There’s a world out there that tells you if you buy this, own that, travel here, live there, you’ll be happy. You’ll be satisfied.
And perhaps you believe this world. You imagine a day when you finally have enough. Enough money. Enough possessions. Wanting these things sometimes keeps you up at night. You look at your home, your car, your clothes and compare them to those of your friends, colleagues and acquaintances. The end result is that you feel embarrassed, inferior, and even a little angry.
The constant pursuit of more, however, makes us neither happy nor satisfied. And chances are, neither would achieving this magical more. After all, Jim Carrey said, “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.” Spoken by someone who’s been rich and famous, and probably achieved more than a few of their dreams, I think he’s worth listening to.
The truth is, those of us who have a regular source of income and a roof over our heads are already blessed above many. What we need is already within our grasp: we just need a little shift in focus.
Below are 15 ways in which you can start to shift that focus today and live a life of simple satisfaction.
1. Seek out the silence.
Do you turn on the radio the minute you get in the car? Listen to a podcast as you do the gardening? Have music blaring as you exercise? Our brains are constantly receiving information which leaves no space for creating. We don’t daydream, imagine, or mull things over. It’s only when we’re silent that we can tap into “self-generated cognition… [which] helps us to make meaning out of our experiences, empathize with others, be more creative and reflect on our own mental and emotional states.” Start small, by thinking of an activity you usually supplement with sound. Try go without it, initially for 15 minutes at a time, and then build it up to an hour or so.
2. Sit in nature.
Being in nature has many benefits which have been scientifically proven. Your focus, creativity, even how much pain you feel, are positively influenced by time spent in nature. As little as five minutes a day can be of benefit, so take those five minutes, go sit on the verandah and watch the sun go down. Watch the leaves in the trees moving in the breeze. Think about how beautiful this world is and how lucky we are to be part of it.
3. Don’t pay with credit.
I’m not going to criticize anyone who uses credit cards because truth be told, I’m only just weaning myself off them. They’ve been my backup many a time when I haven’t had enough money to cover necessities (the definition of which may have been rather broad). However, purchasing something with a credit card does not feel psychologically the same as purchasing it with money you have, as the feelings of guilt and worry tend to take away from the pleasure of your purchase. What’s more, you will be paying the interest off that card long after you’ve forgotten what you charged to it. The simple rule is, if you can’t afford it, don’t buy it. Instead enjoy what you buy knowing you, not the bank, are responsible for this purchase.
4. Buy quality not quantity.
We live in a time of mass-production, where we purchase and then discard from season to season. This impacts our environment: both that of our home which we stuff with things and also our landfills which we stuff with last-season’s discards. It also affects our wallets. You may also have heard the saying, “cheap is more expensive”. Think for example of a rug costing $200 but that has to be replaced after a year, versus one that may cost $2000 but last a lifetime. Shoes, jackets, handbags and furniture are other items in which quality counts. In addition, the time that it takes you to save for the item enables you to make a thoughtful and considered purchase, and thus eliminates buyer’s regret.
5. Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.
William Morris uttered this quote in 1880 and it still rings true almost 140 years later. Chances are, however, many of your possessions fall short of this ideal. I want you to look up right now from your phone or desktop and check out the room you are in. Cast your eye over every item. How do they stack up? If you’ve been thinking about taking a decluttering journey, then this simple criteria is an ideal one to apply when deciding what to keep and what to get rid of. Furthermore, apply it when you make a new purchase. I can tell you that everything we own meets this criteria and I feel both peace and pleasure in every room of the house.
6. Make love often.
Regular intimacy costs nothing, feels great, and keeps the bond between you and your husband strong. Studies suggest that having sex once a week is the magic number for happiness , which is a fairly realistic and achievable goal for most couples. If you’re struggling having sex at night, mix it up and go for lazy mornings or afternoon quickies. Remember that it’s also a myth that you have to be in the mood before you have sex. Most women can get in the mood once they’ve decided they want to be.
7. Buy fresh, scented flowers.
There is nothing lovelier than a bunch of flowers in a vase where you can see and smell them., thus appealing to two of the senses. Lillies are my favorite – I love the heaviness of their scent in the air. If weekly trips to the florist are not your thing, then your other option is to plant a picking garden, where you grow plants you can cut for inside.
8. Eat whole food.
As much as you can, aim for whole foods rather than chemically processed ones. A simple test is to ask yourself is would someone living a hundred years ago recognize what you’re eating as food? The connection between physical and mental health and the food we eat is becoming increasingly understood. Importantly, a whole food diet can improve your mood, make you look better and decrease the risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. If this isn’t something you’re used to, start small. My first change was to cut sugar from my coffee. My second was to always have fruit in the house, which we could eat if we felt hungry. We’re a long way from something like Whole 30, but I have it up there as an aspirational goal. Every little bit counts.
9. Have a pet.
The benefits of pet ownership are significant and include reducing stress, anxiety and depression. I’m biased, so I’m going to say there’s no better pet than a small dog. My husband and I are furparents to Maisy, a bruxellois griffin. Small dogs are fantastic because they don’t require a large amount of exercise, (though this is of course, breed dependent), they can snuggle in bed with you and travel with you with ease. They also fill that nurturing side that may be suffering as your kids have become older and less available for hugs.
If you are considering a pet, however, please read this article: Every Dog/Cat Deserves a Home But Not Every Home Deserves A Pet by Michelle Schroeder-Gardner. Having a pet is a significant commitment and not one to be taken likely.
10. Think negatively.
While it seems to be contradictory to all the advice out there to keep the glass half-full, sometimes there’s a time and place to think negatively. For example, my husband is the first man I’ve been involved in that I can really, honestly say I can see myself growing old with. I knew this from the early days, and I remember when I realized that as we would never leave each other, there would come a time where one of us would die, and the other would have to carry on without them. There is no better exercise than to imagine your worst-case scenario to feel a rush of gratitude for what you already have. So, look at your house, your husband, your family and imagine what it would be like if you lost them all. How the evenings would be so very quiet. How you’d miss their voice and the touch of their hand. This helps to put things like leaving the toilet seat up in perspective.
11. Volunteer your time.
The above exercise was about putting things into perspective, as is this one. When you volunteer, you come into contact with people who are having a harder time than you. Before we moved across the country, I worked at our local hospice as a biography volunteer. This involved interviewing dying patients about their lives and crafting it into a biography for them, complete with photographs. As a cancer survivor, it was always humbling to be in the presence of people who were not going to win their fight. I enjoyed knowing their books provided comfort to their families, and were often used at their funerals. I also learnt that everyone had a story- everyone had experienced hard times. There are many other volunteer jobs available. Just google “volunteering” and your city and chances are you’ll find a number of options.
12. Tell your life story.
If you liked the idea of the biography above, then consider starting to write your own life story. You can either record it for yourself, or for other family members. You carry so much information about yourself that your husband and children may not know. Don’t wait until it’s too late! The act of writing it all down can also make you see how much you have grown and achieved over your life so far, and can help you become more certain of where it is you want to go next. If you like this idea but don’t know where to start, then sign up to my email list through the link at the top of the page- the “write your life story” challenge. The challenge will provide you with prompts every three days for 30 days to walk you through the process.
13. Create a nightly ritual.
There always seems to be so much to focus on at night that if you’re not careful, you end up doing just one last thing before you collapse into bed without even taking off your makeup. Instead, plan to go to bed at least 30 minutes before bedtime. Take this time to put your clothes away so your room is left tidy, get into bed, read, and reflect on the day you’ve just had, making sure you can think of at least three things that went well. I can also highly recommend the Shakti mat, which I mentioned in 10 tips to a better night’s sleep. (I bought mine from Shakti Mat New Zealand, but for those of you in the USA, this seems to be the most highly rated similar product on Amazon: Nayoya Back and Neck Pain Relief – Acupressure Mat and Pillow Set – Relieves Stress, Back, Neck, and Sciatic Pain – Comes with a Vinyl Carry Bag for Storage and Travel – As Seen in USA Today. This is an affiliate link which means I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking through it. Read my disclosure policy for more info.). I lie on mine while I read, then put my book down, do my reflections and then just breathe. A nightly ritual helps with the whole process of unwinding.
14. Foster your creativity
Everyone has a creative side – you may not have figured yours out yet, but it doesn’t mean it’s not there. Whether it’s words, art and photography, crafts, making up new recipes… it’s there, waiting for you. Creativity has a number of important benefits, including reducing stress, improving brain function, and boosting your mood. If you’re struggling to think you could be creative, then check out Happiness Hack 4: Develop a growth mindset.
15. Give thanks to the universe, God or whatever it is that has sprung us into existence.
Be thankful that you’re alive, for all you’ve been given and all you are yet to receive. There are many people who have had to say goodbye to this life well before they were ready. One of the plus sides of being a cancer survivor is that I realized how very fragile my life was. Now I am so grateful to be here some twelve years later. Take a deep breath, make yourself smile, and go hug your husband, kids or pets. You’re here for a reason.
There’s much to love about a life where you are focused on a life of simple satisfaction – not the endless pursuit of things that in the end have little meaning. I’d love to know which of these tips you intend to try, or already incorporate in your daily life. Drop me a note in the comments, and don’t forget to sign up for the “write your life story” challenge staring on July 1st!