What is the most important thing in life? Obviously there could be many answers to that question. But to me, the best thing in life is gratification. Many other things, such as love, power, wealth, prestige and appreciation, etc. can lead to that feeling of gratification, but they are not real ends in themselves. So here are my Top Ten approaches to receiving gratification, which would allow us to live our lives to the fullest.

  1. Live a life of integrity. People with integrity live their lives the same way whether other people are watching or not. This is a hard standard to live up to, but whether others see that you act with integrity or not, you will know, and that should be your guide. A variation on that theme in the business world is always to give honest value to those who purchase your goods or services. Not only will you probably always have a job, you will be gratified in your work as well.
  2. The best thing that can happen to people. For me the best thing that can happen to people is to see their children grow up to be happy, successful and well-adjusted. So time and efforts spent in helping your children to that result are deeply gratifying.
  3. Savor your family and friends. Candidly, for many years I felt a certain ridicule toward the more laid-back cultures, feeling that many of them were lazy. But now I believe that many of those people actually live life the right way because many of them savor their nice long meals and other experiences with their families and friends. The work eventually gets done, but they enjoy their lives more fully along the way. Or at least there should be more of a balance.
  4. Mentor children. While I was a judge in juvenile court I quickly learned that mentoring children was one of the most gratifying things that a person could do – and also one of the most important. It is a basic fact that someone will mentor our children. And if it is not done by people like parents, teachers, basketball coaches or scout leaders, it will be done by juvenile gangs, drug dealers, etc. Unfortunately, people like Charles Manson are always lurking around, and, say what you will, he was brilliant at mentoring his so-called family. So we cannot give him the chance. (And along the way I found a great mentoring tool to be to ask high school students what they want their lives to look like ten years from now. Then ask them what they are doing now to accomplish the worthwhile goals they tell you about. As we know, but most of them do not, those ten years will pass quickly.)
  5. A rut is a grave without end. What is it that really interests you? Focus on the answer to that question, and then find a way of supporting yourself that is in your area of interest. Obviously, there are not many Michael Jordans or Kobe Bryants in this world. But if, for example, your interest is in sports, you can work in fields related to sports like broadcasting, newspaper reporting, advertising or sports medicine. Or if you like automobiles, you can work as a mechanic or in an auto parts store, etc. Money is a false god, and the “My yacht is bigger than your yacht” syndrome is a recipe for unhappiness. You will probably spend more time working for a living than you will spend with your friends or family, so persist in your efforts to work in an area that you enjoy.
  6. Engage in random acts of kindness. Giving unexpected gifts or doing good deeds bring a great deal of pleasure to others, and gratification to the giver and doer.
  7. Show appreciation when other people do nice things for you. It took me a long time to learn this, but when someone pays you a compliment or does something nice for you, simply respond by saying thank you. We have a disturbing trend in our society today to say “No problem” when someone thanks us for doing something. Of course, that implies that if the good deed would have been a problem, the person would not have done it. I know that the words for “you’re welcome” in Spanish are “de nada,” which literally means “it was nothing.” But let’s start a countermovement and express meaningful appreciation when someone does us a good deed. And that can be started by saying you’re welcome.
  8. Record the recollections of your elders. To my gratification, I tape recorded both of my parents as they told me about the experiences of their lives, sang some childhood songs, and recited some of their favorite jokes and poems. Once they are gone, your ancestors will take their recollections with them, unless you take the initiative to record them. And record your own as well.
  9. Broaden yourself by traveling and reading. Like nothing else you can do, this will expose your to other places and life styles. In addition, ask people who have traveled a fair amount the question “Where is the most fascinating place you have ever been?” Then note the answers, and even make attempts to go those places. (In case you are wondering, the most popular answer when I have asked that question is to see the big animals in Africa.) And in reading, we can live anyone’s life in history, non-fiction or fiction. For example, it took me reading about 20 pages into the book “Watership Down” to realize that the subjects of the story were rabbits. What a broadening experience it is to see the world from other perspectives.
  10. Make the System Work. No matter what our station in life, all of us have an opportunity to make the system work. For example, it is not the job of criminal defense attorneys to prove their clients are innocent, or even not guilty. Instead it is their job to make the system work by requiring the prosecutors to present competent evidence to prove the defendants’ guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to twelve jurors. If the defense attorneys do this, they are making the system work. All of us in various ways are in the same position. And taking this responsibility seriously will bring you a great deal of gratification in knowing that you are doing your part as a citizen to make the greatest country in the world even a little bit better.

So those are my thoughts about how we can live our lives to the fullest by obtaining gratification. What do you think? Life is short, so we should do our best to live our lives while we have them.

Judge Jim Gray (Ret.)