"Don't say you don't have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Louis Pasteur, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo DaVinci, Thomas Jefferson and Albert Einstein."
-- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
I wrote a piece for Life Reimagined about how you can build more happiness into your day-to-day living. One of the people I interviewed for the story said that it’s not a matter of happy vs unhappy, it’s a matter of alignment vs misalignment. He said we spend far too much time on the things that waste our time and way too little on the things that bring us real joy and fulfillment. Over time, this misalignment leaves us feeling vaguely bored and hugely unfulfilled. It’s hard to be happy when you have a gnawing sense that you’re frittering away your one and only precious life.
According to the experts, it’s an easy problem to fix. It comes down to shifting the balance between wasting your irreplaceable time and capturing it in a meaningful way. Listen: I've done my share of binge-watching Netflix, but those hours spent on the couch can't compare to an evening spent flinging paint onto a canvas. (Exception to this rule: binge-watching "Joy of Painting with Bob Ross." His voice is like valium. Trust me -- just try it.)
Checking into everyone's doings on Facebook (a major time-suck) can't compare to getting lost in a really good book. And idle chit-chat pales in comparison to writing real letters (where you have to lick a stamp) to the people in your life who matter.
Confession: I have never felt this misalignment more acutely than during the 2016 election. Filling my time glued to the tube and the NY Times and Twitter made me really unhappy; a "this-feels-like-depression" kind of unhappy. Even when I was hiking or riding my bike -- diversions that should have cleared my mind -- I was thinking about possible post-election outcomes. It became an oppression.
Coincidentally, I had already started author Julia Cameron's 12-week program for figuring out what brings each of us joy and meaning. It's based on her new book called It's Never Too Late to Begin Again, and it's for anyone at a crossroads or just looking for clues. (Cameron became uber-famous 25 years ago for her book The Artist's Way.) I'm already a pretty accomplished navel-gazer, but Cameron's program of writing first thing upon waking (Morning Pages), going places and doing things we think might be interesting (Artist Dates), revisiting our past (Memoir), and getting out in the big, bold world of nature (Walks), has really helped me understand this issue of alignment/misalignment. I'm discovering what really makes me want to attack the day with everything I've got. It's bringing me back to that existential question: why am I here?
You might think you have nothing special to offer the world but, in truth, you have something that no-one else has. The fact that you are alive at all is a marvel. The odds of you being born in this particular time, place and circumstance are about 1 in 400,000,000,000. If you’re not impressed by that number, then keep in mind that the odds of you becoming President of the United States are 1 in 10,000,000. (Hey, it could happen.)
You are not here by mistake. There has never been another you and there will never be another you, and you have something only you can offer. You get to choose: make the most of your time or just mark it.
Think about what you value and start doing more of it right now. One person I know has decided to put together a photographic history of her family and is drawing any scenes or people that are missing. She’s doing this instead of getting sucked into the internet after dinner. Another person I know is making sleeping mats for the homeless out of plastic grocery bags instead of idly watching TV. And I heard about another woman who – in the merciless heat of summer – walked around downtown Gastonia giving free bottled water to people who looked like they needed it. It doesn’t take much to get started: just an intriguing idea and then a kick in the keester to begin.
It really does come down to doing this one thing: Align what you value with the time you spend, and soon you'll be jumping with joy, every single day. You really will become the happiest person in the room.
What about you? What can you switch out to bring more joy and fulfillment into your life?
Read the piece about alignment vs misalignment.
Read the piece about Julia Cameron's process.