6 Important Lessons From Oliver Sacks' Poignant Op-Ed

02/19/2015 04:32 pm ET | Updated Feb 19, 2015

How would you live your life if you knew you were on borrowed time?

British neurologist Oliver Sacks, who penned best-selling books like Awakenings and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, revealed this week in a New York Times op-ed that cancer that started as a rare eye tumor has metastasized to his liver. The diagnosis is terminal.

Sacks offered a thought-provoking reflection on life in the poignant piece. Rather than focusing on the end, the physician concentrated on the positive, exemplifying the true resiliency of the human spirit.

Here are a few lessons we can all learn about life and happiness from Sacks' column.

Take charge of your life.
fork in path

Too often we become slaves to our schedules, let other people dictate our happiness and get lost in mundane moments. As Sacks points out, we can easily change that just by making a simple choice to spend our time exactly the way that we want to -- a decision that has been ours all along. "It is up to me now to choose how to live out the months that remain to me," he wrote. "I have to live in the richest, deepest, most productive way I can."

Turn every moment into a memory.
We may not realize it, but each action we take shapes the course of our lives, right up to the very end. When collecting his thoughts after learning his prognosis, Sacks said he has "been able to see life as from a great altitude, as a sort of landscape, and with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts." Each moment matters, so savor them as they happen.

Make time for what is most important.
family laughing

"There is no time for anything inessential," Sacks wrote, vowing that he's going to focus on himself and the people in his life that matter rather than negative news or government antics. That's not to say turn a blind eye to the state of the world, but to immerse yourself in knowledge, emotions and conversations that are meaningful to you and the world around you. The rest is insignificant.

Always try to accomplish new goals.
In the time that remains, Sacks hopes to strengthen his relationships with his loved ones, gain more knowledge about the world and still experience new adventures. His attitude proves there's always an opportunity to try something new. There's no expiration date on your dreams.

Understand that you have unique gifts to give to the world.
unique

Each of us has our own imprint we can leave behind, whether it's through our talents, our spirit or our minds. Sacks reminds us that we have a say in our own legacies. As individuals we are irreplaceable, and it is a human responsibility "to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death."

Focus on the good -- no matter what.
We all have fears, but instead of focusing on them, it'd serve us better to concentrate on the positive. The best way to do this? Express gratitude. Sacks writes that he has "loved and been loved." He also gives thanks for all the opportunities he received to travel, read and write.

"Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure," he concluded. Now that is a life well lived.

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