I absolutely love Aidan’s post from last week, 13 ways to be (more) here and (more) happy. We are moving into the third month of The Here Year, and the truth is we’re still figuring out exactly how best to convey what it is we are exploring and learning. Aidan and I are both people who struggle with presence and who juggle a lot of balls, but we also have in common our fierce, genuine desire to be here now. We talk in the macro about this endeavor a lot, both to each other and on our blogs. What we are also trying to do is make our efforts more concrete and more granular, and Aidan’s wonderful post does that.
I found her list of 13 things thought-provoking and wanted to respond with my own thoughts about specific things that make me both more present and more happy (inextricably correlated as those things are for me). I think it’s notable that Aidan’s list is 13 and mine is 8 and both of those are ragged and imperfect numbers. Not the well-rounded 10 that you might want for a polished article or piece. But I feel like that detail is emblematic of The Here Year in general: we’re figuring it out as we go, and it’s certainly not shiny or perfect, but it’s genuine.
1. Forgive yourself. Aidan touches on this and I too believe it’s at the core of being happier and more present. We can’t all be present and engaged in our lives every minute of every day. At least, I can’t. But I can be there more, and I already recognize big strides on my part in that direction. The goal, in my opinion, isn’t perfect, constant, unwavering presence. It is more moments when I feel the wave of this is my life and I am really living it sweep over me. More of those. Aidan describes the way that golden moments can “sustain us” in less-golden times, too, and I thought of Wordsworth and one of the lines I most often hear inside my head: in this moment there is life and food for future years. Yes.
2. Pay attention and record. This is intextricably linked to the above, for me. What I want, what I’m after, is more of those moments swollen with awareness, when I know that I’m as deep into my actual, real, ordinary life as I can possibly be. When I’m noticing the smell of laundry outside my front door because the dryer is on or recognizing the faint budding of the bare branches on my tree outside my window. When I’m in one of those moments, I just want to be in it: feeling, smelling, seeing, hearing, tasting, all senses engaged. Sometimes I’ll lift my phone and take a picture, and after I often want to write down the details of what I experienced. I’m always grateful that I captured these moments because they are, after all, our lives. Instagram has become a place that I chronicle these moments, these pearls strung together on a string that make up my life.
3. Go outside. I go for a walk almost every day. Some of these are very short, often alone, for example to the drycleaner or to the library. Some of them are more ambling, notice-things walks with my children. What I know is I always come back from a walk calmed, centered, and reminded of what matters. When I’m walking I look up and I look down, I admire the blue or gray of the sky, or the rain spitting from it, and I am aware of what’s under my feet, and I think: ah. This is the world that I live in. And there’s huge, huge value to that. Always. I have recently been trying to weed through old photos, and in going through my iPhoto archives it is clear I take a lot of photographs of the sky. Witness, above: last week at the end of a baseball game.
4. Say no. I really believe that there is only one zero-sum resource in this life: time. We need to be careful and deliberate about where we spend our time. I’ve written a lot about how I’ve consciously chosen to reduce outside commitments in order to focus on the things that I know mean the most to me. I think everyone should do the work of figuring out what those priorities are. You can use then use that understanding to make choices about how to spend your time. The map of a week or a month of your time shows what you value. Do you like what you see?
5. Get enough sleep. For me, this is 8 hours a night. I get up early, so I have to go to bed early. It all comes back to that zero sum thing. We each get 24 hours a day. How do you want to spend them? It’s not an exaggeration to say that sleep is the bedrock of health for me, and I need to make it a priority. Period.
6. What do you love? Do that. We have to be in touch with what it is we truly love in order to pursue more of it. And it may not be what we really think. I wish I loved sparkly, glamorous things. But what I really, honestly love is reading to my kids and tucking them in and getting into bed with a book myself. So I do more of that. This seems connected to Gretchen Rubin‘s commandments: be Gretchen. What do YOU want? Then do that.
7. Calm down. I’ve learned that the primary thief of presence, for me, is a swirl of anxiety and fear that gets me going into a reactive cycle. I get emotional, I get triggered, I get going, and suddenly I am entirely out of my own body. I need to remember that those reactions and emotions are the clouds. I’m the sky. I can watch them go by without letting them be me. We all need ways to help ourselves return to our bodies, to our breath, to what’s right here. I use calm.com an awful lot and love it. I also use walks for this, and, sometimes, yoga. Find what works for you. Feel your own physical body in the world. Remember that is what matters.
8. Get outside of yourself. Aidan talks about supporting others. I often think about the line from my favorite prayer, St. Francis of Assissi’s, where he says that it is in giving that we receive. Remember: there is room for all of us. I could not believe this more fiercely. So give of yourself, in whatever way you can. It may seem paradoxical, but by giving of ourselves – time, money, energy, things – we are reminded of the abundance in our own lives.
How do you help yourself be more here and more happy? I’d love suggestions, tips, advice, wisdom, reactions!