A few days ago, I was reading an article on “365 projects” – which are basically themes for doing something daily for a year, like keeping a gratitude journal or posting a photo to social media. In fact, most of the article was about different ideas for a “photo of the day” project. As I read through the list, I thought how fun it would be to do something like this. Then I remembered…I tried this in 2014 and quit after only 6 weeks!
You see, back then, my friend Kerry thought it would be fun to do something called the 100 Happy Days Challenge. She had stumbled upon this challenge on Facebook and it seemed pretty easy. All you had to do was take a photo every day for 100 days of something happy. Participating was supposed to make you more optimistic, content with your life, and open to new experiences. I made it through 50 days of the challenge.
My foray into “photo of the day” challenges was not a loss though. I might have failed at posting photos but I didn’t fail to grasp the concept behind the challenge – happiness is directly connected to mindfulness. The more you pay attention to what makes you happy, the happier you actually become.
Thinking about happiness trains your brain to focus on the elements in your life that create happiness. It forces you to stop doing things out of unconscious habit and do them by choice instead. And when we realize we do indeed have a choice in what we focus our attention on, we tend to choose more of the things that make us happy. Think of it as one big circle of happiness…
Think happy. Choose happy. Be happy. Repeat 🙂
When our lives are crazy busy, our thoughts tend to go right along that same path. Have you ever been reading a book only to realize that your mind has wondered off to something on your to-do list? Being mindful helps eliminate the mental clutter and makes us more aware of what surrounds us; what is happening in the here and now.
Studies of mindfulness have shown that it leads to healthier, less stressful, more creative and wait for it…yes, happier and more satisfied lives. I know firsthand that there’s some truth to this. Once upon a time I used to plan vacations while I was on vacation. I’d say to myself, “this place is great but wouldn’t a trip to ___ be so much better.” I had a great time, or so I thought, but now, I wonder how much more fun I would’ve had if I’d just enjoyed the trip I was on.
All these years later, I am still working on mindfulness. The more I learn, the more I have come to realize that being mindful is very much like learning to see the world through the eyes you had as a child – back when everything was new and full of wonder. When I read now, I try to let myself get lost in the book, just like I did when I was a child. When I sit on the patio looking at the birds in the backyard, I try to see only the nature that surrounds me. When I am out on the water in my kayak, I try to be one with my environment. And in those moments where I make the choice to be present, I am at my happiest.
How do you practice mindfulness in your daily life? Have you ever attempted a 365 project? Which one, and how did it go?
After spending 45 minutes working out a meal plan and grocery list for our recent camping trip, I completely understand why so many folks opt for convenience. Tossing a meal in the microwave (or a hot dog on the grill) is so much easier than trying to figure out three balanced meals a day plus snacks for a week at the beach – in a primitive cabin, with no refrigeration.
You’re probably thinking: Why are you meal planning for your vacation?? Because that’s what we do. We love to go places but with a very limited budget we have to be quite frugal if we want to maximize the experience; so we often opt to camp wherever we go and prepare our own meals. If we’re traveling to an area known for a particular cuisine, we do try to sample it, but if our adventures take us to just another suburban fast-foodscape, dining out rarely makes it onto our list of activities.
Side note: According to ValuePenguin, the average cost of a 4-night vacation in the US is $541 per person (which includes a healthy budget for food and alcohol). We spend about 35-40 nights per year away from home, so at that rate, we really would go broke rather quickly.
With our list complete, we set off for the grocery store on Sunday night to pick up our supplies. As we were walking in to the store, I made the remark to Angie that “simple living is not so easy”. As usual, she came back with one of her short but profound quips, “Yes, but easy isn’t nearly as much fun.” Of course, that set my mind to pondering the many ways each day that we choose simple over easy.
We handwash all our dishes. Our apartment does have a dishwasher. We just don’t use it. When we downsized the number of dishes in our cabinet, I found that using the dishwasher was a pointless endeavor. Everything we wanted to use was always in the dishwasher waiting until we had enough to wash, which was never going to happen, since we only had a few dishes in the first place. See…pointless. Personally, I enjoy the process of washing dishes. Angie washes and I dry, while we talk about whatever crazy thing or idea may have come up that day.
We make our own cleaning supplies. The process of mixing Borax, washing powder, and soap flakes in the blender to get it small enough to dissolve in cold water can be a little time consuming, but well worth it in the end. We can usually make a year’s worth of laundry soap at once. Along with laundry soap, we make all our household cleaning supplies too, using just 4 ingredients.
We (usually) prepare 3 meals a day at home. And snacks too! Though we both love to cook, there are times when I just want to grab a bag of tacos and call it good. But we don’t. We’ve learned (through experience) that eating fast food or processed convenience meals all the time can have a very negative effect on your health and your wallet. Cooking at home takes some time and effort but, in the end, I’d rather have one of our meals than one prepared by any of the world’s finest chefs.
We take water and snacks with us every single time we leave the house. To be completely honest, this is Angie’s rule and it drives me crazy sometimes. When I’m ready to walk out the door, she’s filing the water bottles. We don’t even go to my mom’s house (8 miles away) without water. “You never know…,” she says. And usually she’s right. There have been times when we’ve gone for a walk after leaving mom’s house and were glad we had the water. There have also been times when we’ve been out all day and were glad to have granola bars and peanuts in the glovebox for a quick pick-me-up snack.
We do haircuts at home. If you’ve followed us for a while, you know this one by now. We have been cutting our own hair for the past 5 years, playfully calling our makeshift salon, Outdoor Clips. Over time, the process has gotten easier, but it still takes 2-3 times longer to cut hair at home (considering cleanup) than it does to go to a real salon. Is it worth it? Yes! The last time I went to the “real salon”, I ended up wearing a hat until my hair grew back.
We manage our own money. Sometimes I think we watch our money like a new mom watches her first child. Okay, maybe not quite that close, but we do know where our money is invested because we’ve chosen each investment ourselves. From the funds inside our IRAs to our non-retirement investments, we’ve researched and selected each one on our own. No broker to help us choose the “right path to retirement”. No CPA to do our taxes either. It’s not easy but we’ve learned that the only people who are ever really invested in our success is us.
We try to fix things when they break. Last week, I mended a sock…for the third time. Not because socks aren’t cheap but because it is my favorite and I don’t want a new one. Today, I’ll be working on our camp stove. It stopped working midway through our trip. Yes, that means that all the aforementioned meal planning had to be reconsidered but luckily there are still ways to cook without a stove (like making oatmeal in the campground’s coffee pot). This weekend, I’ll be repairing my kayak. The folding fin fell off when I hit the beach on Sunday. For $50, I could send it back to be repaired or I could take an hour, some hinges, and a little marine glue and try to do it myself. Easy? No, but I know afterwards I will feel like a million bucks for doing it on my own.
Recently, we’ve been watching Alaskan Bush People. I know, I know…reality shows aren’t all that real…but then again, neither is the news these days and at least this is entertaining. Anyway, as we’ve watched the show, we’ve noticed that these folks work pretty darn hard to stay simple. They build houses out of tires. They hunt and fish and chop their own wood. They make delicious looking cakes without an oven, for goodness sake! And despite the fact that they work sun-up to sundown just to survive, they are all HAPPY! In fact, in the brief times they have had to deal with modern conveniences, their happiness level has plummeted (one so much so that he began drinking to cope).
All of this has made think, once again, that simplicity really is the key to happiness. Yes, it is harder to wash dishes by hand and more time consuming to cut our own hair. Yes, it would be 100 times easier just to grab take-out for dinner or stop at a convenience store for an afternoon snack. And yes, it would have definitely been easier to buy a new computer than to spend 3 days figuring out the problem with mine. BUT…
We wouldn’t have the skills, the increased self-esteem, and the confidence that comes with doing something for ourselves. Or the memories that are made when you tackle a challenge. And as Angie so aptly said, it wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun.