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On Eulogy Virtues

John T Takai /

On Eulogy Virtues


Since Jan. 1, 2015, I've been interviewing one person each day about the meaning of life. Mostly total strangers. The Meaning of Life Project is my way of sharing what I've learned.

"Write your own obituary." It’s a classic grade school assignment –  a little morbid, but effective in helping you think about what you want the final meaning of your life to be.

I’m nearing the end of the Meaning of Life project. It was 11 months ago that I began asking strangers questions about the meaning of life. Like the grade school obituary assignment, these Meaning of Life interviews – during which I ask people to consider life's biggest, most important questions – help to frame our lives against their inevitable conclusions. It's a shift of perspective that changes everything.

During an interview this week, the usual "I don’t think I have any idea what the meaning of life is" response was followed by “I think this guy got it mostly right.” She was referring to this piece by David Brooks, in which he contrasts "resume virtues" and "eulogy virtues:"

"About once a month I run across a person who radiates an inner light. These people can be in any walk of life. They seem deeply good. When I meet such a person... It occurs to me that I’ve achieved a decent level of career success, but I have not achieved that. I have not achieved that generosity of spirit, or that depth of character."

Reading the piece, I couldn't agree more that Brooks understands what's most important in life. This year has pushed me to grow in the generosity of spirit, which I am far from achieving, but the journey itself has been enlightening. There are sages who surround us every day, deeply good people I didn’t take the time to ask or learn from prior to this year. As we head into a season hallmarked by gratefulness and generosity of spirit, yet also dogged by overwhelming materialism and seemingly unattainable images of domestic harmony, I want to thank the sages and deeply good people I've interviewed this month for the reminder that focusing on "eulogy values" – the qualities that will be remembered fondly long after our careers and material possessions have been forgotten – is a strange and wonderful way to live.

Female, 35

"Always lead with your heart.

The purpose I'm here for is to help others live inspired lives. People always regret that they didn't do things they wanted to do. It's all about connections and experiences... connecting can be with animals, too. Follow your heart. When you do, others get inspired and see it's possible."

Male, 31

"Be your authentic self. Trust your gut. To find joy in all you do working, living, playing, in having a family."


Male, 45

"Life is short. Laugh; laugh a lot. Life is too short to be too serious, and humor is a great tool for breaking ice and breaking down barriers. If you know people, it's harder to hate them. Get to know people." 

Male, 54

"Always tell the truth. 

Try to help others that are less fortunate. Don’t look down on people because they don’t have things. Try to find a cure for all the diseases. Grow food. Make a difference in the world. You never know what you can do until you try. God’s purpose for us is to help others, do right and make things better for others as life goes on."

Female, 35

"Travel the world. Live abroad. Don’t get caught up in what people say. Don’t care what people think. Don’t diss on your friends or family. I have a tattoo and it says “Say Yes.” Get out of your comfort zone, it’s good."

Female, 43 

"Love hard — love with passion. Find those things that make you happy… I find myself always looking to pull those who are lost through. Dragging lost people through, maybe that’s my purpose for being."

Female, 59

"Things always look better in the morning. Get a good night's sleep. Sometimes you just can't make yourself happy. Sometime happiness isn't the goal. Ask for things that you want.

I would want people to say that I experienced all the ups and downs of life. I had a rich multi-dimensional experience as a human being. I tell my kids if I die, I'm ok with it. Embracing it, not shying away form it. Fully embracing the human condition is not just about the positive stuff and happiness. Fully embracing the total experience of our lives. The good parts, the bad parts, it adds layers to us that we wouldn't otherwise have."

Female, 35 

"Don't grow up too fast. Make time for your friends. Don't always play it safe. Be okay to take a risk. For me, it is about leaving some sort of legacy or impact. It's about leaving a mark somewhere."

Male, 32

"Be respectful and kind to people and take care of them. Be safe. Work hard to gain something for the future or you will regret it later. If you don't work hard you don't succeed... Life is beautiful. Live each day by itself. You never know what happens tomorrow."

Female, 45

"Life is about family and friends. The friends I have, I trust them with my life."

Male, 37

"[The meaning of life is] to be patient. To watch all the things your mom is doing. You have to find time to do something; don't rush yourself. You don't have to do everything at the same time. Do one thing. 

If people did a bad thing to you, don't do the same to other people. Stop the bad. Life is a circle... you are just turning on the circle. You are born, you grow up, you work, you are going to die. You seek eternal life."

Male, 47

"Think before you act. Think before you do. 

I believe the meaning of life is to give — to be a blessing, to give more than the average person would give. When people hear your name and they fill up with joy, that is the meaning."

Female, 68

"Don't take yourself too seriously. Don't be afraid to step out and try new ventures. Don't be afraid to step out of your comfort zone.

I feel like we are placed on this earth to serve and love others to follow Christ's example."

Male, 66

"Learn, advocate, and champion yourself. Do good onto everyone. Find a scripture that is meaningful and fulfill it. I'd like to come at it from your faith and spiritual life. It adds much more meaning. My mantra is ministry, mercy and relatives."

Female, 66

"Enjoy life! Plan for tomorrow. Anticipate that there's always something and that you'll be okay. Always be more loving and patient than you think you can be (we had six kids). Enjoy life to the fullest... nature, spiritually, and other people. There is no dress rehearsal."

Male, 66

"Grow up and get into a little bit of trouble. It's no fun living a trouble-free life. Be curious and stay curious. Be thankful for what you have as it can be taken away at any time."

Male, 51 

"Be quick to listen and slow to speak. Read more. Become well read. If I could go back and read more I would understand more about the world. 

The meaning of life is to develop purpose and to be a giver. Jesus said it's better to give than to receive. My father escaped communism. My mother escaped tribalism. I fell in love with America as an ideology. That America is made of different ethnicities with the idea of pursuit of happiness, all men are equal, and innocent until proven guilty. The document the founding fathers put together is just as sacred as religious documents. Fall in love with what America is about. Celebrate that."

Male, 28

"Listen as much as you can and don't try to compare your life to other people's lives. Don't burn the candle at both ends. If you mess up remember, it could always get worse and it could always get better. Use your best judgment and even if you make the worst mistake, remember you can come back from it... you can come back from it better than before. And there is always something you can do to make your situation better, even if that something is just waiting for conditions to change."

Female, 44

"Don't be in a hurry to grow up. Play and use your imagination every single day. Be kind to everyone who comes into your life. Make sure that you get an education, it's a hard life without one. Travel before you get married and have children. Make sure you treat others the way you want to be treated. Don't always think that the grass is greener on the other side. If you are in a good place already, work with what you've got. 

I think there are so many different meanings of life. For me it's a miracle that I even got to be here. Enjoy every bit of nature. Look around, take it all in. Just to be here in the universe is beautiful. It's crazy. Be grateful for everything you have."