In California’s White Mountains stands a lone bristlecone pine tree thought to be almost 5,000 years old. Nearby, its cousin Methuselah is believed to be younger—just over 4,849 years old. When these trees were mere sprigs rising from the forest floor, East Asian men had not yet invented a written language. Our time on earth is an average of 69 years, or .0138 the lifespan of Methuselah and his cousin. So within the blink of an eye lifespan, what really matters?
Studies about what matters most to Americans list: love, family, good health, financial security, and no regrets. While “regrets” are at the end of the list, they are actually sprinkled among the other things that matter.
Love. Love is good, free and perfect. But many of us experience our greatest regrets centered on love. Whether it’s our spouse, a family member, friends, our work, profession, or mission — in all these things, love (and forgiveness) matters.
Family. From our first moments of life, our parents and family define our future. We first learn to listen and work together within the family. Because we feel safe within family bonds, do we abuse that special trust and love? Maintaining strong family relationships really matters.
Good health. Health is connected to happiness. A recent book proposes that only 48% of happiness is genetic and 40% due to big events, like landing a big job or being in an accident. That leaves only 12% up to us. Maintaining our mental and physical health by maximizing our “happiness” portfolio matters.
Financial security. Americans are generally quite good at making money. When it comes to saving money, we don’t stack up. According to recent studies, the median savings for all working-age families in the U.S. is just $5,000. Many approaching retirement will experience much regret.
To the bristlecone pine trees, it matters that the sun shines, rains come, and that the soil tugging at its roots maintains nutrients. Human life is more complicated, but when we pay attention to what really matters, we improve our potential for a long life filled with happiness and few regrets.