Real Simple readers told us who topped their list―and why.
When our 27-year-old son was killed by a hit-and-run driver late this spring, it was brought home forcibly to us that all the possessions in the world mean very little. It occurred to me that after 45 years of marriage, my husband and I needed to pare down and keep only the things that matter most, and to spend more time with family and friends.
Antrim, New Hampshire
My first priority is my children. I am a high school music teacher, and I also play professionally. I try to be everything to my kids and to provide them with the nurturing, love, and experiences that I hope will make them happy and healthy adults. But it's not easy. Sometimes I have to hire baby-sitters more than I would like because of performance commitments. And sometimes I worry. But I try to focus on learning, loving, and enjoying that which is beautiful.
Deborah A. Cole
Recently, my mother unexpectedly passed away, and I think I'm still in shock. But it has made me realize that my family is the most important thing in my life. Before, I had put my work and interests on the top of my priority list, and I didn't keep in close contact with my family. Now I call several times a week and plan to visit more often. I enjoy my work, but it does not have the place in my life that it had before. I hope that others realize that we need to stay in touch and say "I love you" often. Differences in opinions and lifestyle must be put aside, and our love for each other should be put on the front burner.
Rio Grande, Ohio
I put my three girls, my husband, and myself before everything else. I am a stay-at-home mom, and when I get overwhelmed by church, school, and volunteer work, I ask myself, "How will this affect our family?" If a project will consume a lot of my time, I shy away from it. I have finally realized that a stressed-out mom is not a pleasant mom, and I would much rather say no to the PTO fund-raiser than be irritable and short-tempered at home.
My son Bob is the most world-weary six-year-old on the planet and can roll his eyes like a pro. My son Sam, two, eats like a trucker and likes to break things. Some days I'm proud just to have kept them alive another day. Some days I sit in their rooms as they sleep and am awestruck that these beautiful boys belong to me. They are my two demanding, unrelenting, hilarious, annoying, goofy, and wonderful priorities, without a doubt.
I am an empty-nester, but my family is still my priority. With a blended family of six of my husband's children and four of mine, I spend most of my nonworking time e-mailing, talking to them on the phone, jotting letters, and (still!) tossing together occasional care packages. When my children return, it is with friends/significant others/babies in tow. They come home for a meal, a visit, or sometimes an extended stay. Our time together, however it occurs, is more precious to me than jewels.
I am reconnecting with my family. After living away from them for my whole married life, I recently moved back home to Cleveland and realized how much I missed out on―the birthdays, weddings, holidays, and seeing nieces and nephews grow up. I now go to every family function, large or small, and enjoy being surrounded by the ones whom I love most in the world.
My first priority in life is to raise my children to be kind. The most important gift you can give them is the ability to be mindful and have empathy for others.
I try to expose my children to nature, good literature, and visual and performing arts. I make sure they have time to hang out without a schedule, TV, or computer. I teach them about other cultures, charity to others, respectful behavior, and compassion. I teach them what it means to persevere at a task in order to succeed. I teach them to do things for themselves.
My first priority is myself. Selfish? Maybe. But looking after my own well-being helps all the other areas of my life―family, friends, work, home―fall into balance. And making myself happy doesn't have to be extravagant. Sometimes all I need is half an hour to read a novel, 60 seconds to hug the dog, or two hours to watch a sappy movie.
I'm a college student who works very hard to meet the standards of others, but my first priority is being true to myself. The only way I ever make real progress in learning and growing is by slowing down and listening to myself.
San Antonio, Texas
I make sure I take care of myself mentally, physically, spiritually, intellectually, psychologically, and socially. To some this may sound a bit selfish, but through my actions my children are learning that it is very important to take care of themselves, too. Sometimes my family doesn't like the boundaries I've set (such as Mommy time at 8:30 P.M.), but they understand that they ultimately benefit from it.
Fort Worth, Texas
Solitude is a priority of mine. I can't imagine what type of person I'd be without being able to go off by myself to think, write, sing, or sit and watch people. Some of my finer moments have come when I am alone with my pen and paper or when I've been able to think things through.
Dale City, Virginia
In order to maintain balance, I make myself my first priority―something that women in our culture have enormous difficulty doing (myself included). I care for myself first in order to joyfully care for my husband and young son. After that comes everything else: school (I'm a graduate student in my final three terms), housekeeping, time with friends, and time in the community.
Victoria A. Wilson
My biggest priority is to keep myself centered, balanced, and calm. I used to think I was being selfish by taking time for myself, but I see now that it's one of the most important things I can do for those around me.
Ocracoke, North Carolina
At the tender age of 32, I have realized that if I am not happy with my career and my lifestyle, then how can my friends and family be? I have learned to treat every day as a chance for change. And in the last few months I have ended a year-old dead-end relationship, lost 14 pounds, and started reading all those delicious novels I had put aside. I am filled with a giddiness about the future, and my friends and family are excited along with me.
Christine D. Doughty
Charlotte, North Carolina
My priorities in life are very basic: happiness, tranquility, and peace. I am a 42-year-old woman who has done many things in her life, from riding a motorcycle to driving a race car. In the midst of all that, I had three wonderful children. I have gone through trials and tribulations all my life, and when I turned 40, I decided it was time to make myself a priority. I'm finally reaching my goal.
My priority is to learn to be fully self-supportive and self-reliant. I am a baby boomer, and living single after becoming a widow has been a startling experience. For the first time in my life, I am deciding who I am and how to move forward in a positive way―financially, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. It's not as scary as it was in the beginning, but I am still standing on wobbly legs.
Mary Lou Grant
While planning my wedding, I obsessed over every detail. Then I read a book called Inviting God to Your Wedding and Keeping God in Your Marriage [$25, amazon.com], which helped me to remember what the ceremony was all about. Whether or not the caterer uses the wrong filling in the croissants, the limo breaks down, or it rains buckets, what matters most is our love for each other and our covenant as man and wife. Everything else is just detail.
The first priority in my life is God. He is my center and grounding point. He gives me the strength and love to be a mom, wife, daughter, nurse, teacher, and student. I keep my other priorities in line when I am in his will.
Now that I am in my 70s, my priority is my spirituality. When I was younger, it was always in the background. I do not have material wealth, nor do I seek it. But I do yearn to be wealthy spiritually.
I live a life that is pleasing to God. If I follow his guidance, all other aspects of my life will fall into place. Being grateful for all I have increases my awareness of those less fortunate and helps me maintain a balanced perspective.
My number one priority is to nurture my spiritual life. As a schoolteacher, I am constantly drained emotionally and physically by my students. My goal is to take time each day to nurture my inner self so that I don't end up running on empty.
I am passionate about God and spirituality, my family, my boyfriend, and my pets. What matters is living each day like it was your last, and doing what truly pleases you.
God takes first priority, and living a life that I can be proud of is next. We're like ripples in a pond―everything we do affects everyone else.
I like to take time to stop, breathe, and be in the moment. To spend more time loving and accepting rather than resisting and disliking. To make more friends--real friends. To meditate on what I have and who I am right now. To surround myself with hope and inspiration. To write more letters―not e-mails―and call more often just to say hello. To finally learn how to grow tomatoes in my garden. To take longer walks, snuggle with my cat, and tell my boyfriend how much he means to me every day.
Durham, North Carolina