Being happy starts with being happy with yourself. That means you must first habituate healthy self-attitudes. In previous blogs, I have discussed five that are critical to happiness: unconditional self-acceptance; a focus on your positives, not negatives; giving up perfectionism; wanting big, but never needing; and refusing to self-pity. You might want to study these blogs to see if they can help you on your path to your purposeful quest for happiness.
In addition to these additional strategies, you would also be wise to treat yourself really, really well, as if you are the most important person in the world to you — as well you should be. In that vein, two weeks ago I posted, “Do What Gives You Pleasure – Every Day,” to get you started. Today, I take up another action happiness strategy, also designed to help you treat yourself with care and kindness. It is based on an ancient Greek aphorism, “A sound mind in a sound body” and has to do with taking good care of your body.
The Case of Stressed-Out Sandra
My family and I have an island vacation cottage where we periodically escape the hustle and bustle of daily life. For us, it is paradise. But, there is one drawback – a bevy of centipedes, termites, and other pesky bugs that, if left uncontrolled, can make life unbearable. To keep these creatures under control, we depend on the services of Sandra, the owner-operator of a local pest control service.
I'm sure you'd trade places with Sandra if given the chance. Who wouldn't? For starters, she lives in the Caribbean. She luxuriates in the gorgeous views of the azure water as she drives from one job to the next. She goes to work in shorts and sandals. Maybe best of all, she can stop her car anytime the urge strikes her to take a dip at any number of secluded white sandy beaches.
We were about to head to the beach on one of our recent trips when we heard the traditional island greeting people use when approaching someone's front door. “Inside.”
“Hey, Sandra,” I said to welcome her.
I was startled by her appearance. Dressed in faded jeans, work boots, and a stained t-shirt, she had lost weight. Her shoulders slumped as she shuffled into the door. I noticed the dark circles under her eyes that had not previously been there.
After some small talk, she remarked, “I see you're offering a stress management seminar next week. I sure wish I could attend.”
“Well, I hope you do.”
“Unfortunately, I'm too busy.”
“What's going on? Business too good?”
“You don't know the half of it,” she said. “I work all the time – six days a week at this job and then Sundays are for laundry, cleaning, and other chores.”
“Wow. You're a busy, busy person.”
“I'm up at 5 am, walk the dog, get the kids off to school, get myself organized, and I’m at work by 7:30,” she said, with an expression of exasperation. “I work all day until 7:00, get supper together, and drop into bed exhausted to face another day just the same.”
“Whew! All that must take quite a toll on you.”
“I’m fatigued. I have a kind of exhaustion of the soul.”
What About You
Does that sound familiar? Don’t we all too often fall into the trap of taking care of our family, our chores, and our business, but not ourselves? And, don’t we pay the price – physically, but also mentally, emotionally, and spiritually?
If you are like most people, finding time for rest and renewal is a challenge. But, without taking the time, your reserves get depleted; you become dull, burnt out, stressed, and irritable; your energy lags; and you find yourself and your passion diminished. You flat out have no resources for happiness.
Sadly, I never had the opportunity to get my clinical clutches on Sandra. If I had, I would have done everything in my power to convince her to take better care of herself, physically, for sure, but also with regard to other dimensions of happiness creation as well. I would have done my utmost to convince her to work to create a balance — a sound mind in a sound body.
And so should you. Without making sure the machinery of your body operates at peak efficiency, there is no way you can have the energy to be active and engaged. You won’t have the vitality to lap up every ounce of happiness your day offers.
By taking care of your body, you lay a solid foundation for:
• the vigor to tackle daily life with enthusiasm.
• the mental alertness to set appropriate priorities and to make good decisions, thereby not only keeping yourself out of troublesome situations, but also positioning yourself for fun and enjoyment.
• the ability to enjoy what the day lays before you.
One should never leave a self-help session without an action plan to put to immediate use. Accordingly, dear reader, please reflect on the following questions. Answer them honestly. Think small if you have to, but be open to the changes you need to make to bring yourself more energy and vitality. Above all, act to make the changes that will be good for both your body and your mind.
1. What are your sleep habits? Millions of people fail to get the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep and thereby suffer both fatigue and upset moods the next day. Do you get enough sleep to feel rested and energized? What adjustments do you need to make to wake up each day feeling alert, eager, and open for adventure?
2. Do you get enough exercise? We know that regular exercise boosts energy, improves mood, helps one sleep better, ups mental acuity, and in general makes us healthier. What exercise would you be wise to add to your daily routine – aerobics? lifts? stretches? Remember: start small; a little goes a long way.
3. What about your eating habits? Do you drink plenty of water? Eat a sufficient amount of fruits and vegetables? Do you need to reduce your food intake? What changes are you willing to make right now?
4. What about bad habits? Do you engage in damaging habits – too much caffeine, cigarettes, or alcohol, or even drugs? Identify them and make a plan to reduce, if not eliminate them from your life. Do not hesitate to seek professional help if the habits are difficult for you to break.
5. Do you put in excessive amounts of time working? Workaholism can reflect anxiety, even perfectionism. Can you work less hours? Get home and relax at a reasonable time? Save weekends for yourself? See what adjustments you can make to balance your life. After all, all work and no play makes you a dull person.
I hope you took quality time to reflect on the questions I posed. If you did, this blog can stimulate you to act to take better care of yourself physically and thus emotionally. Even small steps help; after all, a journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step.
Remember: nothing changes without action. So, keep an eye on the long run and the big picture, and act to make yourself healthier and happier.
Until the next blog, live healthy, happy, and with passion.
Russell Grieger, Ph.D. is the author of several self-help books, all designed to empower people to create a life they love to live. These include: Unrelenting Drive; Marriage On Purpose; and The Happiness Handbook (in preparation). You may contact Dr. Grieger for more information at email@example.com.