Don’t Die Unhappy

StockSnap / Nicole Mason
StockSnap / Nicole Mason

The StrengthFinder’s Test is an assessment anyone can take to find out what their “natural,” or innate talents are. A few years ago, I took it within a religious context at church, and so there was also an element of these talents being “God-given.” That is to say, that you are born with certain characteristics: God and nature hand them to you. I went on to facilitate the class at church, and through it I learned a lot about how people see themselves, and how accepting they are, for better or for worse, of that person.

My top five qualities were as follows: Competition, Command, Connectedness, Context, and Input. As per the definitions given by the assessment, it means that I am a competitive person who likes to be in charge, who believes in the link between human beings and that there is a bigger picture; who insists on the relevancy of the past in understanding the present, and has a curious mind and an unceasing desire for knowledge. Not too shabby.

I have seen all these qualities as they have manifested themselves in my personal and professional life. It was in some ways a relief to put a name on them. The reality of these qualities however is that they have an ugly side to them. I have had to learn how to redefine how to be competitive, rather than be competitive for competition’s sake. I used to think, for example, that I had to be the best, simply to be enough. My thirst for knowledge can sometimes come off as pompous and arrogant. And far too often, in my desire for connectedness, I have ascribed greater meanings to things and people than I should have.

I have always believed that your strengths and your weaknesses are two sides of the same coin; I have found it to be true in my life. Virtue is obtained, I think, when you find that space between effort and ease. It is overused but that “balance” is so important and yet so difficult to achieve. It is worth working towards, however. As Philio of Alexandra so aptly proclaimed, “The seeking even without finding is felicity itself.” But what does any of this have to do with happiness and death?

Well, the truth is you’re going to die some day. You don’t think about it very often; none of us do. Until we are in a position that we have to because of health, or the health of a loved one, or a tragic incident, or a natural disaster; or something. But I want you to stop and think about death today. Or rather I want you to think about the moments you would think about if you knew you were going to die. What would come to mind? Loved ones? Achievements? Contributions to mankind? Perhaps all these and more. Think about them because one day your life will come to an end. And if you are lucky enough to make it to old age, you would have wanted happy memories.

You see a lot of people do not spend too much time thinking about who they are, and what they want. And yes we can talk about a certain kind privilege in even having the time to do so. But the human being is not without the power to be reflective, even in the midst of a disadvantaged life. And I find that reflection is seen as a pastime of the entitled, rather than a necessity of existence. Indeed, I find this to be most true for the most entitled.

Day after day, month after month, year after year, life happens. And oftentimes, we let it happen to us. We lack courage in facing ourselves – facing who we are in the mirror. It is no wonder why we don’t have the courage to face others for who they are. And we say things like, “Fake it till you make it,” as if that resolves the problem of being an imperfect human being in an always imperfect place and time. It is survival, yes. But it is not the only way. There in another way; perhaps several.

Maybe a way to deal with the reality of death is to deal with the reality of life – to somehow find a way to make it spectacular even in the midst of suffering. And maybe the first step to doing that is becoming acquainted with our strengths, and learning about the opposite side of those – our weaknesses. Maybe it is about bearing our souls to ourselves about our insecurities; rather than being unable to even look at or live with the person that we are. Maybe it is about having courage to radically live a life that is worthy, in whatever context of life we find ourselves. Maybe this is happiness, and the kind of happiness that transcends death.

In the end, I think it is vital to try to know yourself, to try to accept what might be your natural characteristics. But not only to accept, but to participate in creating a self that you respect and love and have the courage to be at all times. You will never be perfect. You will never not be scared to be the person you were meant to be; that you want to be, and are. You will never be without failures and uncertainties and rejections. But everything costs something. Everything. And the cost of living your life in a way that makes you small, in a way that is untrue, in way that makes you less courageous; a way makes you less you, is surely an unhappy death.

Go after it – this life, these people, these vocations that make you feel most alive. And don’t die unhappy.

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