Perhaps instead of working towards goals we could look at our life in terms of lifestyle satisfaction.
In a society hooked on productivity, goal achievement, status and material benefits we may be missing out on a simple way to live the good life.
We want to be happy and live lives that satisfy us. That is why we choose to follow goals and dreams, because we think the achievement of them will make us happy. The trouble with a goal-orientated life is that it requires a constant focus the future. We often think we will be happy when our goal is achieved: the dream, new house or success in a certain field. Unfortunately, evidence suggest that while attainments such as these improve our happiness in the short term, our happiness levels soon return to the level they were prior to the achievement. So we begin working towards a new goal.
If this is the case, striving to achieve the next goal on the list is by no means a sure-fire way to happiness. With this in mind it seems worthwhile to spend some time working out what actually makes us happy if we are not to spend our lives chasing goals that do nothing towards creating a rewarding, fulfilling, fun and satisfying life.
When people describe what they love about their life, what brings them happiness and what activities created their most satisfying memories, achievement of goals rarely makes it to the list. Instead, people report their happiest times as those spent with friends and family, time spent in nature, travel and celebrations. Achievements may make an appearance if they are related to significant goals, like writing a book or running a marathon, but earning xxx salary, buying the latest technology, or gaining a promotion rarely feature.
Perhaps instead of working towards goals we could look at our life in terms of lifestyle satisfaction.
So instead of writing a list of things you want to achieve, it might be better to write a description of what your ideal lifestyle would look like. In an ideal world what work would you do? What would you do with your leisure time? How much time would you spend with family and friends? How would you spend your vacation? What would Friday nights look like in your dream life, and Sunday mornings? Even more importantly, perhaps, what would Monday mornings look like. Include in your list the simple, small things that make you happy, perhaps drinking English Breakfast tea from a china cup, taking train ride, or chatting with friends late into the night over a bottle of wine.
These questions might seem frivolous, or pointless. After all who has the opportunity to decide what their Monday mornings are like and who has any choice about working hard to pay the mortgage and rising bills and expenses. But even if you think changes to your life are going to be impossible, it’s worth doing the exercise. Once you know what your dream life looks like then you at least have a chance of working towards it. Many of us believe that we won’t be able to enjoy life until we retire. But there are things we can do to make the most of the life we have. We do not have to wait and we do not have to come to the end of our lives with regret if we take the time to work out what our own personal Good Life is.
Everyone’s idea of a fulfilling lifestyle is different. For some the excitement of a busy, deal busting career fills them with pleasure. Other would prefer a quiet garret to write a novel or dream of spending their time roaming trails on horseback. There is no prescription for a good life that suits everybody
But most of us never stop to take the time to see what would truly be a good lifestyle for us. We work our way through school, clubs, college and jobs doing what is expected of us by family and peers. We note achievements that are social approved and hide those that are not. We are quick to celebrate our pay-rise, but less likely to share with our colleagues the wonderful morning spent fishing. We do this because we are concerned about what others think of us. And while it is good to please others some of the time, it is not a basis on which to decide what to do with your precious life. If we don’t take time to work our what truly makes our hearts’ sing, how will we ever be able to move towards creating it?
What are your core values and life-themes?
We tend to live our lives based on values we have learnt, such as hard-work, productivity, being the best, achievement, high status, success, physical fitness and financial security. Writing a list of what your true core values might be can help you see past the expectations of family, friends, peers and society and discover what you truly value.
Alternatives to the current western values might include:
- meaningful work
- having fun
- alone time
Write down what you think your core values might be and see how being true to them might make a difference in your life.
Janet had a busy and successful life working as a sales manager, raising a family with her husband and taking care of their home together. But she was beginning to feel like she was on a hamster wheel, ticking of jobs, chores and activities just to begin again the next day. She felt that the fun had gone out of her life, but couldn’t find the time or energy to anything about it. When Janet wrote down her core values, spending time in nature and with animals was very high on her list. Once she knew this, Janet managed to carve out some time to walk in her nearby woods twice a week. But even more significantly, she was able to incorporate this need into other areas of her life and improve those areas too. For example, she and her husband began to use Sundays to get outside in nature with the children and participate in outdoor activities rather than spending the day shopping or watching films as they used to. Janet also arranged family get-togethers in natural environments, organising picnics, beach barbecues and meet-ups in quaint country pubs with gorgeous views. In this way, Janet met her desire to spend time with family and friends while increasing the well-being she felt from spending time in nature.
Plan your perfect ordinary week
Fill out the perfect week in your diary. Make it as detailed as you can and spend time thinking about how the activities make you feel. If you are stuck for inspiration, think back to your childhood and remember what made you happy then, before the expectations and responsibilities piled up. For example, you might long for a Sunday morning reading in bed which would make you feel happy and relaxed. Or perhaps a perfect Sunday morning for you would be going for a hike which would leave you feeling strong, invigorated and calm.
Monday’s can be a bit more difficult. Though this is our dream life, even ideal lives contain work, whether that is chopping wood or developing a funding strategy for a charity. Make your dream life possible (living on Mars is probably out) but still ideal, don’t compromise, think big, imagine the truly perfect life, work, love and leisure for you. Giving yourself a blueprint for the dream allows the imagination to kick in and gives you a more objective view of socially prescribed values. Once you have the blueprint, it is easier to see how you can make changes to bring your current life closer to your ideal.
Keep a time diary
Yes, I know time and motion studies can be dull. But the more you know about your current lifestyle, the better position you are in to begin transforming it. Categorise each of your activities into subjects such as:
- Home care
Do this for a week and keep as much detail as possible. I know this is hard to do; we are often multi-tasking and some activities seem to fit into more than one category, so just do the best you can.
Next to the space for the task, add a column for writing about how the activity made you feel. Sometimes we don’t realise how things actually make us feel, we might feel the morning run is a chore, but actually, once we get going, we find it exhilarating. By writing down how you felt throughout the task and on completion you will get a truer picture of how the activities and tasks in your life actually make you feel.
Now analyse the results
Your dream life might look very different from the life you are living now and may seem impossible to achieve, but there may be aspects of it that are possible to bring about. Go through your time diary and contemplate what you liked doing least and see if you can do either of these things:
- quit doing it
- delegate it
- make it fun
With each item on the list, think about whether it is in alignment with your core values. Are you doing the activity because it is expected of you by others, or by society or because you have learned that it is important to be productive. For example, do you believe that a messy home means you are a slovenly wife and mother. Where did you learn this? Is it true? Do you think that the last one to leave the office is the hardest working, most productive and morally better? Time and motion studies suggest that productivity goes down the longer hours that are worked so this is clearly an idea you can dump.
You can analyse your children’s activities in this way too. If your child has violin lessons which he doesn’t enjoy and you find trekking back and forth to the lessons a drag, why are you doing it? Because other mum’s do? Because you have learnt that music is helpful in developing maths skills? Bear in mind that children need time doing nothing to establish creative skills, imagination and self-sufficiency, too. Don’t teach them that they must be productive at all times unless you want them to end up with a life as stressed and over-busy as yours!
I know you have heard this advice a million times, so I won’t go into much detail here. Suffice to say that we often don’t delegate because we believe others might not do the job properly. There are many ways to do a job and to assume that your is the only right way is arrogant. This comes up a lot in childcare. Women complain that when left to take care of children men tend to forget homework, eating healthily, chores and bedtimes because they focus on having fun. Instead of worrying about this, let it go. Your children need down time too. Even better take a leaf out of their books and try to have an evening when you let worries like homework and chores take a back seat too. Perfectionism can be a major reason why people’s lives are over-busy but by looking at your ideal life you can put things into perspective. Is having a perfectly clean car, the most well-researched report or the best housewarming gift really worth the time allocated to it when it does not add much to your dream lifestyle. Many of our perfectionist ideals are from fear that others will judge us. This is a hard state to overcome, but remembering your aim of achieving your dream life can help you put tasks in perspective. Who cares if you are judged for having an old car or not serving the fanciest food, or not having the best kept lawn. If people are judging you on these things consider whether their esteem is actually worth having.
Make it more fun
Simple things that can make chores more fun include:
- Listening to music or a podcast while driving, ironing, doing housework or other chores.
- Working as team with your family or housemates to get work done in a fun way and then sharing a reward afterwards. Use star charts, timers, music and anything else that can make the task less arduous.
- Incorporating chats and jokes with other mums and dads on the school run, work colleagues, neighbours and even the people you interact with on everyday chores such as grocery shopping and picking up dry-cleaning.
- Meeting up with a friend to complete a task together, for example get a dog-walking buddy or a running partner.
- If the task really is gruelling but must be done, break it up where possible, schedule breaks and rewards and then take time when it is finished to relax for a while and enjoy the feeling of completion before moving on to something else.
Increase the good stuff
Now go through your diary and see what you found the most rewarding and work out how you can add more of it.
Perhaps the happiest times of your week were playing with your children, reading a good book, getting out for a walk alone or going out with your friends. See how you can incorporate more of this into your life by cutting out some of the less satisfying activities, reducing overtime perhaps, or switching a hike in nature for a session in the gym. Perhaps you could allocate one day at the weekend as strictly family time, accepting no invitations and scheduling no chores for that day.
Finally look at your dream weekly plan and see what you can change right now to move a step closer to your dream life.
These things may be very simple; perhaps having a glass of wine in the garden on sunny Saturday evenings, putting cartoons on for the kids so you can enjoy an extra half an hour in bed on Sunday mornings, spending one evening a week in a fun activity, reading a story to the kids, petting the cat or phoning a friend every day.
Maybe your dream is to move out of the city and live a simple life—well what can you do right now to move towards this? What is it about the move that would make you happier? Perhaps you long for the simpler life, less fast-paced lifestyle, being self-sufficient, spending more time in nature or your kids being able to run free. Well you can start making these things happen even if the move is impossible right now. You could reduce some of the activities that make your life fast-paced, such as committees, overtime, or volunteering for every school trip. You could grow herbs and salads, or shop at a farmer’s market. You could take a walk in nature or at least a park everyday and get out to the countryside with the kids every other weekend.
This is where life-style scaping comes into its own because rather than focusing on a goal such as a move to the country, you focus on the benefits of the goal and incorporate those into your lifestyle right now!