|Stop and smell the oleander - JSM, 2012
If I asked you the following question:
"What was the happiest time of your life?"
... what would you respond?
And if you had to come up with two or three different periods of your life that made you the happiest?
Now what if I suggested you take a few of those "happy periods", and examine them closely to try and figure out what they had in common?
What you will come up with likely constitutes the key to your happiness. No matter what your life has become now, and the underlying reasons for it, there is something to be learned from the common characteristics of your happy times.
"What should I try and instill to my current life in order to maximize my well-being?"
Here's my example.
Happiest times of my life:
- The 3 years I lived in Senegal (Western Africa) as a child
- The summers spent working as a lifeguard/canoe-kayak instructor in my late teens
- Studying for my Master's - the first year (my father passed away during the second)
- Going on wilderness camping trips
- Traveling with my family as a child, then traveling alone, with friends or with my own family now that I have kids
What do those "happy times" have in common?
When I stopped to think about it, I made some interesting findings:
Those were all times when very little emphasis was put on the material sphere: whether it was a) living in Sub-Saharan Africa of the 1980s, b) working at a summer camp by a lake deep in the woods, c) camping in a National Park or d) living the "poor" student life...
... those situations all offered very few opportunities for shopping and indulging materialistically.
As for traveling, no matter if you do it "in style" or on a shoe string (I have done both), it usually implies living with less: the contents of your suitcase or backpack are all you have. I, for example, took a 65-liter backpack - sleeping bag included - for a 3-month trip all over Europe, and I try to fit everything I need in a carry-on whenever I travel for a week or less. (My friends have - kindly - made fun of me for traveling light.)
Therefore, the common denominator seems to be a simple life involving few possessions.
Even more interesting, I realized that whenever I stepped away from the material sphere, it was either the cause or the consequence of focusing instead on other, more fulfilling things; indeed, all of the situations above involved:
- Less time spent inside, more time spent outside (either in nature or walking my way through cities)
- (Partly arising from the above): More physical activity
- Deep, meaningful connections with people (whether you are "taking the time" with your family members/friends or meeting new people with common interests and values)
- A slower pace of life (with time to talk, read, write, listen to music, contemplate, meditate)
In my current situation (living "in the woods" in a province that has a total population under a million), I notice that the above criteria are at least partly met... as long as I remain vigilant.
Your turn to "do the exercise". What were your happiest times? What did they have in common? Can you try and implement some of those things in your current life in order to increase your well-being?
WEEK 10 IN REVIEW
Finishing a workout at the gym, I knew I had another thirty minutes or so before I had to go pick-up my daughter at her play date (They went snowshoeing. How cool!) I really didn't want to exercise anymore, having already done a full hour of strength training, a half-hour of cardio and about ten minutes of stretching. The gym being located in a commercial neighborhood, I felt tempted, for a moment, to pass the time by doing a little bit of shopping. This is something I would have done without a thought in the past (i.e. before this project), whether I actually needed to buy something or not.
Of course, the Less is More project kept me on track: instead of going shopping, I found an empty group activity room at the gym, rolled a mat, sat on it, and meditated. Needless to say, the benefits of a meditation session far outweigh the benefits of a shopping outing.
This weekend we rearranged some furniture in the children's bedrooms. While we were at it, I asked them to hand me any toy or item of clothing that they have not used recently and are not planning on using again. D and I also got rid of a few clothes.
We then tackled the "reading nook". This is a small room with a large window on the second level, above the entrance, that I had envisioned as a yoga/meditation room when we moved in. Soon enough, however, it was invaded by bookshelves, a desk, a chair, and some toys. This weekend, R, who is in Grade 5 and getting an increasing amount of homework, "inherited" the desk and chair. The toys are gone. The nook is empty again. Hello, yoga/meditation spot!
We went to the Museum of Natural History. Apart from dinosaurs (the current temporary exhibit), we also learned about the Aboriginal and the Acadians' past way of life. The simplicity of it all was a great reminder that we need very little: a shelter, food and water, some clothing, feeling safe and connected to others. Everything else is a luxury. Medical discoveries and technology have simplified our lives in some ways, and have made them less "painful"... but it is nice to be reminded of the basics.
The fact that I considered shopping (see above) just because I had a little bit of time on my hands says a lot about our careless approach to consuming: Bored? Early for an appointment? In need for a little pick-me-up? Go shopping!
Errr... no thank you.
Later on, I was talking to another mom, T, who remarked that her kids rarely wear (or need) the back to school clothes she buys every year. We buy back-to-school clothes for the sake of it, she said. Another mindless habit, for sure. We will both ditch it this coming fall (unless there is a real need, of course).
What did you resist this week? Did you donate or get rid of anything? Did you face any challenge? Please comment below! And...
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