Do you know what brings you joy? I mean like the kind of joy that leaves you smiling from ear to ear, where you just want the moment to never end. What makes you feel most alive? (I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!)
As I came out of my years of illness and found myself on my own again, I realized that I had forgotten what made me happy. I had gotten so used to living a life of stress and turmoil that it had been a long time since I really thought about the things that add joy to my life. I worked with a woman who had me make a list of things that bring me joy. The items came slow at first, but as I wrote, the momentum built. It was around this time as I was working to uncover the things that brought me joy, that my son asked me a question and then brought up a point that really hit home for me. “Mom, what do you do while I’m at school all day?” At that time he was probably 6 years old, a first grader, and I was working every weekend and had him on my days off. So, I started listing things like go grocery shopping, clean the house, do laundry, read, nap. Basically, all of the things that I didn’t do on the days that I worked. He then said something like, “boy, grownups really do a lot of work all the time,” and/or “grownups don’t do much fun stuff.” It was so simple yet so profound. What WAS I doing with my free time??! Was I making the most of it? The answer was no, I was not. So I decided to make changes to my life.
Some of the things on my list were:
- Reading with my son
- White water rafting
- Camping under the stars
- Seeing live music
- Exploring with no destination
- Listening to music
- Talking with friends
- Being around my whole immediate family
- Laughing with a friend
- Listening to my son tell me about something he’s really excited about
- Jumping into rivers
- Snorkeling with fish
- Being outside
- Feeling sun on my skin
- Lying on the beach listening to the water
- Jumping into lakes
- Meeting new people
- Hanging out on warm boulders in/near rivers
From March of 2013 to July 2015, I worked on a very stressful unit in the hospital with adult oncology patients. At first, nursing felt like my passion, my purpose in life, but after a few years with a heavy load of patients, sometimes six at a time, my enthusiasm turned into exhaustion. I’d go home, shower, eat cereal for dinner, and go to bed, then wake up and do it all over again for the next two days. My days off felt less like true days off and more like days to recover. I was still on loads of medications back then and didn’t really feel like I had my health back yet, so I was taking it easy physically and trying to get extra rest on my days off. I also worked to rebuild my life while learning my new role as a single, working parent.
In July of 2015, I landed my current job working primarily with babies and kids. It had always been my dream nursing job, floating between all of my favorite units from nursing school. Pediatrics was always my goal for nursing. I was so happy for this change. And after starting a homeopathy remedy in January of 2015, I was now beginning to feel the positive effects of it on my mental, emotional, and physical health. All of this led me to the place at the end of 2015 when I was feeling so good, and felt like I had the energy to focus on how I wanted my life to look. And I even had my son noticing that I was filling my days with a lot of boring adult stuff.
So, I began to get outside more. I had always loved being outside. I now felt like I had ability to start getting out hiking again. At this point, my last flare of pericarditis was a few years behind me in November of 2013. I had been noticing the strength of my body coming back and the exhaustion dissipating. I sought to make new friends and explore new places. I ended up finding myself outside in the mountains in rivers a lot, and at the coast next to the ocean. I started to notice how alive I felt when was hiking on a new trail. I felt the joy in me well up as I jumped off rocks into rivers and lakes. I began to find my passions. As I noticed the things that made me feel most alive, I stored them in my mind and made a conscious effort to do those things as often as possible! And my life began to get really full. I was LIVING! I worked to do chores for a portion of one of my days off, so that I could spend the rest of my time doing things that fed my soul. I have lived like this ever since. Sometimes I am urged to go for a hike, and sometimes I am urged to curl up and read a good book and take a nap. The point is that I stopped worrying about all of the adult things that I am “supposed” to do, and instead I started to do the things that would bring me the most joy.
Nothing makes me happier than exploring and having fun with my son. At the beginning of the summer this year, we sat down to make a list of things that we hoped to do during summer vacation. I knew that with only 10 weeks, summer would go by so fast, and that we could easily get swept up in a bunch of lazy days if we didn’t start out with some kind of direction. At my son’s request, we took turns listing things. I’d name something, and then he’d name something. We went back and forth until we had filled an 8.5 x 11 sheet of printer paper. We wrote down things like backpacking, the local trampoline place, walking at a local oak preserve, hiking and camping in the local NP took up several, the local arcade, Six Flags, seeing Matisyahu live again, and going to the beach. We actually checked a lot off our list! And we had a blast! Having the list kept me focused as I planned our time together week to week. I highly recommend that you try this approach to summer if you’re like me and my son and want to squeeze out as much fun from the 10 or so weeks that your child/children have off from school in the summer. I had the advantage of having four days off in a row every week to make so many things possible. But, this would also be a helpful approach for weekends off as well.
Why do we do the things that we do? Do you ever think about that? Are we living the life that we want to live, or are we living the life that we have been told that we ‘should’ live? Every day, we get bombarded by ‘shoulds’. I ‘should’ go to college. I ‘should’ become a lawyer, doctor, teacher etc. I ‘should’ buy a new car. I ‘should get married’. I ‘should’ have kids. I ‘should’ buy a house a fill it with a bunch of stuff. I have always sort of just naturally lived outside the norm, but I also found myself fulfilling a lot of the ‘shoulds’. These are just some examples that I think are pretty universal. For instance, when I graduated high school, I felt like I HAD to go to college. I didn’t even think there was another choice for me. I mostly put that on myself. Sure it was talked about in high school a lot, but at the time, I felt like taking out loans and going to college was the only way that I’d be able to move from my hometown and travel. I see now that that’s just not the case. A friend’s awesome daughter just graduated from high school and is now spending a year in New Zealand on a work visa. And my inner teenager is completely inspired by this move! The possibilities! There are many other ‘shoulds’ that I am sure you are thinking about right now. I could go on with other examples of how I would ‘should’ myself through the years. Are you ‘shoulding’ yourself about something in your own life? Are the ‘shoulds’ from other people or society causing you to miss that you’re living a beautiful life just as you are? It is OK to throw out what other people expect of you and live the life that YOU want to live! Life is too short to not live your own joy!
One of the best things I ever did for myself was to stop it with the ‘shoulds’! When a ‘should’ came up, I would acknowledge it and look at where it was coming from and then just dismiss it. Even in my current life, if I wasn’t so strong on my path, I could be really giving myself a hard time by comparing myself to other people my age. I could be feeling like my life is lacking, because of comparison to other people. But, I choose not to live that way. I base my success in life not on whether or not I own a house or drive a fancy car, or have an intact family or have a bunch of fancy gadgets, but on my level of happiness and inner peace. I do more things that give me joy and peace. I find that peace generally comes when I quiet my mind and accept life as it is. The happiness comes when I add more things to my daily living that bring me joy. These aren’t impossible things, but it takes work to recognize the things that are stealing your peace and to adjust accordingly. It takes work to shut off your mind and the ‘shoulds’ that you’ve been hanging onto for so long. But the worthwhile result of all of that work is a contentment that has to really be experienced to be fully understood and appreciated.
I know that we aren’t meant to work all the time, never doing the things that make us happy, and then die. That’s not at all what life is about. If that is your life and you aren’t happy, then I would suggest that you work to change it. I think the root of the issue is that most of us feel a void in us. We aren’t sure why it’s there. We don’t know how it got there, or when, but it’s there. It’s that feeling that makes people shop and gather a bunch of things that they’ll never use. It’s the feeling that causes people to jump from one relationship to the next. Because that feeling of void in us is so strong and scary at times, we usually seek to fill it up with things and people versus figure it out so that we can get rid of it. So, there are many people walking through life doing the things that they were told were important, and they have jobs they hate and relationships that leave them unfulfilled, and a whole house of stuff that still leaves them feeling that deep void and lack of fulfillment. But they just keep going, because that’s just what they’re “supposed to do”. I have experienced the other side. I can tell you that it is possible to love the work that you do. I have had, and loved two different careers now. It is more than possible to live a life you love. It is possible to turn your passions into your life’s work. Each of us is born with a unique set of gifts to share with the world. We then travel on our individual journeys and collect moments that give us each a very unique skill set and perspective on life. I am not the only one who believes that the purpose of this life is to wake up and also find your gifts and give them to the world. If you have a dream, believe that it is possible, because you are able to imagine it. If it wasn’t possible, it wouldn’t even be available in your mind’s eye. The fact that you can dream it means that you can create it. And you don’t need a degree or someone else to tell you so. You have the power to dream up a life and live it. But you have to trust and let go of the self-limiting beliefs that are holding you back. It takes work to shine a light on your beliefs and let go of the ones that no longer serve you. It takes even more work to recognize when the beliefs that you’re holding aren’t even yours. Maybe your parents have been telling you what to believe up to now. Maybe society has been screaming so loudly in your ear that you haven’t been able to hear the whispers of your soul, your higher self. I have learned that my mind is very loud compared to my intuition, so it helps when I quiet my mind with meditation or time in nature.
Right now, I am working to unravel and change my beliefs surrounding money and abundance. I can see that I am holding onto beliefs that aren’t serving me based on what I am seeing show up in my life around finances. Just when I think I have it figured out, I find a piece of the puzzle that I hadn’t been aware of. I am sure that many of you can relate. I come from a strong line of women who took care of their families largely on their own. Both of my parents come from very large families where the household lived on one income for 6 and 8 kids. Mostly, the Dad’s worked and the women were left to raise the kids. They had what they needed probably most of the time, but nothing extra. So beliefs like money is hard to come by and we don’t have what we need got passed down (I’m just speculating based on what my experience has been). Growing up, my parents always wanted us to have all of the things that they felt they didn’t. So we were given lots of stuff. But with one income and three kids, there was a level of struggle that was palpable. As an adult, I have uncovered beliefs in myself like money is hard to come by, you have to work really hard to make money, money doesn’t grow on trees, money and finances equal stress and uncertainty. I have to really work to trust that I am always being taken care of and that I am always given what I need, especially when several unexpected expenses come up at the same time. So I have to focus on today, the present. I have what I need today. I have food. I have shelter. I have the necessities and then some. I have excess. And so I work to acknowledge that every day. My sister and I once talked about the fact that no matter how much money we make, we never feel like we have enough. That’s part of our money programming. Upon recognizing that we are both doing just fine, as a doctor and a nurse, I realized that what I was telling myself was simply not true. And that’s what led me to dig deeper into my beliefs about money and other areas of my life. The first step is seeing the belief, then you look to see how it’s affecting you and your life, and then you find a way to change the beliefs that aren’t working for you. For me, I stopped and realized that I always had what I needed and then some. I started being more grateful for what I had versus being upset about what I felt like I didn’t.
Sometimes, we spend so much time working to fill our void that we end up in a life that leaves us unhappy surrounded by a pile of things that just create more chaos around us. Rather than living our own joy, a lot of the time, I think we chase dreams that aren’t our own and chase material things that we don’t even enjoy. I was talking to a friend recently and we got on the subject of “stuff,” and how it feels like excess stuff clutters up our lives. He told me about a documentary he had watched and enjoyed on Netflix called “Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things” with Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus. I watched it and really loved it. They have a website and are also on Facebook. They’re two guys who have paired down their stuff in a way that declutters their lives. On their about page on their website HERE, they explain it better than I could: “Minimalists don’t focus on having less, less, less; rather, we focus on making room for more: more time, more passion, more experiences, more growth, more contribution, more contentment. More freedom. Clearing the clutter from life’s path helps us make that room.”
My next step is to declutter my living space. I have been urged to do so for quite some time now, but I keep putting it off. A lot of the stuff I need to go through is in my closet and behind other closed doors, so it’s been a bit of ‘out of sight, out of mind’. But that’s starting to not be the case anymore. I know it’s there and I feel it cluttering my space and my mind more all the time. And I keep being shown examples of people who have minimized their stuff with great outcomes, so I know that’s the Universe’s way of telling me to follow suit. I believe that when we clear the things/patterns/beliefs/activities/people out of our lives that aren’t giving us joy, we make room for more meaningful and positive things, people, and situations to enter our lives. Doesn’t that make sense? We can’t make room for the things that we want in our lives if our lives are already full of a bunch of things that we don’t want.
I listened to a podcast by the Minimalists titled, Masks, this morning. You can find it HERE. They talk more about what I have addressed here. It was really great listen. They ended the podcast with this: “Love people and use things, because the opposite never works.”
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Listen to Michael Franti’s “Do It for the Love” HERE