5 Ways to Make Your 80 Years Count

Average life expectancy in the United States is close to 80 years, 78.74 to be precise.[1] Most of us don’t quite achieve octogenarian status. Life expectancy has seen a boost in the past century but regardless of how you look at it, we’re working with a relatively short period of time here. It will be interesting to see where life expectancy is in another 100 years, which would put me at 125. Slim chance unless I stumble across that Tuck Everlasting spring. What is important is that with this brief moment, we enjoy our lives, take advantage of our opportunities, and lead a life we find happiness in.

In the grand scheme of things 80 years is the blink of an eye. To put it in perspective, imagine, as author Bill Bryson so eloquently explains, “The 4.5 billion odd years of Earth’s history compressed into a normal earthly day…Humans emerge one minute and seventeen seconds before midnight. The whole of our recorded history, on this scale, would be no more than a few seconds, a single human lifetime, barely an instant.”[2] I’ll give your brain a minute to recover from that little factoid. Don’t have an existential crisis.

There are two ways to look at this, either mope around because our lives are seemingly insignificant and we are just a blip on the radar, or my preference, recognize each moment as an absolute gift and take advantage of the time we have while we’re here. Be happy, don’t settle, and don’t squander opportunities. Along the way you’ll discover the things you enjoy and what it is you want out of life. I’ve compiled a few themes from my articles, added a couple new ones, and come up with five ways to make the most of your 80 years and hopefully find happiness along the way.

1) Figure out what you enjoy, do more of that
This requires some soul searching and getting beyond your comfort zone to try new things. It’s also a very personal process that demands you spend time focusing on yourself. At the end of the day, you’re the one responsible for discovering/building your own identity. Much of this revolves around your interests. These are the things that define you. Your friends, family, doctor, and even Zeus, can't give you all the answers. You have to figure it out, more or less, on your own. Determine what you’re passionate about, your natural strengths, and what you can’t live without. What are you doing when you become completely immersed and hours pass by like seconds? Do more of this.

2) Create more
Usually this goes hand in hand with happiness. Wasting hours consuming passive entertainment is unfulfilling. Think about the way you feel after spending an entire weekend watching seasons on Netflix. Probably somewhere between 'Wow, I’m worthless' and 'I really need to get a life.' Get up, create for yourself, and have something to show for it. Creating doesn’t necessarily mean tangible goods; engage and create your own experiences, build memories, and live your life. It’s much more fulfilling and satisfying to contribute something to the world around you. Limiting yourself to the confines of a consumer leaves much to be desired. The goal is to achieve something lasting and it starts with creating. Give more, take less.

3) Eat real food and stay active
When it comes to eating, ignore all the ridiculous diets. Instead, focus on cooking and eating real food. It really is that simple. Quit putting terrible things into your body and avoid processed junk. You will feel better and have more energy. Once you give it a try, it’s a self-reinforcing process. There is nothing more important to your wellbeing than what you put into your body. The evidence of this being that four of the top ten causes of death are diseases with direct links to poor diet: heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and various cancers.[3] Ignorance is not bliss; take care of your body.

This also means being active. Even if it’s just going for a walk, do something. Avoid a sedentary lifestyle and allowing yourself to be defined strictly as a consumer (see #2). Exercise not only contributes to better health, but it also boosts your mood, lowers stress, and builds self-esteem.[4] It provides an outlet to achieve ‘flow’ and completely engage yourself in the task at hand. Health is key to happiness. If you eat well and exercise more, you’ll feel better. There’s no secret diet or exercise regimen that’s a cure all. The answer is in an active lifestyle and ensuring you put real food into your body. You only get one; it’s your job to take care of it.

4) Live with gratitude
The fact that you are breathing, alive, and able to form thoughts at this very moment is nothing short of spectacular. Evolution and our resiliency as a species is a beautiful thing. Countless events had to happen just as they did for you to exist at this very second, be appreciative. You’ve probably seen the popular internet meme stating: ‘You are the result of 3.8 billion years of evolutionary success, act like it.’ It’s spot on.

"Consider the fact that for 3.8 billion years, a period of time older than the Earth's mountains and rivers and oceans, every one of your forebears on both sides has been attractive enough to find a mate, healthy enough to reproduce, and sufficiently blessed by fate and circumstances to live long enough to do so. Not one of your pertinent ancestors was squashed, devoured, drowned, starved, stranded, stuck fast, untimely wounded, or otherwise deflected from its life's quest of delivering a tiny charge of genetic material to the right partner at the right moment in order to perpetuate the only possible sequence of hereditary combinations that could result -- eventually, astoundingly, and all too briefly -- in you." -Bill Bryson

Don’t get caught up in the little things. Life is absolutely fascinating, enjoy it. Focus on gaining experiences rather than things. Material goods offer only a fleeting sense of happiness and never come close to the fulfillment generated by experiences. There is always going to be someone who has more than you and others who have less. Show compassion, appreciate the things you do have, and don’t take life for granted.

5) Get your eight hours
There are few things worse than running on empty and throwing a day away because you’re tired. As much as I wish I could function for the full 24 hours each day, it’s just not in the cards. Sleep is absolutely essential to revitalize your mind and body at the end of each day. It’s critical to healthy brain function, emotional wellbeing, and physical health.[5] It should come as no surprise that sleep also has a direct effect on lifespan.[6] Without adequate sleep, you are quite simply unable to be productive, or stay healthy and alive for that matter.

There are conflicting reports on how many hours of sleep you actually need, but most fall in the seven to eight range (seven doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as well). If you have trouble sleeping, revisit steps 1-4, work your ass off each day, then try again. There’s no better feeling than waking up refreshed and energized, ready to take on the day.

All of these concepts tie into a larger theme of self-sufficiency. Hold yourself accountable and work to become a well-rounded person. This is a solid starting place and should get you pointed in the right direction but ultimately only you can determine what will make you happy. Spend time doing things you enjoy, create more, eat better, stay active, show gratitude, rinse and repeat. Figure out what works best for you and make your 80 count.

[1] "Life Expectancy." Google - World Development Indicators. World Bank, 7 May 2014. Web.
[2] Bryson, Bill. A Short History of Nearly Everything. New York: Broadway, 2003. 336-37. Print.
[3] Pollan, Michael. “An Eater’s Manifesto.” In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. New York: Penguin, 2008. 10. Print.
[4] "Exercise: 7 Benefits of Regular Physical Activity." The Mayo Clinic. Web.
[5] "The Benefits of Slumber." NIH News in Health. National Institutes of Health, Apr. 2013. Web. 21 July 2014.
[6] "Sleep and Health." Division of Sleep Medicine. Harvard Medical School. Web.