The antidote to exhaustion is wholeheartedness.
— Brother David Steindl-Rast

In the end, we all want to have lived lives that mattered. We all want to have left a lasting imprint on the hearts of those we loved and on the world as a whole. We all want to be remembered for the best of who we are and how we lived. Opportunities abound to fulfill these deeply human longings. But we often miss making the connection that now is the portal to then. We miss seeing that the choices we make at every juncture of our current moments are decisions that either lead us toward or away from the possibility that we will be held as we want to be held in the end. Waking up and living fully today is the only way to be remembered in the ways that matter to us when that great unknowable culmination of life finally arrives.

A man and young boy sit next to each other on a curb looking and smiling at each other. The young boy has his feet resting on a soccer ball.

Photo by Sebastián León Prado

Grateful living offers us a way to approach life with resilience and joy in the face of its mysteries, difficulties, and even its loss. It directs us toward what matters, what is meaningful, and what will make a difference in the hearts of those with whom we are navigating this lifetime. It weds us to living every moment and every thing as if it matters, because it does.

Become Present to the Legacy of Your Life

The moment we bring awareness to the basic idea that we will have a legacy, we begin to create one that matters. With our choices. With our attention. With our moments. Acknowledgment of legacy itself brings home the realization that we will not live forever and that we are shaping and living our legacy now. Awareness of our impermanence enhances our ability to occupy and tend the moments we have. Embracing it supports us to hold a space for greater presence and aliveness in our lives.

Presence is simply the price of admission for a meaningful life — this is why we pay attention. We cannot afford to be anywhere else but here. The time we spend anticipating the future or lamenting the past is lost to us. Finding ways to repeatedly come back to presence will open the doors and windows to opportunity when it knocks. And opportunity is knocking all the time.

It may be challenging to be truly present to all of life, but it is imperative for those of us who want how we live to be a reflection of what is most important to us. We need to live on purpose. Living with intention will serve the creation of the life we most want to live and leave behind. Present moment attention and intention is how we negotiate a life of more alignment and fewer regrets. So what might you be waiting for? Whose permission do you think you need in order to live your most great, full life? Your most grateful life? What is it that your heart wants to do with the opportunities of this life you have been given?

Seek a Perspective of Wholehearted Trust in Life

Whenever we embrace the vulnerability that comes with being alive and which inherently accompanies living gratefully, we are reminded that time is limited, so we should treasure and trust the life we have now. Holding this poignant perspective is how legacy is created — not missing an opportunity while opportunities are available to us.

Trust in life is a lesson that many of us may wrestle with in a variety of ways, but also one that delivers unparalleled opportunities. What does this mean for each of us? Surely the idea of trusting life lands differently into each of our lives, and at different stages. Trusting life is a powerful practice; it is a way of receiving life that allows us to harvest meaning and learning from whatever surfaces. Like mindfulness or grateful living practice, it is not when every moment of our commitment unfolds “perfectly” that we consider ourselves to have an effective practice. Meaning is made in noticing one more moment of awareness, one more centimeter of possibility, one more instance of trust. Our “success” is earned in returning again and again to the invitation and opportunities that trusting life extends to us.

Ultimately, perspective helps us to recognize that each moment and each interaction, every step on the path and every direction we turn, can be infused with a sense of all that is poignant and precious. This is how meaningful legacies are made — one grateful, wholehearted moment and choice at a time.

Awaken to the Possibility of Living Your Legacy

A bench sits underneath a tree with brilliant red leaves facing a misty lake at dawn

Photo by Aaron Burden

There are teachers all around us telling us not to sleepwalk our lives away. There are poems, stories, experiences, and people everywhere reminding us how much these moments that we are alive mean and matter. If we tune in to the sky, the Earth, the human heart, we can hear the world imploring us in every way to remember: Be grateful for this moment; this moment is your life.

What could be more important than cultivating a sense of more grateful presence, perspective, and possibility as we move through our days? What better way could there be to honor this life we have been given than with gratefulness and great fullness of heart in its heart-wrenching, heart-awakening aliveness. This is no less than life deserves from us. This is no less than we deserve from life.

Possibility beckons. It sits everywhere in wait for our discovery and our creation. Possibility is what the future is made from. This moment — with wholehearted engagement — allows us to shape the lives we want to leave behind. Living gratefully is one of the most powerful ways we reduce our regrets. Live in the ways that you want to be remembered. Live in the ways that you know in your heart matter and will be enduring. Live in ways that serve love. Live such that your life opens doors and hearts for others. Plant trees that others will sit beneath. Sow seeds now that will nourish future generations.

Will you make your life a living embodiment of — and testament to — the possibilities that gratefulness awakens in you? Let your life right now be your answer.

Excerpted from Wake Up Grateful: The Transformative Practice of Taking Nothing for Granted by Kristi Nelson (Storey Publishing, November 2020)

Kristi Nelson

Kristi Nelson

About the author

Kristi Nelson is Executive Director of A Network for Grateful Living and the author of Wake Up Grateful: The Transformative Practice of Taking Nothing for Granted. Her life’s work in the non-profit sector has focused on leading, inspiring, and strengthening organizations committed to progressive social and spiritual change. Being a long-time stage IV cancer survivor moves her every day to support others in living and loving with great fullness of heart. Learn more about Kristi here.