Momento mori — so enjoy life now

Published 12:29 pm Monday, April 30, 2018

My husband works with the elderly, many times during their end of life transition.

He’s great at his job because he’s patient, compassionate and authentically enjoys talking to old people. He believes our society disregards the wisdom of the elderly, much to our detriment, because too many of us are scared of death ourselves.

Erin Smith

Paying attention to the elderly reminds us of life’s impermanence and makes us uncomfortable.

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The one thing David hears over and over from folks looking down the long hall of mortality is they regret working so hard.

At the end of their life, their biggest wish is they hadn’t wasted so much of it chasing a career, more money or status.

It reminds me of the Latin phrase momento mori. Remember you will die.

This shouldn’t be interpreted as morbid or scary, but instead a reminder to keep our priorities straight.

Momento mori is a profound insight, but we don’t seem to be listening.

Americans work on average per year 137 more hours than the Japanese, 260 more hours than the British and 499 more hours than the French. That ends up being 17 to 62 extra days of work.

About 25 million of us work at least 50 hours a week.

We take less vacation, work longer hours and retire later than any nation on earth.

The rise of texting and emails means we are reachable at all hours of the day, so our jobs bleed into our home life, leaving us exhausted, stressed and unable to unwind.

We are all so busy making a living that we’re not living.

And if we heed the advice from the elderly, then staying on the treadmill of attaining The American Dream (the idea our happiness is intricately tied to our freedom to pursue wealth) is a lost cause because it isn’t what ultimately matters most.

We are prioritizing the wrong things.

Of course, we have to pay the bills and of course we should take pride in our work. Sometimes, work is hard and that’s as it should be.

But we need to do a better job balancing time spent working and time spent living.

The science backs this up; numerous studies reveal productivity falls off sharply when we work more than 50 hours a week.

How do we dial it back then?

We start by creating stronger boundaries. It isn’t really about time management, but more about learning to manage ourselves.

We have trained our nervous systems to be on all the time, so if we do get a bit of down time, we rarely enjoy it, too worried about all that we aren’t accomplishing.

We need to remember how to relax and have more fun.

As Warren Buffett wrote, “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything.”

We need to start saying “no” to more busyness and “yes” to more down time, because leisure is vital to an amplified existence. It’s not a luxury or a vice, but a necessity.

The happiest people in the world are those who go to concerts, enjoy long hikes in the woods, make time for great sex, attend plays, putter in their garden, craft or write or read or imagine.

True leisure is engaging in any activity you do just for you. No agenda. No purpose beyond having fun or connecting to your existence with awe and wonder.

We have convinced ourselves doing something just for the sheer pleasure of it is frivolous and a waste of time better used being industrious. In our minds, busy equals valuable.

What we’re missing is the most productive people are those who balance time doing with time just being.

When we give ourselves ample down time, it makes it easier to wrap our hearts around our work when we return to it.

I’m lucky my passion and my career dovetail. But even those who see their job as a stressful chore will find having more fun outside of the office results in having more fun when at their desk.

So grab your calendar and look at the week ahead. Where could you schedule in time for self-care? For a hot bath or a long dinner date or a hike in nature? What day next week is your day to puzzle and read and have sex? Write it in your calendar along with all of your other obligations and appointments.

I personally like to block off three hours at a time that just say “no.”

In my planner, this means I will not schedule a client, class or training. I don’t plan what I’ll do, as I prefer the freedom and spontaneity of deciding in the moment what I’ll use that unstructured time for.

But I know all week I have those pockets of time to look forward to.

If you’ve got pleasurable activities to anticipate, you’ll feel more motivated and joyful in the days leading up to them. Momento mori, y’all.

Enjoy life now.

Erin Smith is the owner of the OM place in Winchester, the author of “Sensible Wellness for Women” and the online host of a yoga and mindfulness channel for Eppic Films.Send her a shout out at or play along at