When deciding to rid my life of a few material things, I was forced to take an account of what made me truly happy and what were temporary highs to help me cope when I was feeling low.
What I found and unfortunately, what I continue to find (cos perfection is not my thing) is that I am still super wasteful, distracted and emotionally charged when it comes to my time, energy and finances.
So here’s what my lists looked like..
My Genuinely Happy List
- Having Faith
- A good relationship with my husband and kids
- Having good relationships with friends and extended family
- Ministry, Studying & Writing
My Temporary Highs List (Feel free to hum ‘There’s Gotta Be More (to Life) by Stacey Orrico throughout this post)
- Indulgent Food or Takeaway
- Filling an online shopping cart and then exiting out of the screen
- Social Media and post gratification
- Facebook Marketplace
- Having a spotless house (if this temporary high could last longer – it would be on my happy list)
This deep and meaningful account helped me identify what I wanted to get rid of and what I wanted to invest my time, energy and finances in. My marriage (first and foremost), kids, close relationships, faith, writing and study.
Some of you may know that I am a very new social science and psychology student at uni. Recently, I was asked to write a research report on subjective well-being (happiness), the report was on the correlations of subjective well-being and personality traits, how having these inherited personality traits tend to make us happier or unhappier. Anyway… the short of it is that people who are more open to new experiences and extroverted tend to experience more frequent positive moods as opposed to those who are more neurotic and introverted. However what was even more interesting and not really part of the report was this quote direct from our text…
“Beyond inherited tendencies, the things that appear to matter most in generating happiness are close social ties (including friends and a satisfying marriage or partnership), religious faith and having the resources necessary to allow progress towards one’s goals.” *
What this psychology text is basically saying is that people living in Western cultures are generally happy and our baseline of happiness is not from what we tend to gravitate toward (material possessions, physical attractiveness, money and all your temporary highs).
Well, if this is correct than the life hack to happiness is simply…
- Invest in creating a satisfying marriage (it’s funny how the person who can irritate or annoy you the most in life, is the one who has the most affect on your well-being) also invest well in a good relationship with your children and friends/family.
- Connect to God and become more enlightened though your religious faith.
- Strive for excellence in our goals or broaden our horizons whether in work, home or in the classroom.
It’s no surprise that these 3 simple things affect our holistic health, we can know it, but more often its easier to ignore them for the surface level distractions – shopping, attractiveness, work, money and all the temporary highs that are on offer. Don’t feel bad because marketing execs are paid to help you feel the discontent, keep you distracted from what’s important and keep your unfiltered self feeling unattractive, because if we are truly happy and content than we won’t spend money on useless things. It’s a damn shame that psychology is used to exploit people in this way.
Prior to becoming minimalist, I was constantly confused in my goals, distracted with all the unimportant nonsense. I was striving for the wrong things in life, whilst my husband, children and faith suffered – causing me to experience mental illness. I kept believing happiness was an elusive emotion that it was around the corner if I bought this, or if my home looked like that.
What I learned through getting rid of excess and refocusing on what is important in my life was that happiness is neither elusive nor an unattainable emotion. Happiness, is attainable through mindful actions and it starts with action on the most important things in life.
In the husband who just wants his wife to stop nagging and talk to him nicely. In the children who don’t want another toy or another screen to shut them up, but rather for their parents to notice them and spend some time getting to know them. In the God who is at the door of your heart, waiting for you to say ‘Come on in Lord, change me’. In the goals that will keep your mind, body and spirit sharp.
These are pretty simple and also pretty hard. No wonder why we tend to shift our focus on temporary highs more than what we know is actually important.
So here are 4 simple tasks that have worked for me and are perfect in preparation for Advent…
In a sense refocus now… because our calendars are already full and the debt and stress of a commercialised Christmas is looming.
- On the Monthly – Cull your calendar: Go through your calendar for just the month ahead and try to determine what activities serve your family best. Not just you, your whole family. Do those ones and cancel the others – your spouse and your children are what makes you the happiest.
- Over the next Fortnight – Find a solution! There’s always that one thing or even relationship you have been meaning to get to, sort out, make a plan to overcome – but we keep getting distracted. Resolve it by the end of the fortnight, or better yet, take the first tiny step to resolve it now. My friend refers to it as eating the frog. The most difficult task needs to be done first, this will give you motivation and momentum to resolve others. Progression toward a goal and resolutions to problems make us happier.
- Weekly – Go on a date: Looking over that same calendar set some time aside each week and go on a date. It can be with your spouse, your son, your mother or your friend. Determine someone who is super important to you, but you have not made time for lately and make time. This can be a big deal, like dinner and a movie, but it can also be as simple as putting the kids to bed and spending time with your spouse doing an activity. Or it could be letting a child stay up past bed-time and catching up with them for half an hour over a special dessert. Our close social ties make us happier.
- Day – Set a time for conversation with God: Now go through your typical daily routine and try to block out 10 minutes of your day for conversation with God. Set a timer and pray or practice gratitude, better yet, join a daily devotional or learn more about the faith in these ten minute. Our religious faith makes us happier.
Reflection: Recently it was the feast day of the great St John Paul II. Here’s what he has to say on happiness, faith, goals and leading a genuine life.
“It is Jesus that you seek when you dream of happiness; He is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; He is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is He who provoked you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is He who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is He who reads in your heart your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle.
It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be ground down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more human and more fraternal.”―
As Advent draws near, I pray we are able to focus on true happiness and identify the distractions that keep us from living a genuinely happy life.
St John Paul, Pray for us!
Special mention to my sister Fran, for being the inspiration behind this post.
*References: Psychology : An International Discipline in Context Douglas A. Bernstein, Julie Ann Pooley, Alison Clarke-Stewart, Bethanie Gouldthorp, Stephen Provost, Jacquelyn Cranney, Louis A. Penner, Alison Clarke-Stewart, and Edward J. Roy