Thoughts on My 40th Birthday

Since the day my nieces, now ages 4 and 7, were born, I have been writing them letters. These letters are being collected in a box for them to open when they turn 18. The letters are a combination of funny anecdotes about their childhoods, memories of my life, snapshots of daily activity, and also my reflections on issues, events, or subjects that I think would be worthwhile for them to read when they are young adults.

Normally, I don’t share these letters. But in light of today’s milestone, I thought I would share the letter I wrote to them today.  If you’re keen to watch the video version of me reading it, it is embedded below.  Otherwise you can just read it.

Dear Emily,

Today is my 40th birthday. In honor of the occasion, I want to take a few minutes to collect my thoughts at this milestone birthday and share them with you. Most people seem to dread each passing year and milestone birthdays depress them. Quite the opposite to this, I have found that each passing year gets better. I learn more about life, make new friends, have new experiences, and perhaps gain a little wisdom. To that end, if any of the wisdom I attempt to dispense in this letter turns out to be incorrect, I’ll still have my 50th birthday on which to correct myself before you are old enough to read these letters.

There are myriad lessons on life that are worth learning. Some that strike me as the most useful:

Live to your fullest potential. Your life is an empty vessel that will be filled with experience, activity, relationships, and accomplishments. How full will your life be? So few people are born with the advantages you enjoy. Honor that privilege by making the most of it.

Most people go through life not paying attention. Especially in a world in which communication is happening more quickly and the volume of information we wade through gets greater by the day. By not paying attention, people miss out on a lot of the beauty, a lot of the details, a lot of the important things, and a lot of the opportunities that come along.

The beauty brings joy, the devil truly is in the details, the important things can easily get lost in the chaff, and the opportunities can end knocking on an unanswered door.

Opportunities tend to present themselves more clearly than you would expect. Not only do you have to be paying enough attention so as to recognize them, you also have to be willing to take advantage of them.

Be willing to take risks, explore, push your boundaries, and test your limits. This doesn’t mean that you should do foolish things – although a little foolishness can be a good thing – but rarely will you grow if you only stay within your comfort zone. Try things that you think you couldn’t possibly do and you will be surprised by how things end up just being the baby steps to even greater accomplishments.

Exercise. Not only should you test your limits in terms of experience but you should also push yourself physically. Modern life is increasingly sedentary, a lifestyle for which our bodies are ill-suited. Make movement a part of each day. This doesn’t mean you have to be an athlete, nor do you need to suffer from worry and self-consciousness about your body. Just be active. You will have a greater appreciation for your body and will be healthier for it.

Eat well but don’t fret about food. Americans (and, increasingly, other cultures) have come to obsess about food in an unhealthy way. Enjoy food, but enjoy good food. Too often we mistake an overabundance of additives and preservatives that trick the chemistry of our tongue and brain for truly enjoyable and satisfying food. Eat a wide variety of foods, both for your good health as well as for the enjoyment of trying new things. Practice moderation in all things, including moderation.

Human beings are social creatures. Cultivate relationships by giving unconditionally, without the expectation of getting anything in return. Be caring and compassionate. Give to others, be charitable, be generous.

Assume the best of others. Be quick to forgive, quick to assume you have misunderstood, quick to let go of anger or grudges. They are seeds that bear only bitter fruit.

Things do not buy you happiness. There is nothing you will buy in this life that you will be able to take with you, so don’t accumulate unnecessary things. When you do spend your hard-earned money on things, wait before buying. Compare quality and buy the best quality you can afford, for it is better to have a few good things that last years than an abundance of things that break or wear out quickly.

Be thankful for the things you have – not the physical things – but the blessing of your life. Even when you are facing suffering and difficulties, it is all but certain that there are millions of people whose lives are much worse off than your own. While that may seem cold comfort at that moment, if you can focus your attention on the blessings you do have, it will make you appreciate the situation more.

Finally, cultivate happiness in the present. There is nothing you can do about the days that have passed. There is nothing to be gained by worrying about the days that are to come. There is only one moment that exists, and that is “now”. So be fully present in the now, enjoy it, and make the most of it.

Those are my words of wisdom to you on my 40th birthday. We’ll see how well they hold up when you read them in another eleven years. By then, I may have revised them significantly. But I suspect that while I will learn more lessons in life, these fundamentals won’t change all that much.


Uncle Chris

What about you?  What lessons have you learned over your years?  What advice would you want to share with someone who is becoming an adult?

0 thoughts on “Thoughts on My 40th Birthday

  1. Happy Birthday! The wisdom you pass to the younger generation is excellent and well composed. Since you are still a youngster by my standard, I would recommend you take time to smell the rose – be true to yourself – love yourself so others can love you. And come and cook dinner for me

  2. Yeehhh, Happy Birthday, Chris!I like the idea of those letters to your nieces. The lessons I have learned over the years are manifold but whether I apply them is another story. I far too judgmental and stubborn I think. Over the years though I happy about the experience and knowledge I have gained; I don’t want to change anything but a younger body would be nice. If I were to give advice (which I don’t because advice tends to come back and bites you in the a**), I would say that self-discipline, self-motivation are key to leading a fulfilled life.

  3. Happy 40th!! I guess that’s another ‘milestone’ you just passed through. What an eloquent message for your nieces, thank you for sharing with us. They are lucky to have an uncle like you! Hmmm….practice moderation and don’t accumulate things…good advice!

  4. Happy Birthday Chris! As someone who passed this milestone many, many years ago, I can attest to the truth it only gets better.Advice: – relish mistakes; they are life’s best teacher- life is misery and suffering; focus on the good- fame, wealth and possessions are meaningless; none fit in a coffin and all are poor evidence of what you contributed while hereFinally, in all things, across all activities, in every endeavour (save sex) less is always more

  5. Happy Birthday! It only gets better after 40! This made me cry. What you are doing for your nieces is amazing and they will never forget it or you! You are a wonderful uncle.I did something similar for my kids…kept journals of the first 18 years of their life. Then gave them to them on their 18th birthday.

  6. #1. Happy birthday!#2. This is an absolutely awesome tradition. I think you’ve got something special going and I hope you won’t mind that I’ll probably be copying your idea in the future. =D#3. My advice would be that life is always changing and to restrain yourself to any one rigid formula will most likely end up costing you in the end. There’s an exception to every rule, even this one. =D Welcome to the paradoxes of our world young one.

  7. I would add: Change is inevitable. Sometimes it happens so quickly that you will be taken off guard. Generally, however, it moves as slowly as a snail, leaving a noticeable track on the pavement. It seems to me that change needs to be studied, rather than embraced unabashedly. Some change is a disadvantage; other change is necessary and needed. It is important to discern how a particular change will benefit your life.

  8. This is such a neat idea! I’m sure they will enjoy reading these. Other advice? I think you have covered it all. I’d expound a little on the difference between need and want (so many are so confused on this point) as an addition to your “things don’t buy you happiness” paragraph… Wonderful 40th B’Day musings. Hope it was wonderful!

  9. A very happy birthday to you Chris, and a very thoughtful activity that will really add much to their lives. Great advice from great people really do make one heck of a difference 🙂

  10. @beowulf222 – @murisopsis – @jandsschultz – @bengozen – @AppsScraps -Thanks for the additional bits of advice, all of which are good points.  I’ll include an addendum to the letter to ensure they can receive a little more wisdom.@amygwen – Thanks.  I really like the picture, which my uncle took when he was living with us.  He was a photobug and as I was the first grandchild, there are a lot of pictures of me from that age.@AzureRecollections – @adamswomanlost – @ZSA_MD – @Roadlesstaken – @iskrak – @TheCheshireGrins – @agmhkg – Thanks everyone.  I really hope they enjoy these letters.  While they may not appreciate them at age 18, assuming they keep them after the fact the letters should be more meaningful as they have children of their own.  I’m big into chronicling family history… thus my blogging!@Wangium – @yang1815 – @venice – @XXKimPossibleXX – @fortheloveofblogging – Thanks for the birthday wishes!@Fatcat723 – I’ll make it a cooking roadshow!@CurryPuffy – Yeah, the moderation part is harder to stick to when a second piece of dessert is being offered.  That’s when the “moderation in moderation” part of the advice comes into play.@ClimbUpTreesToLookForFish – I look forward to reading your entry.

  11. wow chris, this was quite amazing. one of the best posts i’ve ever seen on xanga. thanks for sharing this. i know that your nieces will truly treasure this. and i also have a feeling this may end up getting broadcast on some news station 10 or 20 years from now. i don’t know, LOLanyway, thanks again for sharing.

  12. i must say i’m a little embarrassed to admit that i’m not as wise and fulfilled as you are. let’s hope i’m getting closer to that when i celebrate my 40th in 4 years from now.

  13. Happy Birthday my friend. Chris – that was beautiful. You’re a wonderful uncle and you’ve packed a lot of wisdom into the letter. I’m sure they will enjoy it very much. I’m not sure what else to 1. I would strongly encourage them to better themselves – either formal education, reading and talking with knowledgeable people. 2. Travel – explore other countries, cultures, food, language and customs. (I don’t mean travel to a resort somewhere and veg out on the beach)3. Learn to communicate well. While it is good to make yourself understood, (I’m stealing from Covey here), seek first to understand the other person’s point of view. It’s essential to listen to others. Sometimes you need to be aware of what they aren’t telling you too.4. Forgiving is always good. 5. It is good to pause and reflect on our lives, our situation and see what we need to change. 6. Saving money is good habit to have.

  14. Happy belated Birthday! And the way you care for your nieces is sweet!  And that letter is amazing. Thank you for sharing. To many more happy years, and wonderful experiences.

  15. Good gracious! This was heartfelt. I really wish I had a wise uncle growing up. I know someday your nieces will truly appreciate reading such wisdom from their uncle. May your birthday be a warm and joyous one surrounded by family and friends, Chris. 🙂

  16. First and foremost, Happy Birthday!! I absolutely love that you are writing to your neices. I have, since I was young, loved receiving letters in the mail. My pen pal, my family, my friends; there’s nothing quite like the excitement of opening up the mail box and finding a hand-written letter. I’m sure your neices will enjoy them thoroughly. As for the advice you have given. It’s a beautifully written letter. I’m with you – these fundamentals probably won’t (and shouldn’t) change! Thank you so much for sharing this =).

  17. @mizz_chan – Thanks.  I agree with you about letters and the joy of receiving them.  In addition to these “do not open until 18” letters, I regularly send letters and postcards that can be enjoyed in real time because I want my nieces to appreciate the pleasure that mail can bring.@Southeast_Beauty – Thank you for the birthday wishes.  When I was very young, I remember there was one point when I learned about my great-grandfather after whom I was named.  He had died when my father was just a teenager, so two decades before I was born.  I remember being so sad at not having the opportunity to know him.  In some way, I think writing these letters are a way of making sure my nieces have an opportunity to know more about not only me, but other family members as I share memories and stories of them.@ElusiveWords – Thanks Matt and those are wonderful suggestions.  Not having actually printed up and mailed the letters yet, I’m going to add all this extra advice.  Perhaps when they are adults, my nieces will get a kick (or be spooked out like J!) that people were reading about them and sharing their advice.@nov_way – Thank you; I sure hope they appreciate the letters when they are older.@rudyhou – Oh, Rudy, I’m sure that isn’t true at all.  I think we each carry a great deal of wisdom within us, otherwise we probably wouldn’t have made it this far in life!@ThePrince – I’m flattered that you think so highly of this post.  I guess every once in a while something of value does crop up on Xanga, huh?  =D@CurryPuffy – Deep like the puddles after a rain shower…@BumbleBoTuna – Thanks.  I’m glad you like it.

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