How happy are you? Maybe happier than you think. Most of us have a ton of chatter in our heads—headlines that are fast approaching or that we’ve missed, appointments we’re late for, birthdays forgotten, and on, and on, and on. In this busy world of ours, it’s all too easy for that constant chatter to overwhelm our brains, causing us to lose sight of the big picture.
Often, that big picture looks pretty good. At least, that’s how it works with me. Like most of you (I’ll bet) I’m a little too busy, a little too rushed, and thus a little too stressed, way too much of the time. It was all distracting me from seeing what was right in front of my eyes. About a year and a half ago, my musician husband and I moved from Woodstock, New York to Snohomish, Washington, at the same time as I started writing this column on a daily basis instead of twice a week.
We picked Snohomish because, besides being a charming old logging town, it’s the epicenter of a local music community that functions as an extended family—maybe 50 or so really talented musicians most of whom get together and play in various restaurants and bars, and each others’ homes, a few times a week. Sometimes it seems Bill’s life has been transformed into one very long jam session, with occasional breaks for eating and sleeping. There’s a musical event, a party, or both, to attend nearly every evening of the week. Sometimes it’s exhausting and the other day I found myself thinking grumpily: “All I ever get to do is work and go to music events.”
Then I caught myself. Say what?
The two things I love most in this world are being a writer and my musician husband. The fact that I’m busy with this column is a good thing. The fact that I’m so busy that I can’t take on all the projects I’m offered, and so only do those that I enjoy—that’s a very good thing. The fact that my husband and I are part of this wonderful musician community and he now spends so much of his time out performing with them—that’s a very, very good thing. I was feeling grumpy because my life is busy. But it’s busy with things I love.
In our overloaded world, I bet I’m not the only one to get fixated on scheduling challenges and miss noticing how great things actually are. If that sounds like you too, I invite you to join me in doing the following:
1. Give Yourself Time to Slow Down
I don’t know about you, but if I go for too long always rushing from one thing to another it destroys my ability to enjoy my own life. So I’m pretty rigid about having one completely work-free day every week, even if it means missing a deadline sometimes. That simple change has made a huge difference to my outlook—if you’re working both days every weekend (even just a little) I highly recommend it.
2. Start Your Day With Gratitude
It’s human nature to focus on the negative—a response that has evolved over thousands of years because failing to notice a threat can be deadly and failing to notice something pleasant usually isn’t. Knowing we have this natural bias toward the negative, we can help change our outlook by making a deliberate choice to focus on the good things in our lives. Here’s a simple mental routine that I now do every morning before I get out of bed. It literally takes about a minute, and it can influence the whole day.
3. Compare Where You Are Now to Where You Used to Be
It’s easy to lose sight of how far we’ve come and how much we’ve accomplished when we’re scramble to solve problems day-to-day. So take a moment to look back to where you were five years ago, and 10 years ago. If you stop to take stock of where you are and where you were, I’m betting you’ll see that you’ve come a long way.
4. Train Yourself to Say “I Get to” Instead of “I Have to”
Instead of thinking “I have to” write that report, or make that phone call, or go through that stack of resumes, or whatever next task you have to do, try thinking, “I get to” do those things. Why? Because if you’re like me, the tasks you’re grumbling about having to do are part of a job you love. Probably a job you’ve chosen, and have worked hard to get.
If I’m wrong about that and you don’t love your job, then you have a different challenge because you should not stay in a job you hate. If only because it could literally shorten your life.
5. Consider All the Good Luck You’ve Had
Most of us spend most of our time feeling unlucky. We think about that big break somebody else got but not us. We think about the great contacts we haven’t made, and the great opportunities that haven’t come our way, and even the lotteries we haven’t won. But for every break we didn’t get, there are all sorts of ways in which we’ve been incredibly lucky. Take an honest look around at all the people you know, and all the people you encounter in the course of a day. I guarantee, you’ll be thanking your good fortune that you aren’t coping with some of the problems you see around you.
6. Now Think What You Might Like to Change
Knowing how good things already are doesn’t mean you can’t ask for more. You can make changes to your life if there are things you want to change. For example, even though I love the life I have, I would like to spend more time around other writers, something I miss since we moved away from my writer community on the East Coast. I need to exercise more, and also find more time to go explore the spectacular region where we now live.
I can make all these changes, and I will. But I also know how lucky I am to be right where I am now.
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