the world and its people are inherently good.

  43. Been thinking a lot lately that it’s the small things that count, the small gestures and subtleties, the daily acts that reflect our commitment – and yes, often they’re far from grand and go unnoticed, but these are the parts that make up the sum. Thank you.

  44. The adventure life brings every day. You never know what your going to get but it sure is fun to experience.

  45. Thank you for another lovely and thought provoking post.

    I have just come back to my computer after spending a long and wonderful lunch talking to a gorgeous friend about just this issue! What is worth living for and how do we live our lives so we never have to compromise what we love living for or our values.

    I don’t think there is any “one” answer, but perhaps surrounding ourselves with friends who help us recognise our value and challenge us to keep being who we are and want can help us make choices that reaffirm our commitment to really living.

  46. March 21, 2011

    Miguel Marfori

    What’s worth living for?

    To have a kick-ass life, that’s what. ;) Every day is worth living for.
    But I do like the answers here in the comments. Everything is so true.

  47. My family is worth living for.

  48. Death.

    I think death is worth living for.

  49. Simple, but deep question. I’ll take a shot with a special list – what’s worth living for is…to find the love of my life, to have the children I adore, the work that contributes me to the world,and to live in a community that blends with who I am. The rest is fluff, this is the flavour. Be well and loved.

  50. Very thoughtful question!

    It somehow shakes one up! A lot of people are just stuck in their everyday life being bombarded with the mundane and commercial aspects of life. Thus, they forgot to ask this very relevant question – thank you!

    For me on a personal level, to enjoy life every day is worth living for, the beauty which surrounds us, the love we perceive, the air we breath.

    On a broader level, my purpose is to fight for the survival of dolphins, whales, the maritime beauty. To make people see that we can only be healthy if we start helping and respecting our co -species on this planet. I am a warrior on a very small scale.

  51. thanks for sharing this thought provoking question.
    what’s truly worth living for?
    this is the type of question that continues to change as we evolve and continue on our journey. so, at this moment in my life this is my answer below:

    it’s truly worth living for…
    1. my son
    2. being a positive influence in my generation
    3. building a legacy
    4. creating stuff that truly matters
    5. developing to my maximum potential
    6. every breath of fresh air
    7. having the opportunity to impact the life of others

  52. March 22, 2011

    Brittany Baxter

    For me, making a difference for young girls and women all around the world struggling with eating disorders and negative body image, that’s what my life is worth living for! Taking a stand!

  53. Thanks for sharing.
    Life is not all about the glitz ,glamor we we see and build around ephemeral things as they tends to shut off our “reasoning factory”
    but one of making impacts and adding value to life,s Project wherever you are found and passionate to abide by.

  54. I actually wrote something about this on my own blog recently; one of the most crucial moments of my life over the last two years was when I was in bed one morning, not wanting to get up, and thought “I have nothing to live for.” It was not a self-destructive thought, it was exactly the concept you are talking about here: other than a responsibility to go to work, pay the bills, etc. I had no reason to get out of bed. My life was completely empty.

    It’s not anymore, thankfully, but it took that insight for me to make changes. I’m still figuring it out. But as much as it was a scary moment, it was also empowering, and I still ask myself everyday, “what am I living for?”

    Great post, thank you so much!

  55. Succinct; pertinent; perfect.

  56. Tomorrow is worth living for!

  57. I am afraid that most of the time (all the time?) I can’t figure out what the answer to that question is. Believe me, I have spent a lot of time thinking about it. Just ask my wife.

  58. “It’s the moments that take your breath away”, as the song goes.

    Creating backup income for as many people as will listen.
    Extra money to live my dream lifestyle, not much different than now.
    Travel money to visit family more often.
    Teaching others to help themselves to their dreams.

  59. March 22, 2011

    Brian storey

    It helps if you “let thy trade, be thy sport”.

  60. Your writing gets more and more engaging – I like the style you’re developing.

    For me, what’s living for are the moments of connection I experience – connection through laughter with friends, connecting through a book or a blog post, connecting with animals through eye contact and energy, and connection with the world around me through opening my awareness.

    In a free write I did recently, I discovered that this – connection with others – is what I deem worth living for.

    Thanks for inviting the question.

  61. March 22, 2011

    Sarah Patrick

    I am an epidemiologist and work in public health. Like many who have responded to your excellent post, Chris, I am also grateful to have found my passion(s) in life and to have the ability to pursue them and, when I do this well, to make a difference, hopefully, in the lives of others.

  62. A life worth living is where you’ve carved out your autonomy and do what you want, in the service of others – of course – a life filled with play and variety and meaningful work…where you feel every second the pulse of your being crying out loud: Yes, I am this! And ever much more!

    It’s when you’re in the flow of your life and firm in the knowledge that nothing can stop you, not a thing, no thing but yourself, that you’ve conquered yourself, your doubts, your fears you face, through and through, and nothing can stop you…

    It’s when you feel awake in a dream, living the dream, loving the dream of your life unfolding before you, far removed from who you once were, your old self part of another dream no longer recalled, a movie once seen, an old friend forgotten…regrets all diminished and put by the way…

    It’s when you wake every morning sure in the knowledge that life is a wonder, and that you are eager for more, full of desire and things that you want

    It’s all this and more.

  63. Thanks Chris ~ The longer I stay on this journey, the more fully I understand that there’s nothing of more value here other than humanity. I’ve spent too much of my life feeling inadequate because I’m not a social butterfly, and now I know that the person that I am, finding center and peace, and giving in my own quiet ways, is enough, and it’s wonderful. I realized just last week that the things I’m working toward allow me to change the dialogue from “You mean I have to do this for 20 more years??!” to “You mean I really get to do this for the rest of my life?” Thank you Chris, for the part you’ve played in my journey.
    Take good care ~

  64. Mother Teresa’s life of service to God and to the suffering in India was worth living. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life spent fighting for racial equality was worth it. What is worth living for? Relieving the suffering for others. Fighting for justice. Speaking the truth. Prayer. Worshipping God. Cleaning up a piece of land and making it fruitful. Writing a book. Composing poems. Singing songs. Protecting the innocent. Loving the unloveable.

  65. In a word: writing!

  66. Honest, genuine self-expression is, to me, worth living for.

  67. Life. Family. Friends. That’s what is worth living for.

  68. Lately, I have been admiring the men in Japan who decided to sacrafice their life, for the world, while attempting to repair / bury that nuclear plant.

  69. It’s amazing how often the thing people say that would die for is not at all what they are living for. Sobering thing to think about.

  70. When I live right, I die right. Yes, so in the name of faith I would die. And I am living for my true self, to be happy and to help others become happy.

  71. Perfect.

    It reminds me of the quote: “Life is without meaning. You bring the meaning.”

    I know what I would die for. Living for it is somehow less fame-making, less flashy, less perfect. But at the same time, it’s more brilliant, more fiery, more interesting.

  72. There are many…

    Some are:

    - Doing things differently than everyone else.
    - Doing things that people say you can’t, shouldn’t, or won’t do.
    - Making a difference in someone’s life in some way or another.
    - Being unique and being yourself.
    - Spending time doing what you want to do, with who you want to do them with, and when you want to do them
    - Creating and growing my business
    - Working on my legacy
    - Inspiring others

    and so on…

  73. March 28, 2011

    scyz4ever

    Striving towards making a difference is what’s worth living for, oh yeah~

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