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A Simple Philosophy for a Happy Life — From a Dying 17-Year-Old

Sam Berns’ TED talk explains his heartwarming tips to teach a happy life. All of the mini-quests in life are missions in the ultimate quest — happiness. Career success, a fruitful love life, and reliable friends and family are all factors in our overall happiness. You’d think the secret to a happy life would come from people with […]


Sam Berns’ TED talk explains his heartwarming tips to teach a happy life.

All of the mini-quests in life are missions in the ultimate quest — happiness. Career success, a fruitful love life, and reliable friends and family are all factors in our overall happiness.

You’d think the secret to a happy life would come from people with more experience in their lives. Well, at 17, Sam Berns has shared his own.

Diagnosed with progeria, a condition only affecting 350 people worldwide, Sam rapidly ages, has tight skin and heart disease; but he doesn’t let it get the better of him.

Seven years ago, Sam gave a TED talk, issuing wisdom beyond his years. In it, he outlined some poignant tips in his philosophy for a happy life we could all do with listening to.

So, without further ado.


Be Ok With What You Can’t Do Because There Is so Much You Can Do

Sam accepts there is a lot he can do. While people his age are likely playing all sorts of sports, Sam isn’t phased. He says:

“Instead, I choose to focus on the activities that I can do through things that I’m passionate about, like scouting, or music, or comic books, or any of my favourite Boston sports teams.”

For a lot of people, that is hard. I, for one, get frustrated with myself when I can’t do something — even when it is out my reach.

Many years ago, I broke my collar bone playing rugby. It put me out of action for ten weeks, meaning I wasn’t fit enough to start for the end of season football final.

Bear in mind; this was a big deal for 18-year-old Max. I was gutted. Eleven years of football to not play a large part in the biggest game of my amateur career.

What it gave me, though, was the chance to rest. My young life heavily focused around sport, with two games and three training sessions a week.

With the time off, it allowed me to just focus on getting better. I was also able to adapt my weightlifting to encompass my recovery. Every cloud.

It taught me the value of slowing down and evaluating my surroundings.

In his TED talk, Sam discusses his passion for the school marching band. As he only weighs 50 lbs, carrying the 40 lbs snare is beyond his capabilities. Instead of moping around, he and his parents collaborated with an engineer and built a frame, reducing the snare to a more comfortable 6 lbs.

The heartwarming video featured in the TED talk at the end of this article shows Sam doing what he can do, rather than worrying about what he can’t.


Surround Yourself With People You Want to Be Around

“We see each other for who we are on the inside.”

Sam speaks about his friends and family in glowing admiration. He says they “provide the real positive influences in my life, as I hope I can provide a positive influence in theirs as well.”

Think of yourself as a sponge (and bear with me on this). Your friends are buckets filled with actions and positive behaviour you absorb the more time you spend with them.

You may sometimes think you can do it alone. ‘It’s all in the mind!’ Well, that’s partly true, but everyone needs a helping hand from time to time.

Surround yourself with people who are happy for you and your achievements over ones that exhibit jealousy. Doing so can give you:

  • Added motivation.
  • A loving support system.
  • Safety — you can count on them if things go wrong.

I know this first hand.

During low moments in my life, such as first-year university loneliness or the recent job rejection I often talk about in my blog posts, surrounding myself with people I want to be with is critical in recovering from bad times. They’re the people you immediately reach out to and are the ones to help you sustain emotional wellbeing in the long run.


Stay in a Forward Thinking State of Mind

Having something to look forward to, Sam says, keeps him going. For him, it’s something as simple as the release of a comic book. For me, it is the next exciting film or a trip to the pub with friends.

Sam accepts that while he does try to look past any negative feelings, he doesn’t ignore them completely.

“I kind of accept it, I let it in, so that I can acknowledge it, and do what I need to do to move past it.”

Of course, Sam’s life was tougher than normal. In spite of this, he says “knowing that I was going to get better, and looking forward to a time that I would feel good again, helped me to keep moving forward.”

Sam’s philosophy is not unfounded.

An eNeuro study found that when pathological gamblers were told to envision a future, long term reward — such as a holiday — their preference for a short term prize is reduced.

Anticipation for rewards, large or small, can get you out of a rut. It can be as simple as this:

  • Looking forward to a lunch break during the day.
  • Looking forward to your favourite TV show that airs once a week.
  • Making fun plans for the weekend to help you get through a tough work week.
  • Treating yourself to a piece of cake after a week of dieting.
  • Planning a vacation for the summer.
  • Treating yourself to a new car at the end of the year.

Using a mixture of small (lunch breaks) and large goals (vacations) can create anticipation and motivation.

Side note: While looking forwards should be the priority, looking backwards does have its benefits. Only if you use it to look forward, use hindsight as a tool.

Even the smallest of milestones should be looked forward to. Lately, I’ve been looking forward to the next time I see my girlfriend or even just a few days off work.

The simplest of things can make the biggest of differences.


A Happy Life Doesn’t Need to Be Complicated

Youtube video belongs to TED

Sadly, just one month after giving the TED talk, Sam passed away. With aspirations of working in Biology, his death is heartbreaking. He lives on through his philosophy.

Life comes at you from all angles, most of which we don’t see coming. What we can learn from Sam is life is what you make it.

More often than not, you will neglect simple advice in favour of over complicating things. You needn’t worry.

Start from the inside and work out. Put your head in a forward frame of mind, then work on surrounding yourself with supportive people. Ask yourself what you’re looking forward to next. Large or small, it doesn’t matter.

Oh, and he gives one more piece of advice.

Never miss a party.

Thanks, Sam, I won’t.

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