Ok, I've been talking about it for years, I've sworn that someday I'm going to write a book over this subject, and so now I'm finally getting it published...on this site.
There is only one thing that makes humans different from the rest of the animals. Conceptualization. All of thought can be divided into three categories: perception, reaction, and conceptualization. The first two being shared by all thinking organisms on earth. The third, however, is what makes us unique and grants us the power to rise above our surroundings and change not only the environment around us, but also our very lives.
An example to illustrate these concepts: A rabbit finds a carrot growing in a field (perception), the rabbit eats said carrot (reaction), and then goes on looking for more. It took a human mind to take this process one step farther and say, and I'm paraphrasing, "Whilst going about my nomadic ways, I come across this field once a year; and every year I find carrots growing anew. Perhaps I can harness the carrot's periodicity and grow my own, thereby creating a much more stable food supply" (conceptualization).*
One more short example...do you ever see a racehorse stretch before the race?
Conceptualization, or abstract thinking, is something that we all as humans should embrace. Too often in today's society do we see people reduced to animals with respect to the way that they think. Too much emphasis is placed on the immediate, with little or no concern about the long term effects of short-term thinking. As a college student I see this happening far too often.
Things like drinking, smoking, and ecstasy-induced-rave-hallucinations may be fun at the time, but often have disasterous consequences in the long-term. Even things like (I hate to go this far but...) fatty foods have their later repercussions which should be noted.
I try to explain this to short-termers who simply scoff and tell me that I'm boring because I don't smoke crack. These people who shrug off going to their morning classes due to their hang-overs. These people who wonder why they fail classes.
Jose Ortega y Gasset makes it a point that each of our lives is nothing but a sum total of the decisions we've made in the past.** We make decisions based upon where we want our life to go (whether we're conscious of it or not). Thousands of these choices made every day can add up to mean the difference between law school or working at Wendy's.
Every choice you make has an effect on your life. Long-term decisions lead to long-term happiness.
*For a conflicting viewpoint on agriculture, i.e. it is the root of all human suffering today, see the novel Ishmael by Daniel Quinn.
**Jose Ortega y Gasset, What is philosophy?