By Margaret Rode
Never forget that love Requires that you be The greatest person you are capable of being. —Ben Okri
My name is Margaret, and I’m a recovering advertising executive.
I’m still self-conscious talking about how I spent those early decades of my work life: Coercing you to buy things you didn’t really need, with money you didn’t have. Worse, convincing you that Stuff—from clothes to gadgets to TV shows—was finally going to make you happy. What don’t we tell you? Having a new pair of UGG boots is a thrill, until UGG is sooo last year. Streaming unlimited movies on your teeny-tiny iPhone doesn’t seem worth the $200/month after a while. That new thing I convinced you to covet? It gives you a quick high then you have to go buy something else to keep it going.
Sorry about that.
But that time in my life was a gift in disguise. It led me here, to a lifestyle where things actually . . . matter. The nonprofit Center for a New American Dream has a brilliant motto I’ve borrowed as my mantra: “More of what matters.” People everywhere are hopping off the treadmill of Stuff Worship to craft a more joyful life: Spending time with people they care about, connecting to their “tribe,” pursuing laughter and experiences, and shaping a life that fits. What does that look like, for regular people like you and me? In my interviews with happiness-seekers, I’ve noted a few common threads in the weaving of a sustainably happy life:
Are you self-medicating with Stuff? What are the indulgences you turn to, even if they steal time/money from more permanent pleasures? Are you “too busy” to take care of yourself, but can recite the fine details of all the latest episodes of The Biggest Loser? Love the rush you get from designer clothes, jewelry, gadgets, or tooling around town in a new car, even though they have you mired in stressful debt? Begin to notice the difference between temporary pleasure spikes of Stuff and the lasting pleasure of things that really matter. Speaking of which . . .
. . . What DOES matter to you? Look back: What were your most joy-full experiences of the past year? What still makes you smile to remember? What would you miss the most if you suddenly learned you had only a few weeks left to enjoy it? I’d miss playing with our dogs, being goofy with my friends, and pulling fresh carrots out of the garden on summer mornings. I don’t know many terminally ill people who waste their few remaining days on watching reality TV or counting their shoe collection. What do you value the most? Are you doing enough of it?
Is your work life cutting into your happiness? Long commutes, toxic environments, or just the wrong “fit” drains the pleasure out of even our best days. Even in tough financial times, it’s worth exploring other situations where you might be happier. Don’t overlook self-employment, either full-time or in tandem with a part-time “day job.” Self-employed folks report some of the highest levels of wellbeing in happiness surveys.
Experience some sustainable joy. Plan (and do!) things that make you feel like the “person you’re capable of being.” Visit places you want to experience, take workshops to learn something you’re curious about, get out and try something that makes you feel bold and alive. Shoot for one thing per week at minimum.
Be with the ones you love, and build your tribe. Turn off the TV, leave the iPad at home, and enjoy the company and laughter of family members, positive friends, and community, in any way that sounds perfect. Consider a game night, a jam session, even a block party. And this isn’t just for extraverts: In my town we have a Facebook group, Neighbors & Friends, where we all keep in touch, and Craft Night, where we drag our little projects to a café to work on them, enjoy a cup of coffee together, and meet a new friend or two.
Enjoy life’s pleasures wisely. Looking around at the things you buy to keep your life going (from food to clothes to shampoo), think about how you can change one small thing or habit each month, making it greener, less toxic, more humane, or less wasteful. For example, I’m addicted to cheese. We’ve recently switched a lot of our consumption to the locally-produced, humanely raised variety. More delicious in our mouths AND in our hearts.
It is possible to have a life you love, one where you live well, do good, have fun, and look forward to a new day. You can get there by focusing on more of what matters, and less of what doesn’t.
Margaret Rode lives with her husband and dogs in the foothills above Denver, Colorado, where she writes, consults, and enjoys life as The Green Hedonist, helping people imagine and create lives that are joyful, meaningful, AND sustainable. Come say hello at http://thegreenhedonist.com.