It’s been a full year since I started this blog, and I can’t believe how quickly time has flown by. The realization dawned on me out of the blue one day, and led to me sitting down with a drink to do a bit of reflecting. I started this blog as a way of organizing and cataloguing my thoughts around life and the pursuit of happiness. So after 365 days and 80 posts, what have I learned?
Well, for starters, I learned that finding the mindset to be happy on a day-in, day-out basis is easier said than done. You read all the time about how happiness is a choice; like you just pick it and you’re done, and if you don’t pick it, it’s your fault.
I think the reality is more grey than black-and-white. I still believe happiness is a mindset, but I also believe that, for many of us, the way we look at life needs to shift pretty dramatically to get to that mindset. Through this journey, I realized that the values and expectations our culture places upon on are way, way more deeply-rooted than I would have thought.
It’s like trying to pull up a 30-year-old oak tree from the ground with your bare hands. Good luck with that. What I know now is that there is no switch, no “easy” button, that will make that mindset shift happen. If you want to uproot that tree, then grab a trowel and starting digging. Little by little, one day and one behavior at a time, until you’ve uprooted the whole damn thing.
More Stuff is Not the Way
Let’s take material possessions as an example. North American culture values material goods way too much, in my opinion. I thought realizing that would make it much easier to move away from it.
I was wrong.
Turns out that those values are so deeply rooted within me, that even when I know what the right path is, I have a hard time taking it. I want to want material goods less, which is a good start. But then I see a nice table, or well-made shoes, or whatever else.
So here’s another realization I’ve come to over the past year – cold turkey isn’t the only way. A tree’s roots start off thick, and then branch out under the ground into smaller offshoots. The same is true for changes we’d like to make. There are big categories in your life you can focus on: reducing material possessions, spending more time with family, travelling more, and so on.
But those categories can then be broken down into smaller pieces. When it comes to spending less of your income on material things, for example, maybe you don’t need to forego the nice dining room table. Maybe instead of going to spend $2,000 on it, you learn to make it yourself. And that’s just it – there can be more than one way to get to where you’re going.
Nobody Will Protect Your Time Like You
I’ve always known that family is the most important thing you have in your life, and yet, when I look back on the past year, I feel like I’ve failed to live that value. Now I could make excuses as to why that is, like I live far away, or I’m really busy right now, or whatever.
The reality, though, is that I just haven’t done enough to protect my time and make sure it gets spent on the people and the activities that truly matter. If you don’t feel like you have enough time for the things that matter most, it’s nobody’s fault but yours. The solution is to be relentless in saying “no” to anything that takes your focus away from what’s most important to you. If you want to spend more time in nature, watch less TV, for example. If you want to focus on your closest friends, maybe consider saying “no” to drinks with distant acquaintances a little more often. The only one who can make those calls is you.
Mindfulness Doesn’t Happen Overnight
I was a little ambitious in my pursuit of mindful living; I’m not there yet. But while I don’t always get to a point where I’m present in every moment, I have noticed some improvements since I started writing.
First off, I frequently catch myself when my mind wanders, and can snap myself back to the present. This wasn’t the case before. I’d be on autopilot, or glued to my phone, and before I knew it I missed an important moment with friends or family, and I felt terrible. But more and more, I’ve been able to recognize that and bring myself back to the present moment.
The same is true on a broader scale. It can be really easy to keep focusing on the next goal in your life, without appreciating what you’ve got. Maybe it’s the next promotion, or a new house, or a bigger tv, or maybe it’s something else. The other day, I caught myself thinking about how when I become a director, things will be financially easier. But that’s the thing; before I started writing, I probably wouldn’t have recognized that train of thought and called myself out for it. Now, that happens all the time.
It’s not the end goal, but it’s progress in the right direction, and I’m grateful for that. The more I use those mental muscles, the stronger they become and the easier it gets to be fully present in each and every important moment.
Wrapping it Up
A year after the trip that sparked the creation of this blog, I’ve written 80 posts and learned some important lessons about happiness and mindfulness. Am I where I want to be? No. But I sure do feel like I’ve learned some lessons that are important to helping me get there, and that makes the journey worthwhile.