We know we should meditate, exercise, journal, be grateful, journal about being grateful, write lists, walk, be in nature, do something creative, read inspirational texts, switch off, avoid social media, have a morning routine and on and on – there are a million blogs out there that explain the science of why these can lead to a better life or are the habits of ‘successful people’.
I am in support of all of this. But I can’t help but feel collectively this remains unrealistic – if it was easy to integrate into our lives then we would all do it right? In fact it isn’t easy at all. Because time is finite and we have so much to do. And this advice becomes more ‘stuff’ to do. We could literally spend all day doing this. And then feel terrible because we haven’t done anything else.
“Oh you could just get up an hour earlier?” Well what about the 7 to 8 hours sleep that is now widely held to be the ideal? And it is not just getting enough sleep but quality of sleep that we now have to worry about (try telling this to new parents, grateful for an hour or two at a time – it’s not helpful at all to be told this isn’t good for us, we don’t have a choice). So even receiving the health benefits of sleep becomes a point to lose sleep over; another thing we can feel that we are failing at – who needs social media feeds of aspirational lives when we can feel bad we didn’t manage to meditate today? Even in educating ourselves about wellness we can set unrealistic goals and expectations.
And what about little things every day that take time and we cannot schedule – the lost keys to find before we can leave the house, the dead mouse brought in by the cat to dispose of, the changing of outfits because your kid just smeared orange goo all over it. And there goes your chance to have time to write your journal, and you’re already running late and you have ten hours of work to get through and need to eat at some point…
But let’s look at this again with another perspective. There has to be something in this advice. We know there is. Numerous scientific studies (and many more blogs) are telling us so. So instead of eight or ten or five things we should do every day as we try to craft ourselves into a superhuman vessel of wellness and calm, how about this. How about we just take two ideas instead and maybe don’t even always do these:
- Begin by thinking it isn’t what we do but the principles we live by that matter.We can integrate a lot of aspects of wellbeing into our everyday lives just by shifting our perspective. Principles I live by include those taken from Reiki practice – which state, just for today, do not be angry, do not worry, be grateful, work with honesty, and be kind. And by framing it as just for today, it is manageable. It is about owning that one day. Everyone can find principles that work for them – you can’t choose what happens but can choose how you respond to it, forgive yourself and others, have compassion and kindness – and then all of a sudden looked at like this, it isn’t about what we do but how we think. And that doesn’t have to take any time at all (but it isn’t always easy to change how we think either!)
- And then set a goal to every day do at least one thing for yourself – meditate for ten minutes, for twenty minutes, do it on the bus, exercise a couple times a week, sit down and write about what you are grateful for once a week, have a walk in nature, switch off your devices at 8 p.m. And if you don’t do one thing – forgive yourself. It doesn’t matter. Tomorrow is a new day. Try to do at least one thing for yourself tomorrow instead – and as you begin to form this habit maybe manage to do two. And some days the cat will kill a mouse, we will be covered in goo, we need to re-do our work, our commute will be delayed… and that’s ok. In fact you can laugh at it – not get angry. If no one has been hurt, does it really matter?
I have the utmost respect for the wonderful professionals who are researching and writing about how to improve our well-being in a hectic world. But most of us continue to live in a hectic world. Now we are beginning to uncover and try to fit practices that can help live better lives (practices that are often ancient) into the value systems and lifestyle of western capitalist cultures, I truly believe the next step is to make this as accessible as can be – not preaching to the converted or lists of what we should do, but simple ways to help everyone to find their joy, one small step at a time. Because this will really only work if we do it collectively – if we collectively live with respect, compassion and forgiveness as a society. And for this to work we need to make it accessible and realistic for all.
For brilliant insights on how to live more mindfully every day in easy ways that fit with real life, the brilliant book ‘Peace is Every Step’ by the revered Thich Nhat Hahn cannot be beaten. Take a few deep breaths and enjoy the joy of doing dishes!