“It occurred to me that there were two sets of virtues, the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues. The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?” – David Brooks
The renowned columnist David Brooks likes to contrast two differing sets of virtues that we aspire to. One he terms the resume virtues, the other the eulogy virtues.
For the most part the resume virtues predominate for the majority of our lives. We strive for success and achievement. We work for years to attain an academic degree that we can place on our resume and use as the basis for the next entries on our resume revolving around our career. We measure our success by our titles and the wealth we accumulate.
The resume virtues are important and striving to do well in life and make a comfortable living are good things. They can, of course, become a problem when they are overemphasized and become the predominant focus in our lives. Too great of a stress on the resume virtues can result in the exclusion of the other aspects of life that are the true source of happiness and satisfaction. These are the eulogy virtues.
On the deathbed, people virtually never wish that they had spent more time or effort on developing their resumes, on working harder or being more successful. Rather, they most often decry the fact that they didn’t spend enough time and energy on developing their eulogy virtues. A palliative care nurse once recorded the top five regrets of the dying. They were
- I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
- I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
- I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
- I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
- I wish that I had let myself be happier.
It is clear that to live a full life we have to develop our resumes but it is far more important in the long run that we develop the eulogy virtues. But, how do we do this when the rewards of society and the urgings of our egos all push us towards developing our resumes. The answer may well be contemplative practice. These practices, meditation, yoga, tai chi, contemplative prayer, etc. have been shown to help in developing the exact abilities and experiences longed for by the dying.
Contemplative practice focuses us more on experiencing the present moment and doing so without judging it. This provides a better perspective on our lives, seeing ourselves as we are without judgment. This can lead us to follow our hearts and be true to ourselves rather than being a slave to what we perceive others expect. By appreciating the present moment we can learn to enjoy where our lives actually play out, the present moment. This can lead us to even having greater appreciation and enjoyment throughout our lives, even during the time we spend working.
Contemplative practice helps us to accept our flaws and accept and appreciate others. As a result it improves relationships and social interactions. It helps us to become better listeners and more compassionate toward others. Increased understanding and compassion for others is a motivator to becoming involved in improving our world.
Contemplative practice helps to develop the ability to regulate emotions and improve emotional intelligence. So, we get in better touch with our true feelings and become better able to express them to others. Importantly, contemplative practice has been shown to increase happiness. We enjoy life and appreciate the wonders that surround us every day.
Finally, contemplative practice has been shown to help to develop acceptance of ourselves. Many people do not like themselves. Contemplative practice is an antidote for self-loathing, tending instead to improve self-love. It can help us accept and like ourselves more. It is difficult to truly love others if you don’t love yourself. So, the self-love developed in contemplative practice is a requirement for loving others. It leads inevitably to caring more for others and be willing to express that love.
So, engage in contemplative practice and develop your eulogy virtues.
“What do most people say on their deathbed? They don’t say, ‘I wish I’d made more money.’ What they say is, ‘I wish I’d spent more time with my family and done more for society or my community.” – David Rubenstein
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies