"In modern times life has increasingly been perceived to be all about volume, whether it's in terms of acquisitions, acclaim or adventures. The recent brief blip (pardon me, global financial meltdown) in first-world markets seems to have had one positive effect: that of encouraging us all to reconsider what our lives should really be focused on, obsessive avarice proving unreliable.
The most widespread human ambition for decades has been a pursuit of happiness based on more, more, more. The irony of our penchant for conspicuous consumption being that we then spend most of our time complaining about where to store or how to take advantage of this accumulation of our heart's desires. The most cynical among us might even question the point of archives of books read, places visited and memories attached since you'll most likely forget all the details when senility sets in anyway!
Forgive me for lending my voice to that chorus, but having spent the festive period trying to put some order into trunks full of old photos, I feel you may have struck a sensitive chord! Obsessive ambition and aspiration are the most likely routes to disappointment – and the old cliché of life lived a day at a time, accompanied by altruistic tendencies toward your fellow man, are the only routes guaranteed to induce contentment. A day well spent can never be obliterated, even though without the significant markers of triumph and despair such moments slide into the morass of oblivion to which most of our day-to-day memories are relegated – but often that's where life's real treasure lies.
I met a very old man the other day who had never left the Scottish village where I ran into him. He was as lively, informed and dare I say content as any individual I've met, and unscarred by his lack of tangible interaction with the wider world. Don't let me appear hypocritical: assertions that a lack of aspirational experiences may be close to real-life Nirvana are easy to make when you've indulged yourself and then judged in hindsight. I'm not sure I could have achieved contentment without exposure to the wider world, but this octogenarian's complacency may be no bad thing either.
What I've learned in 47 years is that only the days well spent leave any enduring satisfaction. Looking back through the photographic evidence of so many amazing journeys and colourful crowds of acquaintances made me wonder how much I'd missed while I was busy keeping busy. Now, with two young kids of my own and conscious of the advice of friends who warn that their now-adult offspring's childhoods positively sped by, I've started to greedily savour every moment. This Christmas, aided by arctic weather constraints, we spent an entire two weeks at our house in Scotland without attempting more than a quick wade through the snow in the surrounding hills. Instead of suffering near-terminal restlessness, I don't think I've been as happy in decades. Every day with nothing achieved but familial harmony and a few good meals felt like a triumph unequalled by any career high, exotic holiday excursion or intense romantic encounter. It's shocking to realise how indulging in endless opportunities to scramble to the top of your field or satiate a rollercoaster addiction to lifestyle extremes adds up to not very much. Meanwhile the days misspent in idling, enjoying the company of those you most care for and generally achieving very little are the ones you want to stash in your box of treasures.
Slow down your pace! With so much good stuff in your life, it's imperative you take the time to savour it. Books provide a salutary example in that one truly great read is more than equal to a thousand mediocre stories. Instead of concerning yourself with ticking off experiences and accumulated knowledge, try to focus on quality, whether it's who you spend your time with or how you spend it. Rushing around grabbing everything you can all too often sees you return to home and hearth empty-handed. Ironically, it takes a long time to understand that most everything we need in life is only hugging distance away."