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“Flourishing really is what people are ultimately after. It’s living the good life. We usually think about flourishing as living in a state in which all aspects of a person’s life are good — it’s really an all-encompassing notion.” —Tyler J. VanderWeele, an epidemiology and biostatistics professor and director of Harvard’s Human Flourishing Program
For four weeks our high school went back to All-In instruction. Immediately, the quality of my everydays shifted, and not for the better. Not only did the quality of my days change, but I noticed it in my household with my boys (my dogs).
My energy levels were lower, I ate more out of need for energy not because my body actually needed the calories, my sleep was more disruptive (caused by my schedule and my boys not getting exercise throughout the day as I wasn’t home), I ran out of time to attend yoga classes with a favorite instructor online and the time to let my creative mind wander all but vanished. There were other reductions of quality, but having two routines of life so immediately juxtaposed glaringly showed me the difference in quality when the school schedule returned to the most ‘normal’ it had been for over a year.
When we don’t have the opportunity to observe and experience first-hand the difference between a flourishing life versus a languishing one, it can be hard to trust how much our lives can improve by changing our daily routine. However, due to the unprecedented nature prompted by the pandemic, I saw the difference, and experienced it starkly and thankfully, after the end of this school year, I have the opportunity to choose the routine in which flourishing is possible.
In March (prior to the shift I described above), as I shared with TOP Tier subscribers in May’s A Cuppa Moments, I turned in my resignation after 20 years of teaching to focus solely on TSLL and writing. While I had been thinking about making this life choice for some time well prior to the pandemic, it was the pandemic which put into stark reality the difference in the quality of my life. Blatantly obvious, the slower schedule, flexibility, time at home and ability to spend more time outside, improved my well-being. To ignore this truth and not do something to make it permanent when I had the fortunate choice to make such a routine permanent would have been foolhardy because we each only receive one life.
I share my aha moment because, while I know not everyone will be able to turn in their resignation papers and work from home, what perhaps we can all learn when we see how to cultivate a life in which we and our loved ones flourish is to do all that is in our ability to make it our everyday reality.
I will be sharing more detail in June about my decision, but my awakening so to speak showed me more than I knew was there. It wasn’t until I made the changes and lived them for nearly an entire year and then had it taken away, that I acknowledged how my energy levels, my joy, my connection with others, the improvement in my thoughts had drastically changed for the better during that temporary change.
Today, I will be exploring ways to live a life in which you too can flourish each and every day of your one and only life. Inspired by Harvard’s Human Flourishing Program’s five components which constitute a flourishing life: (1) happiness and life satisfaction, (2) mental and physical health, (3) meaning and purpose, (4) character and virtue, and (4) close social relationships, I have also incorporated the components of living simply luxuriously which in many areas overlap beautifully with Harvard’s list.
1.Begin with your mind – learn how it works, learn how do you use, learn to use it well
Again, and again, here on TSLL, over the past six years with the premiere of the podcast, beginning in episode #20 – How to Be the Master of Your Mind – the foundation of living well has lead us to understanding how our minds work. From what we choose to think about, to understanding the importance of quality rest everyday and to go without is to reduce our ability to make the best decisions no matter how hard we try to what we feed our minds, while it takes time to learn how our mind works, doing so is by far one of the best investments we each can make in an overall improvement in the quality of our entire lives.
Below are a few of the many posts to read in further exploration of the mind:
- 5 Ways Harnessing the Power of our Mind can Improve Our Lives
- Taming The Overthinking Mind: 8 Ways to Maintain Your Creativity and Find Mental Tranquility
- A Thinking Life = A Happy Life
2. Engage in a daily exercise of gratitude
When we become more present in our everydays, it becomes far easier to see all that is going well in our lives and our world. By no means does it mean the world or we are perfect and wouldn’t benefit from choosing to learn and grow, but what gratitude does is ground us, calm us and brings us to the present moment where we will always be. And if we are always present, choosing to keep our minds open, we are better able to connect and listen to ourselves as well as others.
I will be honest, I never fully embraced the dictated “Gratitude Journal” which was shared more than 20 years ago on Oprah, but I appreciated the idea, and in my own way, I started to irregularly list what I was grateful for, and I am thankful I did try to consciously observe all that was going well in life. It is a treat to go back and reread old journals and see a list of everyday moments that brought joy. Serving as reminders of what welcomed in a feeling I now more consciously bring into my life, I have tailored my ‘gratitude journal’ into something which works for me. More publicly, my gratitude journal is the monthly post – “What Made Me Smile This Month, So Far . . . “, and privately, I compose my own list mentally in the morning and in written form in the evening.
Backed by studies shared by the Human Flourishing Program, “these types of gratitude exercises do tend to increase measures of gratitude and also feelings of psychological well-being more generally (Davis et al., 2016).”
3. Become a skilled Savorer of Life’s Everyday Moments
At the core of living simply luxuriously is the conscious ability to “savor, savor, savor”, and similar to the studies shared regarding a regular practice of gratitude above, finding the good in our everydays and choosing to savor it, appreciate it and soak it up has been shown in studies to increase participants levels of happiness.
What does ‘savoring’ mean? It essentially means being fully present and engaged with the present moment. Listening without distraction when someone is speaking, taking in all of the sensory details of the room, event, outdoor space, etc. in which you find yourself, turning off your phone regularly, modifying your notifications to limit distractions of focus and fully participate, and when you come across something that causes the edges of your mouth to turn upward spontaneously, staying in that moment, drinking it up, acknowledging it is fleeting, but being present and not taking it for granted.
Just last Friday, two of my classes wrapped up the semester (we are on a schedule of rotation), and I knew it would be my final goodbye to them, not just for the year, but for good. I prepared for that period, I carved out time to be present with them at the end and communicate my sincere appreciation and then I just let it be and let their interactions guide my full attention, and with each student, I soaked up the time and conversation shared. I didn’t force or prolong, just savored.
So often when we find ourselves in a moment we love, we are wishing for it to be longer or to have more, which ironically removes us from the actual moment we say we love so dearly. We have to accept the evanescent nature of our lives, our days and these amazing moments, for when we do, they become something even more special, and the memory is the gift we carry with us and so to those we shared it with. We feed the future with positive energy, and while that may sound odd or less tangible, look at it as a gift of love to humanity. When we don’t strangle, but savor, we are showing love either to those we are in the moment with, or with Mother Nature and even with ourselves. Love doesn’t control, love doesn’t bind, it lifts, supports and sets free. And that is hard for humans who by natural inclination what to control and to know what will happen. It takes a strong person to find peace within themselves, trusting in the unknown and enjoying the journey without expectations. Savoring helps us become stronger in this way because we come to realize how awesome our one and only life is and become more cleared-eyed not to miss a moment.
Below are a few of the many posts and episodes dedicated to learning the necessary skill of Savoring on TSLL:
- Finding and Savoring Waterfall Moments (inspired by my trip to France in 2019)
- 10 Life Lessons from Provence: Slow Down & Savor the Everyday (inspired by my month-long visit to France in 2018)
- ep. #213, The Art of Savoring: How to Invite the Skill of Savoring Into Our Lives
- Begin reading TSLL’s List of 100 Petit Plaisirs to Savor (a four-part series)
- ep. #199, 9 Reasons to Savor Being in the “Choosing Seat”: The Gift of Being Single in your 30s, 40s, 50s and Beyond
- 18 of My Afternoon/Evening Rituals to Savor
4. Unearth your strengths and find how to use them to contribute to the greater world
Quite frequently as of late, I have come across sources and studies sharing quantifiable proof that when we acknowledge, embrace and then share our strengths with the world to positively contribute to the world, the quality of our days and overall lives improves as well. Again, Harvard’s Human Flourishing Program cites, “Results from a randomized trial suggest that the implementation of an intervention designed to promote the use of one’s central character strengths in new ways improves well-being (Seligman et al., 2005).” In an upcoming podcast episode #307, I will be sharing in detail lessons learned from Martha Beck’s The Way of Integrity: Finding the Path to Your True Self, and at its core is an alignment of embracing yours strengths and courageously finding a way in which the world benefits from what you can uniquely give. Jay Shetty also writes about this in his book Think Like A Monk, calling the confluence our Dharma.
The first step is clearing our external influences of what we ‘should’ be doing, and becoming clear about what comes both naturally to us and what the world needs.
5. Strengthen and become grounded in ‘You’ before you become ‘We’
Just last week, the post How to Let Yourself Bloom: 12 Ideas for Personal Everyday Contentment was shared, so I won’t go into great detail here, but if you take only one course in this life, take the course on You. The post will share more clearly what I mean, but once you make the investment, you will have more clarity about the life you want to live, present yourself confidently, yet honestly to others knowing that not all lives are meant to be shared for a lifetime, and become a better communicator and interpreter of your own feelings (EQ – Emotional Intelligence, listen to episode #140).
I don’t regret for a second I am not married at 42. My life has flourished because I had the courage to acknowledge I wasn’t either ready for a lifelong commitment or I had not met the right person. Overarchingly, it was the former, not the latter because often the former would lead me to the wrong people of no fault of their own. While we will always be learning about ourselves, when we choose to do so consciously and courageously “go there”, do the hardwork of understanding, we become more secure in ourselves and clearer about our desire for a relationship, should we want one, and if we do, what type of union would work best for both individuals to flourish both on their own and together.
6. Prioritize your physical health
Each of us will be different when it comes to the type of physical exericise we enjoy and can’t imagine not engaging in. For me, it is walking with my boys on long, wandering trails (and in the winter in my snow-shoes), paddling on the water, sliding away on the snow in my cross country skis, and finding my calm as I hold my yoga poses. When I am not able to exercise regulary and well, my days, my mind, my connections with others and myself lack quality.
We often take for granted that we will be able to do what we do now forever, physically regarding a demanding schedule. But the truth is, and this is not an ageist comment as I wholly look forward and am enjoying getting older (which surprised one of my students, but upon my explanation, she began to sincerely consider a different perspective than what our culture purports to be true about the prioritizing of youth), if you are exhausted at the end of your days, if you don’t have ‘depth’ in your days and your relationships, when will you?
I acknowledge, there will be temporary times in our lives when we ‘burn the candle at both ends’, but sometimes we forget to stop such an approach. We forget living this way shuts out any other beauty from entering into our lives, so much so, it assumes we are not interested and seeks out the person who is open to receiving it. And because of this, we assume the beauty is not actually there, is not actually possible and how could our lives actually change for the better by slowing down. I share this because for five years, my candle was burning at both ends, and I almost forgot it was a temporary decision and not meant to be the rest of my life. But the candle will only burn at one end beginning in late June, and having experienced only for a short time how the quality of my life improved, I cannot wait to open up to more opportunities for everyday beauty and deeper contentment.
As I shared above in the intro, as soon as our school schedule returned to All In this past April, my energy levels were depleted. I eat more when I am mentally exhausted. Not because my body needs it, but because my mind needs it to stay awake and alert. I have always valued sleep, so I solely worked (both jobs – teaching and writing) and slept. My social life had a narrow window to exist, and because I knew I had to exercise, my schedule left little time for much else. When the pandemic hit, it was as though the pressure was finally released, and I breathed deeply, deeper than I knew was possible for the first time in five years. I took notice and let myself naturally move through my days – What did my body need? I found I ate less but better. What did my mind need? space and time to wander. What did my relationships need? kindness, contribution, and time to just be in each others company whether on the phone or in person (when we were able). What did I need? I needed one pursuit of purpose in order to give myself to it fully.
We each have the potential to flourish when we choose to pay attention to the world, and the world includes each of us. Individually, we give the world its beauty or its pain. Our interactions may seem small and insignificant, but quite the opposite is true – each interaction, each contribution accumulates, builds upon itself and creates the culture we live in. What type of culture do you want to live in? What do you want future generations to live in? I think about my students when I answer that question. I think about my niece and nephew. I think about my neighbors. I think about you, TSLL readers. I think about the world. What do I hope for the world moving forward?
This past year plus a handful of months has placed the entire global community into a classroom full of lessons to learn. From the pandemic to social justice issues, family roles and responsibility issues, education issues, climate issues, and many more local issues which if we choose to acknowledge we can learn more, we can better understand than we already do, we can make positive change. Where do we begin? The question si daunting because understandably, the list is lengthy, but more largely weighty in the gravity of its issues. We begin with the one person we have control over – ourselves. And we begin by answering the fundamental question that will guide us as we move forward – How can I flourish?