Photo by Subbotina Anna on Shutterstock
There’s nothing revolutionary in saying that a brush with death reminds us of our tenuous hold on life; however, we’re only human. Therefore, we need reminders, otherwise we forget.
I got my reminder a few years ago. Three days after my dog died, I nearly joined him by crashing my shiny new car into a power pole.
Usually, I coasted five to ten miles over the speed limit with no problem. However, that day the windy roads were slick with rain.
It happened within a second; one moment, everything was fine; the next, I lost control of the car. It swerved on the road, passing over the line that separated the oncoming traffic.
At first, I didn’t understand what was happening. The car wasn’t responding to me. Disbelief flooded me. I careened down the oncoming traffic lane, and by a stroke of luck, my vehicle swerved into the grass instead of hitting an oncoming truck. My relief was short-lived…an unmovable power pole loomed, about to stop my fast approach.
In that moment, I realized for the first time how easy it is for people to die in car accidents.
My life didn’t flash before my eyes, but I distinctly remember thinking: “This is how people die.” It was a horrifying revelation.
I braced for impact. Braced for the darkness that was sure to come. Braced to die.
I hit the pole nearly head-on, but the darkness didn’t come.
My car smoked, there was a ringing in my ears, blood on my hands. But I still had my hands, my fingers. My legs were attached. I spent a moment freaking out, calmed down, and then bolted out of the car.
Dazed, I looked around. A few feet from the power pole was a small tree that I hadn’t noticed as I’d been hurtling towards my fate. In front of that tree…a roadside cross. On it, a name: Fred. Someone who hadn’t been as lucky as me.
Later, I Googled the road and name and eventually found an article. It stated that the man, Fred, had died. It simply gave his age: 52. That was it. There was nothing else about him, not his job, his interests, his family. Nothing.
He’d been reduced to a cross on the roadside and a factual Google article. And I could have been the same.
That accident changed my outlook (and driving habits) permanently. I learned two things that have since solidified into my own personal laws for happiness.
1. Recognize that you’re not invincible
People can and do die.
I know this, you know this, we all know this. But until you have a brush with death, you don’t feel that knowledge. Not in your bones.
Before, I had that childish air of invincibility. I frequently drove fast; I could have killed myself and others. But I didn’t think it would happen to me. No one ever thinks it happens to them, right? And I had places to be.
Trust me. It can happen to me. And it can happen to you too. Life is short. We’re not here forever, but don’t go shortening the time you have left with stupidity. It is not worth it.
Value your life and others.
How does realizing you’re not invincible make you happier?
Once you look your mortality in the eyes, you’ll live better and be happier too. Realizing that life is like sand, ready to slip between your fingers if you’re not careful, allows you to appreciate the sensation of the grains. It allows you to appreciate each moment, and be grateful for each moment.
“When you arise in the morning think of what a privilege it is to be alive, to think, to enjoy, to love …” — Marcus Aurelius
Life is a privilege. It’s not guaranteed, and anything can happen. Gratitude leads to happiness.
2. Cherish the bad experiences too
People are really quick to want to push away the bad stuff that happens.
Why wouldn’t they be? Negativity doesn’t feel good. Yet, it’s a part of life. Shit happens, as they say. So when shit happens to you, know that at least you’re alive to deal with it.
A day after my accident, I broke a dish in the kitchen, something that would normally send me cursing and grumpy. After the crash? Oh well. It’s just a dish. A little messier than spilled milk, but just as insignificant. Just pick it up and move on.
I was still too moved by the realization of my mortality to care about a broken dish and some glass to clean up. I was just happy to be alive, broken dishes or not.
Don’t forget how fragile and precious life is. And when bad stuff happens, value it as a lesson, and then move on.
How does cherishing the bad experiences make you happier?
Negative experiences are an unavoidable part of life. If you try to avoid them at all costs, you’ll be sorely disappointed when you can’t. Instead, embracing them as a learning opportunity can help you grow stronger as a person.
“How does it help…to make troubles heavier by bemoaning them?” — Seneca
Letting troubles get under your skin and unsettle your mind is a surefire recipe for unhappiness. You can’t control if they happen. But you can control how you react. When your mood starts to sour over circumstances you can’t control, take a deep breath instead. Ask yourself, “Can I do something about this?” If yes, don’t worry. Just do it (like picking up the broken glass). If not, don’t worry. It won’t do you any good either way.
By adopting that mentality, you’ll worry less (ideally not at all) and therefore be happier.
I could have easily died that day, just like Fred.
Maybe he’d had brushes with death before, and maybe he’d been lucky before. But one day, he wasn’t.
We’re not going to get lucky every time. That’s a fact. But don’t let it scare you. Instead, live a better life starting right now.
- Remember that you’re not invincible and be grateful each morning.
- Cherish the good and the bad — if you’re experiencing it, you’re still here.
Despite the bad, being here can be a really great place to be. I’m certainly thankful I am. There’s so much good in the world to savor, so please. Savor it, enjoy it, and remember how fragile it all is…if only so you can appreciate it that much more.