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Category Archives: Live Life Without Regrets

Wanting what we have

The secret to happiness lies not in getting what we want but in wanting what we have.

This is what was challenging me last week, and that little phrase keeps going round in my mind. It’s implications are huge, not least in how I view time and what I do with my time. The weeks seem to be hurtling past at an astonishing rate, and it isn’t just us ancients that observe that – Elder daughter commented last Friday that it felt like the previous Monday only a few minutes before. Wanting what you haveNow I love Spring, and am delighted to see all the fabulous spring flowers cheering the place up – the crocuses in our local park seem especially vibrant and animated with the joy of lighter, longer days.

But I am also aware of voices around me of those wanting more time to combat the insidious and perpetual busyness with which we all live. Mine included at times.

In considering the secret to happiness as being the skill of wanting what we have, I fear that we are at risk of missing out on happiness because we are so busy thinking about the next thing that we don’t enjoy the present thing.

We all live with responsibilities, commitments, and pressures – paid or unpaid work, family and friends, social commitments, routines and mundanities, illness and unexpected crop-ups. But we also all have choice and we all have the ability to chose to enjoy what we are doing in the present.

What robs us of happiness in the present moment?

Regret of what we haven’t done

fear of what we might not get a chance to do

worry about what we are going to do next

brains filled with organising and planning the next thing.

I know I can be guilty of this, and have to stop, catch myself before I turn into grumpy psycho mum, and make a conscious effort to ask myself

  • why am I so distracted by what is next?
  • what is stopping me enjoying what I am doing now?
  • how have I got myself into this situation – am I overcommitted, over ambitious, losing sight of my boundaries?
  • and – of course – what is most important here?

There can be many reasons why we are not enjoying the moment – a difficult job or relationship situation, illness, repetitive non-stimulation, boredom.

But when it becomes the norm to live constantly preoccupied with the next thing, with little joy in the present thing, that robs us of happiness and keeps us blind to wanting what we have – what we have, right here and right now.

 

 

Learning to be content now.

Contentment has been a recurring theme for me of late, and has struck a chord with many.

Recognising that I have so much, and being content with that.

content now

Learning to be content now.

Being free from mental clutter and electronic noise for a time and having more brain space to focus on what really matters, and being content with that.

Noticing what is happening right here and now under my nose – the sound of the pigeons at 5.30am (a wee bit annoying that one), the smell of barbecued sausages, the taste of mango sorbet, the sound of crazy card-game-induced laughter. Being content with all of that and not needing more.

Learning to really listen to precious friends, being content with sitting listening without feeling the need to share my views.

And it all prompts me to choose to live like this more – seeing who I am and what I have, being grateful for that, and living to the full in this moment.

Not regretting what has gone before, nor worrying about what is to come.

But accepting my frailty, valuing those around me that bring joy and inspire me to be my best, being content with life now. Not living to regret this moment. Because it isn’t coming back.

What are your work boundaries?

boundaries on work

What are your boundaries like?

Memories of our recent hot and sunny holiday are fading away rapidly in the face of this most miserable Scottish July weather….the smiley weather man informed us yesterday that temperatures are comparable to October. Grrr.

But lo, there is one benefit – this week I am back at work, and it is easier to concentrate and focus on my work in the absence of a more attractive alternative, namely being outside in the sunshine. Because there isn’t any. I am by nature an outside person – fond memories of studying outside in the sun for my long-ago finals and kidding myself that I was being productive. So whilst I am sitting here at my computer wrapped in a woolly cardigan and looking out the window at grey rain, I can be fully present to my work without wishing I was somewhere else.

Before heading off on holiday to sunnier climes, I mused about the importance of leaving work at work, and this being an oft-cited death bed regret. For me, this was relatively easy due to the wonders of out-of-office assistants and not having my phone with me (bliss!).

But this really boils down to something more fundamental, and that is boundaries.

What boundaries do we have around our work?

When do we stop working? Do we know when to stop? And once we have stopped, do we switch that part of our brains off so we can be fully present to whatever is next – family, friends, leisure, me-time?

Work can mean anything: paid, unpaid, volunteering. All good, all important. But the most important thing to us?

In putting boundaries around our work we are saying to ourselves, and crucially to our nearest-and-dearest, that they matter too, and that we are not going to let our time with them be invaded or hijacked.

Another post-holiday reflection.

Returning to the real world of work after the different routines and freedom of a holiday, what are your boundaries like?

What are you exposing your mind to?

The law of exposure came up in a recent post as part of a discussion about learning contentment.

exposing your mind to nothing

Exposing your mind to nothing

The idea is simple – your mind thinks most about what it is exposed to. Time away on holiday highlighted a curious application of this. Because for two weeks, I was exposing my mind to very little, and therefore I thought about…well,

…..very little.

I found myself part way through the second week casting about in my head and finding that there was virtually nothing in there – no thoughts of any consequence, no worries, no reflections on life or even the beginnings of work plans for the autumn. I love my work, and love much of what I do in normal life. I like to come up with new ideas, change things, plan, and set goals.

But in having very little of that for my mind to be exposed to on holiday, I found that I thought about it not a jot. Weird, but very liberating. The same appeared true of my beloved – on questioning, he concurred that he had absolutely nothing in his head either.

We were of course exposing our minds to some things – a little bit of local culture, history, and wine production, the odd novel. Choices like: flume or lazy river? Castle or campsite? White or red?

But none of it was taxing, none of it demanded very much of us and therefore there was brain space to enjoy the nothingness. To be content with empty-headedness.

Life continuing like this is unsustainable and utterly unrealistic. That is the joy of holidays – they are often completely removed from normal life. But on return to that normality, what am I choosing to re-expose my mind to?

Content with less or more?

Content with less or more?

Content with less or more?

Contentment has been a theme that seemed to really strike a chord with folk of late.

Being content with who I am, what I can do, and in this instance, what I have. A recent, fabulous holiday has once again served to place in sharp focus how precious all that I have is. But therein lies the clue – on holiday, we lived a simple, uncluttered life with none of the trappings of the 21st century. No internet. No television. No email, texts, and only very occasional use by elder and younger daughters of electronic gadgetry.

We did have books, games, the natural world, and great swimming pools. Wonderful French food, and lots of sunshine. I am immensely grateful for all of these, and aware of how privileged we are to have had such a holiday.

What I notice as I think about how content I was on holiday is that less was most definitely more. The absence of all the normal stuff of life – especially electronic noise – highlights the presence of the important stuff that is so often sidelined.

Because, most importantly, we had each other. Time together to do very little, to play games, lark about in the pool, barbecue delicious fish. Eat a lot of ice cream.

Inevitably, on return home, the normal stuff of life creeps back in, and much of it is necessary for life and work. But once again I find myself holding on to those precious moments of simplicity and clarity, seeing with fresh eyes the richness of what I have in the relationships around me.

And I am content with less because it provides so much more of what is important.

Do you walk the walk?

walk the walk

Do you walk the walk?

When you get to the end of your life, will you be content that you lived the life you wanted to? That you walked the walk?

That you did what you said you were going to do? That you fulfilled your dreams and goals?

Of course, life is not that simple (how often do I say that?!) and we are not always in control of what happens to us. But we are in control of how we respond, and subsequent choices we make. We can choose to give up when our plans and dreams are derailed. Or we can choose to keep going, learning as we go and growing in confidence and self awareness.

Sometimes we talk big talk about what we are going to do with our lives, what our dreams are, but nothing comes of it except lots of hot air. And sometimes this is fine, as the dreams might be too much like pie in the sky.

If I say something is important to me, how much do my behaviour, choices, and use of time line up with this? This is a subject I have mused on many times, and one we will always wrestle with. Time is limited, we only get one shot at life. So do we take steps, one at a time, towards the life we say we want to live?

If we say we are going to do something, how often do we actually do it? And if we don’t, what is the cost?

This is the final deathbed regret, and perhaps one of the most fundamental. Will we live lives that reflect what really matters to us – people, contentment, humour, career choices, travel, use of time? Will we do what we say we are going to do, and persevere through struggles, obstacles, hard times because we are committed to our goals and being the best versions of ourselves?

Will we walk the walk?

Where would you travel to?

A more straightforward deathbed regret is the longing to have traveled more.

This seems like a nice idea to muse on as we head into holiday season for many.

travel

Travel inspires and opens the mind.

Talk of bucket lists is common, and people often have very grand destinations on theirs – for me, whale watching in Alaska, seeing the Grand Canyon, and an African safari would be on my dream bucket list.

I wonder whether we perhaps miss the point a little – these huge, expensive, exciting and grand travel destinations are indeed wonderful, and would tick the once-in-a-lifetime box nicely.

But methinks that this particular regret is more to do with breaking the weekly mould of ordinariness, and doing something small on a more realistic scale. Having little adventures often that inspire and open up the mind.

Travel could mean all sorts of things –

  • A train journey to the coast
  • Staying on a bus right to the terminus just to see what you see
  • Driving for an hour in a different direction each time and see where you end up
  • Exploring a slightly less local park

There are so many benefits in this that expand the mind – seeing new things, possibly reconnecting with people further afield, enjoying the journey itself rather than focusing on the destination.

And of course, coming home again might prompt greater awareness and contentment with what you have right under your nose.

Where could you travel over the summer months that would inspire you and remind you of all the good in life?

Keep going, don’t regret giving up

Do you wish you had kept going at something and not given up? Will this be something you regret?

keep going

Keep going, don’t give up!

A curious thing is happening in our house. Three out of four of the human occupants are learning the piano. Younger daughter has reached the end of book one of the piano course, with me as her fairly ad-hoc teacher. Elder daughter has just started lessons at school, but already reads music and plays the flute well so is forging ahead.

The interesting novice in this equation is my husband. His time at school was much occupied with academic studies (necessary to get into vet school) and any space was filled with sport. He was good at sport at school, and enjoyed that physical, competitive environment.

But recently he was musing on the music shaped gap in his life. He loves listening to music, but can neither read it nor play an instrument. Hence now starting slowly and cautiously to learn the piano.

I, on the other hand, failed at pretty much all sport at school, so rapidly learned to hide out in the music department, where I had far more fun. Playing the piano is high on my list of life-giving activities.

But I was musing to my mother about the fact that I stuck at the piano long after many others gave up, and achieved the level required to gain real enjoyment and variety in what I can play. Poor mum – she was the one who had to cajole, nag, and generally make me practice when I was at the this-is-awful-and-no-fun stage.

What made me keep going and not give up?

I had great teachers, who I really liked.

I was encouraged and nagged at home (and financed!).

But most of all I am stubborn enough to keep going with something once I have decided to do it, no matter how difficult it gets, if I am clear on the benefits long term.

When we start out on something new –  be it an instrument, a sport, a career, a hobby, a language – we will inevitably run into difficulties and challenges. Do we give up or do we keep going? When we fail, do we quit? And therefore risk losing something much greater – the satisfaction and confidence of overcoming obstacles to achieve our goal?

What kept me going at my piano tuition all those years ago was a clear goal of being able to play the piano well. So I stuck at it.

What about you – have you taken a chance on something new but are struggling?

Focus on the goal, and on the character gains you make along the way, and keep going!

Do you listen autobiographically?

Do you sometimes get to the end of the day and think, I wish I had listened to others more?

I suspect that this is not top of our list of daily regrets; more likely a deep regret on our deathbeds, by which time it is too late.

listen autobiographically

Do you listen autobiographically?

But that is the irony – often we are too busy ensuring that we get our opinions and views across to notice whether we have listened to the opinions of those around us. We don’t stop and notice where we failed to listen.

Listening autobiographically is a phrase I came across first when reading Stephen Covey’s book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. For me, this book was a hugely influential and powerful way of turning conventional ways of thinking completely inside out.

When we listen autobiographically, we listen with a view to responding – we think of our own experiences and only allow the speaker to finish so that we can then express our views or give advice. We interpret what the speaker is saying through our own filters, and therefore make judgments accordingly. We give the speaker little value or respect, because we only want to get our point across. We risk appearing superior, judgemental, too busy, disinterested and shutting down the conversation.

So what does it mean to listen without filtering the words through our own story?

We listen with a view to understand. Of course we may not agree, and may have opinions that are valid and worthy of expression and subsequent discussion. But we earn the right to express those views only when we have properly listened without judgment. To hear the non-verbal, the underlying emotions, the meaning beneath what the speaker is communicating.

This type of listening takes time, effort and practice. But the benefits are huge – real connections with people, understanding the heart and soul of the speaker, new insights, empathy, new shared heights of creativity.

This fits with being more content in our skin, knowing who we are and what we have. When we have that security, we have less to prove to others, and are competing less to get our point across. We can listen, understand, and share as and when appropriate to the other because we know who we are.

Listen – what is your motive? How can we learn to stop listening autobiographically and get better at listening to really understand each other?

Should Contentment be on the curriculum?

Should contentment be taught as a skill?

Learning contentment as a life skill

Learning contentment as a life skill

This is a fascinating thought – that contentment, along with other life skills, could be on some kind of educational curriculum. A friend posed this question in response to last week’s post, that contentment could be taught alongside resilience as a way of equipping us for the pressures of modern day life. Certainly, what we focus on and fill our minds with hugely influences our thoughts about ourselves, our lives, and others. There are twins laws at work here:

  • the law of cognition – you are what you think
  • the law of exposure – your mind thinks most about what it is exposed to

So it follows that when you think most about what you don’t have, that will influence how you live, your perspective on your life and how others perceive you.

The idea of scarcity links with this – scarcity captures the mind, whether we are short of time, money, food, hope. And that by focusing on what we don’t have, the way we think is remodeled at the cost of our creative imagination and an ability to see the bigger picture. Another friend brought this article on scarcity to my attention, and it makes for very thought-provoking reading.

Could this then be our first lesson in contentment – spend time thinking about what we do have, and what we are grateful for about our lives, and we will be more content people. I suggest this also will lead to greater resilience – withstanding difficulties and setbacks because we have a more stable and secure footing in who we are and the good in our lives.

So as you go about your life this week, what are you content with about your life? What and who are you thankful for? And when negative tapes start playing in your head, replace them with positive affirmations of what is good about who you are and what you do have.

Contentment – a life skill worth learning.

 

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