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Finally figuring out what is most important in life

Finally figuring out what is most important in life

Editor’s note: Please enjoy this column of Dr. Rosmann’s from 2013.

Recently a friend of mine commented that his two adult children know how to work hard, take care of themselves and their families, and are competent and fair. What a blessing, and a tribute to the parents.

Like all of us, my friend’s children currently have trials to deal with, and will have more. My friend has concluded that being a good parent is modeling to his children that it’s less important WHAT they do than HOW they do it.

In a sense our main task in life is figuring out the “How” part. For some of us, giving everything we’ve got to improve our health and family is a road to meaningfulness.

For others, fulfilling what we perceive to be our vocational calling is most important. In many cases our employment is our life’s work.

There is an even more important part to life. I am still trying to figure this out.

I think it is to let go of ourselves and to participate in causes greater than ourselves. Investing our hearts in greater causes is more important.

I suspect I am sounding like a preacher – and I don’t mean to be, but total giving of self for a higher cause is probably the end product of our search for meaning. Soldiers giving their lives for the sake of their comrades in a conflict they are seeking to right and persons donating organs to others to survive are obvious examples of such self-sacrifice.

Two of America’s well-known billionaires are giving away most of their wealth to improve human life in Africa and elsewhere, except for smaller gifts to their children. There are many subtler variations of such total giving of self.

Less observable are the acts of courage that entail doing our best in daily life. We all have an obligation to dedicate our entire being to a higher cause that enables others to have opportunity.

Our actions, even if not noticed, may seem mundane, but occur when the giver offers love, hope and faith in a higher cause. These are the seeds for future generations to live by.

Farmers can carry out acts of self-sacrifice by doing our best to produce food, fiber and fuel by farming in ways that preserve the well-being of the people and resources (land, water and air, etc.) needed for production of these essentials for life.

If farming chiefly for money, our actions as producers seem meaningless in a spiritual sense. We can be “better seeds” for future generations.

A farm widow who lost her husband to self-imposed death gave me a powerful lesson. She pointed out that “we find solace in letting go of what we want when we become engaged in causes greater than our own.”

She also wisely pronounced that “tears are liquid prayers.” Her many tears are requests to turn her husband’s death into useful experiences for others so there will be fewer farmer suicides.

There are other interpretations of the biblical passage on which the quote is based: Psalms 6:8, which says unfortunate events, such as terrors of the night, should not frighten us.

While the author of the passage, David, might have been referring to wolves attacking the flocks of sheep he and other shepherds were guarding at night, it could also refer to the hours from 12-4 a.m. when our bodily production of serotonin and other activator hormones is lowest. We feel fearful until dawn approaches and we resume our diurnal production of positive hormones. Our thinking clears.

My widow/friend’s interpretation might be the more correct. What do you think?

She is finding new purpose in life by bringing attention to the problem of farmers ending their own lives. She is dedicated to helping farm people recognize the causes and prevention of suicide in her writing and speaking engagements. She is unrelenting in helping others.

A farm couple I know has found the capacity to “go on” since they determined to let go of resentment after they came to terms with being excluded from a portion of their allotted holdings after “Dad” died. They were excluded from an opportunity to get ahead because a sibling who was the executor chose to not advise them about an option they could have exercised to purchase the farmland cheaper from the family trust.

Wrong things happen. The events, and we, are not most important.

The lives of others are more important. We must undertake the self-discipline and self-study to figure out the “How” part rather than the “What” part of our motives.

I know only a bit about the self-discipline part. I have to constantly review and correct my motives for doing things. I am still in the process of figuring it all out, and not just because my wife tells me.

It takes a higher power! Luck is less important. Trying our hardest and having unselfish motives are key. 

Dr. Rosmann is a psychologist at Harlan, Iowa. Readers can contact him at

Dr. Rosmann lives on a family farm near Harlan, Iowa. He is a psychologist who has directed behavioral health programs in response to disasters of all types, Contact him at

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Dr. Mike Rosmann is a clinical psychologist and former farmer/rancher offering advice and commentary on agricultural behavioral health.

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