A fortnight ago, my sister hurt herself. Purposefully. As a result, I’ve been thinking a lot about happiness, especially in relation to work/life balance. My sister and I are self-confessed workaholics. We got our first jobs fresh out of primary school (mine was as a wedding table decorator – how cool’s that?) and we both managed fast-food teams during our teenage years. Even though we’re both in our early twenties, we’ve been working for a decade, in many jobs, most often two jobs at once, whilst studying. Nowadays, for the first time in my life, the brakes have been slammed on my work and educational life…and maybe that’s a good thing. And maybe it’s not. Even when I was studying fulltime and working fulltime, I felt content with my work/life balance. This is because I have established some non-negotiables, which have warded off stress, increased my happiness and boosted my motivation. Here they are:
I love exercising. I realise I might be one of the few people who says this…but it’s true. Walking is my ritual and exercise is my religion. I do it every day, seven days a week (unless I’m sick). I don’t always exercise ridiculously hard. Most times, I just plug in some music and get moving. Daily physical activity is so important. Not only does it reduce the odds of developing heart disease, stroke and diabetes but it also prevents depression and improves your memory and thinking skills. Whenever I have a problem or am searching for an answer, it usually comes to me whilst I’m exercising, without intentionally seeking it.
I’m not much of a talker. I often find that my thoughts translate better through the written word, which in return supports my growth and mental health. In fact, the practice of writing is so powerful that it has been proven to improve the psychological and physical health of cancer patients. I am such an avid writer than I have dedicated one whole draw of my wardrobe to journals instead of clothes! I write everything from fiction, poetry, blogs to articles of scholarship. There is much written about the power of journaling. However, I’ve never had the patience and dedication to keep a daily journal. However, I am lucky enough to take advantage of transactional writing by writing letters to a pen pal. Megan, my pen pal, lives in Melbourne. Although, we’ve never met each other, we have been writing to one another since we were ten years old. It’s such a liberating experience to write and share your life with someone else, without fear of judgment. Whatever genre you prefer, writing has undeniable benefits on your mental health, including:
- It helps manage stress (by pinpointing what’s going on internally, or by allowing you to vent to a blank page)
- It enhances emotional intelligence (by allowing you to make sense of your emotions)
- It improves communication skills (including verbal communication)
- It helps set and achieve goals (by organising your thoughts into words and prioritising them e.g. the lifesaving to-do lists)
- It assists in problem-solving (just like exercise, new ideas tend to pop up without seeking them)
- It creates empathy (because writing allows you to see from other people’s points of view)
- It enhances creativity (we learn to be creative in dealing with pain, difficult relationships and challenging emotions)
Photo: There’s nothing like green tea and a blank page (photo my own)
Change the scenery, travel
Work, at times, can make you feel like you are stuck in a rut. Taking a vacation or just changing scenery, even if it’s just down the road can work wonders. Just one trip away could help change your outlook on life for the better and recharge your mental state. I’m not merely talking about grand internationally voyages (though I have no complaints if someone offered me a free trip). I’m talking about little things like exploring your local national park or visiting an art gallery. Most weekends, I try and do something. Last weekend I was at the Gold Coast, whilst this weekend my girlfriends and I spent a day at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in the bucketing rain. Travel can be a kind of monasticism on the move. On the road, we live more simply, with no more than the possessions we can carry, and surrendering ourselves to chance. I think what gives value to travel is fear – disruption or emancipation from circumstances and all the habits behind which we hide in our daily lives. Here is some of my changing scenery across the last few months:
Photo: Brisbane at dusk, after a day of shopping and enjoying GOMA & the Queensland State Library (photo my own)
Photo: Roadtrippin somewhere between Alice Springs and King’s Canyon (photo my own)
Hang with your friends and family
Put your friends and family first. They are the ones who will be there for you when you need it the most. Your friends and family love you for you; not by your job title, or your reputation, or your adversities or triumphs. These trivial factors will soon bleed together. Your friends and family are going to be the ones sitting beside your hospital bed, time after time, not your clients nor your managers. The times I’ve walked straight out of hospital to hand in a resignation letter have been countless. I’ve never regretted these decisions. Each time, I awake from some sort of surgery, my perspective is cleared and I am reminded that no job or opportunity is ever going to replace my friends and family, nor my health. I was reinforced of this again a fortnight night ago when my sister’s bestie drove from the Gold Coast to Toowoomba to see my sister after her incident. My sister walked out of the hospital room into her bestie’s arms, crying.
This is what is important.
Notice and appreciate the little things
Appreciating the little things in life means focusing on what is positive and nurturing in our lives. It means practicing gratitude for those everyday things that are easy to take for granted or missed altogether. Adopting this outlook won’t stop negative events from occurring, but it may help prevent exaggerating their importance in our lives. Little gestures and tiny happenings will make your heart swell, lift your mood and make you a better person if you give them a chance. Some of my small pleasures include watching milk disperse in coffee or raindrops trickle down a window pane. Others include receiving a nice email from someone or a really good hug.
Recently, I came across a dandelion that was shining in the morning sunlight. I stopped to appreciate it for a while. The person I was walking with told me it was “just a weed.” I guess when some see a weed, others see a wish. Maybe, I was mesmerised because my eyes and brain are not accustomed to all the little wonders of the world, the things people have seen every day, for their whole lives.
Either way – I hope I never stop feeling this way.
I hope I will always stop and appreciate the little things.