It’s a simple question, but it’s hard to answer:
How would you like to be remembered?
When you’re dead and gone, what do you want the first thing to be for your friends, family, descendants, or strangers to think about you?
Answering this question is a major life hack, because it will let you orient everything you do around a crucial mission.
What do most people want to be remembered for?
If you had to guess what most people want to be remembered for, what would you say?
Before researching and thinking much about this topic, I would have said “for being a good person” or “being there for friends and family.”
While this is definitely a common response, when people are asked this question their sincere answer is often slightly different.
As a poll in the UK showed, the majority of people want to be remembered for making people laugh.
“As part of their annual fundraising appeal, a new survey from UK terminal illness charity Marie Curie asked 845 people what they would most like to be remembered for after they die,” notes Over Sixty.
“The top answer? A sense of humour.”
The majority of respondents wanted to bring joy to people even once they’re dead. After all, a joke can still crack a smile and get people laughing even if the one who told it is no longer around.
That’s a pretty epic legacy to leave, for sure!
Second place on this poll were those who wanted to be remembered for being caring and good people.
When I think of this poll result it actually makes sense. When I think of loved ones and friends who’ve passed on one of the first things that come to mind is the unique ways they could get you laughing!
How they saw the world and cared about others also definitely comes to mind.
Let’s dig even deeper here to see how you would like to be remembered and why it matters…
Pay attention to how you make others feel
If you want to know how you will be remembered, pay attention to the impact you’re currently making.
After all, how others will remember you is an accumulation of how they currently see and experience you.
Your words, actions, emotions, and approach to life are what shapes your legacy.
You can’t go back and erase what’s in the past or mistakes you’ve made, but you can go forward with an increased awareness of how your choices affect those around you and shape their positive or negative experience of you.
When you clash with others or put ego and petty grievances first, you create a wake of turbulence and sadness behind you.
When you have a beneficial and respectful interaction with someone, they remember it fondly.
“The people you remember the most are those who you shared positive time with.
“Time is the most valuable thing a person has and by sharing it with others one nurtures mutual love,” writes Kevin R. at the Code of Living.
“This love benefits both people and brings happiness to their lives. So don’t spend all your time in the ‘grind’ or ‘hustle’ and make time for friends, family, and loved ones.”
We’re all living busy lives these days, but don’t forget about those who make it all worth it (including yourself!)
At the same time, letting everything slide and just going with the flow is also a very bad idea…
Don’t just ‘go with the flow’
The idea of going with the flow or getting into flow sounds amazing.
When you think about how you would like to be remembered you may think of being thought back on as someone who was “chill” and went with the flow.
After all, like I said, those who are remembered in a loving and admiring way are generally those who brought love, solidarity and improvement to people’s lives, rather than conflict, laziness or obstacles.
However, being too easygoing can actually lead to you being quickly forgotten or even feelings of sadness in those who remember you.
They will think back on someone who was run over by life: somebody who never truly owned all their shit – good and bad.
It’s excellent to find your passion and pursue it. But the idea of letting life come to you and passively accepting it is actually deeply disempowering and regressive.
It’s absolutely true that we must accept and embrace what we can’t change, but we need to also be the agents and power-generators of our own lives.
The truth is that “getting into flow” is actually terrible advice.
If you just let life come to you or drift where the river flows, you’ll end up being barely remembered. Or you will be remembered as someone who was more defined by what happened to them than by what they did.
Instead of this, think about how you’d like to be remembered and then consciously pursue those qualities and goals.
As award-winning author Frank Sonnenberg writes:
“Make a conscious effort to live a life that makes you happy, one in which you make a difference, and one that makes you proud.
“You have an opportunity to define your life as you see fit, or to go with the flow and let it be defined for you.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Give more than you take
Those who are well remembered are those who give more than they take.
Having a purpose is often misunderstood as needing to invent a cure to a disease, or a new technology, or revolutionize the world and “save” it in some way.
The reality of how to make a difference be remembered in a benevolent way is far different.
As the shaman Rudá Iandê says:
“Purpose is usually a mistaken word. I’ve seen many people looking for a greater purpose in life, like a kind of mission to save the world.
“Basically, they were trying to find something to make them feel super special and fill their ego. Purpose is something different.
“You don’t need to change the world. You just need to shift your perspective, from ‘what you can take from life today’ to ‘how you can contribute to life today.’”
One important caveat I would add here, is that you can’t give from an empty container.
If you try to be overly “selfless” or approach life in such a way that you only serve others, you will often fail to respect yourself.
In fact, being overly selfless is itself a form of egoism and lack of consideration for the value of life.
You must first learn to care for yourself before you can really be there for other people in any real or dependable way.
The important thing here is to struggle with yourself, God and the universe authentically. Be honest about the pain and discomfort you feel and use it to fuel your growth.
Then build yourself into a person who’s able to truly give and help.
Being a problem solver
We live, unfortunately, in a society which encourages us to pass the buck and embrace victimhood.
“I can’t do X because of Y.”
I don’t know the tragedies and struggles in your life. What I do know is that embracing a victim mentality and focusing on what is lacking and unfair is disempowering.
If sadness or anger fuels action it can be deeply positive. But if it’s used to slump into passivity and inaction, it becomes a dead weight and toxic soul-killer.
When you think about how you’d like to be remembered, think of what you remember most about those you respect and love.
Chances are that what you remember about someone is that in some way or other they solved problems.
We could redefine “problems” here to also mean needs, desires, and requests.
An amazing chef solves the “problem” of being hungry.
A hilarious friend solves the need to laugh in the face of chaos and melt away our analytical, obsessive minds.
A mechanic or bike repair guy solves the need of having a functioning vehicle or mode of transport.
A friend we can lean on solves the need of having support when we feel like we can’t do it alone.
All of these roles are what we often remember most about someone when they’re gone.
When you’re gone, what problem or need will you be remembered for solving? (or at least trying to solve).
As self-development writer Brittni Mehlhoff notes, being a problem solver is about making other people’s lives better. It includes:
“Helping my family overcome challenges and obstacles, helping strangers (that become friends) pursue their passions, and everything in between.”
Knowing your priorities
To know how you’d like to be remembered, you have to be very clear on what your priorities are.
This doesn’t just have to be one thing, and you may have many competing priorities and ambitions in life.
What you can do is create a sort of “Maslow’s hierarchy” but of your priorities.
Maslow defined a pyramid of needs beginning with food and shelter and rising up the pyramid to self-actualization and spiritual meaning.
To make a priority pyramid, start with your highest goal then work your way down.
This is an example of how to build a Priority Pyramid.
An example would be:
- Your #1 core goal is to have a family and provide for those you love and to be remembered after you’re gone by future generations and those who were positively impacted by you and your family.
- Secondary priorities are to earn money and become a responsible, stable individual in order to do this.
- Hard choices may include the necessity of passing up the chance to travel or date around much in order to form a family and achieve your priority.
- You may focus on academia, on-the-job training, and more to get the skills training you need to become successful and move up the career ladder.
- You may be part of a university, professional organization, or various online and offline communities which also prioritize careers and mutually support each other in their professional ambitions.
A second example might be for someone who is very focused on outer career success or innovation. Keep in mind that this isn’t always “binary” or just A vs. B and can include all sorts of shades of subtlety.
Without further ado, a career-oriented pyramid:
- Your #1 core goal is to have a successful and innovative career that changes society and the world and is remembered long after you’re gone by colleagues and industry insiders.
- Secondary priorities are to get the education necessary to progress up the career ladder and devote your schedule to work and professional betterment.
- Hard choices may include the necessity of passing up the chance to form a family or travel extensively, because you want to establish yourself in your career, network, and form local connections.
- Your job will help you earn money, and you may choose to live somewhere you consider amenable to forming and raising a family.
- You may be part of a religion or community which reflects your values and share similar priorities as you, in order to build a solid foundation.
Building this Priority Pyramid will help you clarify things a lot and think more about how you want to be remembered.
What is real success in life for you?
It’s important to think about what success in life means to you as well, in order to think about how you’d like to be remembered.
Do you want more of a public, extroverted life or an inward-facing, introverted life? Dr. Alejandra Vasquez esplains:
“Sometimes it has nothing to do with what you consider a success or failure in life.
“The more public you live your life, the more others have an opportunity to gauge your accomplishments and setbacks.”
As psychology blogger Dr. Gerald Stein writes, when he asked his friends what they want to be remembered for he got many different answers.
Some said they wanted to be remembered for being loving of their friends, faithful to God and generous. Others talked about their desire to be remembered for putting family first:
“As having been a person whose children were her highest priority, and whose husband and friends joined her children as her dearest treasures, for whom learning and growing were essential parts of her life, who tried to do the right thing in both ordinary and difficult situations.”
These are all very valuable ways to think about the different ways each of us defines success on our unique life journey.
It’s not the size of your life footprint that counts
Our modern society often prioritizes bigger as being better.
Earn more money, get more famous, get bigger muscles, and so on…
But when it comes to thinking about how you’d like to be remembered it’s much more the shape of your life footprint that counts than the size of it.
“If one person stops and remembers a time that I encouraged them, gave them a compliment, or provided them just one small act of kindness, it would mean the world to me to know that it was not in vain and it left even the tiniest impact.”
She is so right about that.
How does our motivation for how we’d like to be remembered change as we age?
A lot of how we want to be remembered depends on our age.
As we mature and experience loss and see the fragility of life, our priorities often begin to shift.
A video by Glamor magazine shows just how much age can influence how we want to be remembered.
“Most of the kids didn’t have to think long and quickly gave answers such as ‘being famous’ or ‘rich’.
“The group between 16 and 35 were more pensive, taking longer for their answer and usually settled for ‘making some sort of change in the world’ or ‘having an impact’.
“The group above 40 mostly arrived at the same conclusion: ‘being kind’, ‘a good person’, or ‘having helped others’. Do you recognize yourself in any of these answers?”
I know I do, but then again I don’t really want to give away my age!
Let’s just say that all of us evolve a lot in what we want to be remembered for, and that’s a great thing.
Because this ever-changing journey we’re on is worth every step.
Why does this matter anyway?
The reason this matters is that even if you don’t believe in existence after our physical life, you will be remembered and continue to have some influence on the world you leave behind.
This includes the actions you took, however small, and the memories you imprint in those who are left behind.
Even the smallest action can have ripple effects and change the universe for the better.
That’s why it’s so crucial to be authentic against all odds. Do it with strangers you meet and do it with those closest to you.
“Share your real self with your children, talk openly with your spouse, and let your friends in.
“Men who build walls around their hearts and souls are not remembered—because nobody knows them.
“Tell the stories. How can we be remembered if we won’t allow ourselves to be known?”
Thinking about how you want to be remembered helps put everything in perspective.
All of us will be gone one day. That’s a harsh truth we all have to accept in our own way.
Realizing how others will remember you doesn’t have to be a sad thought: it can be inspiring, energizing, and clarifying.
“We need a timeless overarching question that we can revert back to time and time again.
“A question that reflects our core personal values, shows us what we stand for, and guides our daily actions. That question is this:
“‘How do I want to be remembered?’”