The Ultimate Gift - Part 1: The Five Secrets

This time of year usually leads us to reflect more on life than at any other on the calendar. The time between Thanksgiving and the end of the year reminds us of how lucky we are to be alive and to be thankful for everything we have in our lives: people, experiences and our favourite creature comforts. 

[F]or most of human history, humans naturally recognized that with age, there often comes wisdom worth hearing. I realized this experience was lost in our society.
— p. 21, The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die by John Izzo

Though I usually naturally fall into this periodic contemplation just like everyone else, I'm thankful to have recently read The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die by John Izzy, a book I picked up at a used book sale during our trip to Vancouver this past September. The book, a distillation of interviews with over 200 people sixty years of age and older who were identified by others as having the wisdom that enable them to life a full and happy life, is helping me make better use of the time I spend thinking about the past, the present and the future.

Here are the five lessons derived from the interviews:

  1. Be true to your self: Following your inner voice is likely to take you in directions that will make you feel fulfilled. 
  2. Leave no regrets: Ignoring your inner voice leads to regret.
  3. Become love: Loving yourself, your family & friends and humanity itself makes the journey sweeter.
  4. Live in moment: The present is all you have and you can choose how you experience it.
  5. Give more than you take: Helping others helps you live a better life in ways we can’t fully understand.

What's most powerful about the book is not just the lessons themselves, but the fact that the interviewees not only understand the lessons, they apply them quite intentionally in their own way. The lessons have become a habit in their day-to-day lives, including regularly making time for reflection about who they are and what they want out of life...not just around the Holidays.

Intuition...The average person is too weighted down. need to be free to dream.
— Howard (Red) Stevens, grandfather in The Ultimate Gift movie

That’s something we don’t do enough of, spend time reflecting. We’re all too preoccupied with the day to day—with what needs to be done, with what tomorrow will bring, to really think about who we are and what we’re about—to think about what makes us tick.

Don’t make money your goal; manage your money, choose a job that you’re going to enjoy, ‘cuz you’re going to spend a lot of time doing it.
— May, 72 (interviewee)
What many of these people had in common, these people whom others identified as being wise, was that they took time on a regular basis to reflect on their lives.
— p. 43, The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die by John Izzo
Often the seeds of not being true to our ‘self’ begin very early in our lives, when instead of asking what we want to do with our lives, we compare ourselves to others.
— p. 28, The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die by John Izzo

What strikes me about the five lessons is how much easier it is to reflect on what we want most when money isn’t a major preoccupation in our lives. I don’t mean that reflection is left only to the financially wealth, but that it’s easier to think about what’s most important to us when we can quiet the constant chatter that the need to get or make more money can create.

Having a firm financial footing—thanks to saving more and wanting less—enables us to listen to our inner voice, to what it is that we want out of life. We can pay attention because having some financial security makes us refocus our attention inward, away from what we’re told we should be chasing, namely the illusory symbols of status (career, home, car, gadgets, clothes, etc.). The feeling of financial security (aka financial peace of mind) increasingly redirects how we spend our time and resources. Beyond a certain threshold, it can even be considered self-reinforcing, even self-perpetuating.

Keeping Money In Its Place Helps Us Apply The Five Secrets

Given how important how we feel about money is to our success in applying the five secrets, here’s my take on these lessons when we've been able to keep money's role in our lives in its place:

In order to find a more purposeful life you must let go of what society and people think of you and look inside yourself through some discipline—prayer, meditation—to find out what matters most to you and pursue it.
— James Autry, poet and author, 73 (interviewee)
In contrast to the people we interviewed, many people live completely unreflective lives, simply experiencing and rarely asking how they might move closer to the path they desire.
— p. 26, The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die by John Izzo

1. Be true: Don’t let yourself become a slave to your paycheque or your profession. Following your passion, your purpose—what drives you is of greater importance than how much wealth you can accumulate. Having savings and living below your means is one of the surest ways to be able to be who you are meant to be.

2. Have no regrets: Reducing your dependence on an employer (the paycheque-to-paycheque lifestyle) gives you more of a chance to listen to what you want and make the regular life course corrections you need to make to avoid the regrets associated with not doing what your gut tells you you needed to do next.

Unless we fundamentally choose to see ourselves as worthy, we cannot find happiness.
— p. 65, The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die by John Izzo
When we judge our life we diminish ourselves. The more we can eliminate all need to compare, compete, grade, and judge our lives, the closer we get to wisdom.
— p. 142, The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die by John Izzo

3. Love: When we focus on building ourselves from the inside out—building our character and our abilities as opposed to amassing outward symbols of success—we don’t overextend ourselves financially. Building from the inside out also makes us more patient, understanding, observant and kind. We’re more aware of the people around us because we’re less self-absorbed, less focused on chasing the next prized possession.

Worry about the future has only one real power and that is the power to steal joy.
— p. 91, The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die by John Izzo
We should count each day as a separate life.
— Seneca
One of the most profound things I learned about getting older is that the happiest people we interviewed were the least focused on themselves.
— p. 108, The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die by John Izzo

4. Focus on the present: People who save feel secure right now. The feeling isn’t deferred to some time in the future. The accumulated savings pay dividends in the present by providing peace of mind—enabling the saver to avoid the distraction of feeling that money is tight or fearing the next setback that might come along. By having a stash you can use if you ever need it, or live off of for an extended period of time, takes your mind out of some future time when life will be “better” and refocuses it on living your life in the present. It saves us from chasing the wrong goals because we pay attention to how it feels to pursue them in the present and may lead us to focus on different goals as a result. Chasing a goal is pretty meaningless if we’re not enjoying the journey along the way.

When a generation or society becomes focused on the accumulation of more things and comfort rather than some greater sense of purpose, a society, like a person, loses its vitality.
— p. 110, The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die by John Izzo

5. Give: When we feel secure—like we have “enough”, or that we’re well on that path—we become more generous with our time and money. We find ourselves wanting to help others be more successful and happier. We turn outward because we know that making our world a better place is about more than just improving our personal situation…and besides, giving makes us feel like a million bucks.

There’s a lot to chew on in the above, isn’t there? I certainly don’t have it all figured out but I believe that’s part of what makes life interesting. All we can hope is that we get better at it as we go along and in order to make that hope a reality, we need to keep working at it.

Want more? Stay tuned for Part 2 coming later during the Holidays.

Image credit/copyright: Master isolated images/

This post contains affiliate links to Purchases made via these links help support the F2P blog. It doesn't cost you anything and helps cover ongoing expenses associated with maintaining this blog. Thank you for your support.