A few years ago I attended a writing workshop and towards the end of the weekend, the facilitator asked us to go around the circle and share, “What makes you happy.” The smell of fresh cut grass, snuggling in bed with loved ones, sitting by a fire, reading to my son, walking the wooded trail behind my house, making a wonderful dinner and then enjoying it with friends– were a few of the responses. Sharing these was contagious. We all loved voicing what gave us pleasure and seemed a bit surprised at how simple our joys were (interestingly, no one mentioned traveling to Paris or getting a salary increase!).
We all know what makes us happy. Most of us just don’t consciously take time or energy to do these things.
This past Saturday morning my family ditched our household chores, let the homework and grocery shopping wait until Sunday, invited two neighbor boys to join us and headed out to one of our favorite state parks for hiking and exploring. We walked barefoot over the huge smooth stones, sunned on rocks like lazy lizards (the Texas Hill Country hit a high of 72 that day!), ate tangerines and dates, waded in the clear, cool river and the boys built a damn and did Parkour off the side of the canyon. We had so much fun, when we finished our lunch, we kept driving west to check out a famous cave. We finally arrived home around dinner time, exhausted … and very, very happy.
I know being in nature, living spontaneously, being unplugged (I took a media fast on Friday), having lunch with an old and dear friend (thanks Annie!), and teaching on a topic I’m passionate about (thank you NWB students) are all things that bring a big fat smile to my face and fill me with delight.
Are you thinking, “Must be nice Renee, but I have obligations to attend do. I don’t have time for fun.” I hear you. But if the obligations and “to-dos” always trump those things that bring us pleasure and naturally enhance our mood and well-being, then life can become boring, overwhelming and exhausting, fast. And if this continues, most of us will end up depressed with no sense of joie de vivre. We all have commitments that are important to honor and keep, but I challenge you to pause and realize that you DESERVE to feel good. Not just some times, but much of the time!
I’m not talking about ignoring life’s challenges (read my blog post Feeling = Healing) or living irresponsibly or mindlessly, but consciously making your personal happiness a priority
Here are four ways I keep “things I love to do” at the top of my list:
- I make my self-care a priority and realize this is particularly essential when I’m really busy or going through a rough transition
- I give myself complete permission to change my mind about previous commitments and course correct my day/weekend as needed
- I release “shoulds,” “have tos,” and make my well-being (and my family’s) my #1 priority
- I tap my “muscle memory” (times when I’ve tasted the benefits that come from doing things I love) to remind me how essential it is to keep filling my cup
- I try to ignore the seduction of productivity and remember I’m happier when I do less and keep things simple (countless positive psychology gurus will attest to this!)
Scheduling time for things that make us happy—that nourish from the inside-out– is essential to sustainable living and to work/life balance. Yes, there are reams of science that show how these actions positively affect how we age, our health and quality of life, but more than anything, it’s our birthright to feel good and experience joy. It’s just that simple.
P.S. I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that when our career and life purpose are out of alignment, this can feel debilitating and make it difficult to remember what it’s like to experience true happiness. If you’re in this boat, I suggest you seek out a career coach/counselor (let us know if we can help), attend a career support group in your area or consider attending a local or national retreat (here’s my 2014 schedule). When we know that what we do matters—our whole life begins to bloom.
Subscribe here to Live Inside Out, a weekly blog written by work/life balance speaker/author Renée Peterson Trudeau. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Good Housekeeping and more. Thousands of women in ten countries are becoming RTA-Certified Facilitators and leading/joining self-renewal groups based on her award-winning curriculum. Her newest release is Nurturing the Soul of Your Family. She lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and 11 year-old son. More on her background here.