April 17, 2016 by Julia
I dare say every person has at least one thing worth making time for every single day, something that makes them feel good, or more alive, or more relevant to the world. It could be the act of making music, or running outdoors. Conversation with friends, or snuggle time with your kids. Do you need to build things, or plan things, or paint things? Do you need an animal to care for, or more time for watching quality films (rather than channel surfing through shows you don’t care about)?
In related news, I am trying to write for at least half an hour every day. My goal this week has not been to whip out brilliance or even finish anything; it has only been to feel happier through something that’s brought me joy since childhood.
Sometimes I feel myself getting off track, usually for a “good cause,” but to my own detriment. I get obsessed with one project or another – a photo album, or organizing a room, or making a gift, or planning out an activity for girl scouts, etc. – and things get cut out of my day. Important things, that I apparently need on a frequent basis in order to be okay.
And I need to be okay, not just for myself but for the sake of my loved ones. (Pro-tip: If you ever get caught up in a fierce cycle of self-loathing, think about what that does to your family and friends to help break yourself out of it. Care for yourself IS care for your loved ones, too.) My personal fulfillment is never more important than people, but when I can make the time for both, I am happier and have more to offer. We all need fuel in order to provide generosity of spirit and patience with one another. One of my most important sources is writing.
I have to write every day because it clears me out, it calms me down, it brings me pleasure. It makes me feel less invisible, which is important for a stay-at-home mother who does a lot of work in the background to support her family. The satisfaction I take in articulating a truth or story or both, of fiddling with the words in all of their double and triple meanings, cannot be overstated.
Hopefully my work will somehow improve the world, but I have to accept that sometimes what I write won’t be good, and that’s just part of creating something. I don’t have to share everything with others. It’s the act of writing that matters most to me. If I manage to make something worthwhile, then I will be gratified, surely – but I don’t know if artists can ever be happily, permanently done. It’s easy to doubt one’s own skill, or the worth of the work, but when I can boil down my motivation right now to personal well-being, that eliminates the self-defeating arguments for me. Besides, at this point in my life, I can see that it is something I can’t help doing. I will always come back to it. It’s not a matter of forcing myself do something; in this case it’s just me choosing to do it more often so I can be happier.
At the same time that I recognized that if I want to be happier I must enforce a daily writing habit, I realized that I also need fiction every day. I’ve been reading more fascinating non-fiction than ever before. But when the articles, guides, and philosophies slowly crowd out novels, I no longer feel like myself. Maybe it’s because fiction doesn’t seem useful in the same way. It’s not always going to make me smarter or more interesting at parties. It’s art for art’s sake, for pete’s sake! (Wow, that was cool.) Making time for literature reminds me that there is more to life than the practical, which is essential for happiness.
And the physical presence of books makes me happy: the texture of pages, the binding, the cover art, the fact that that you can’t suddenly switch to Facebook. Books don’t run out of battery or malfunction. They smell and feel good. They practically hum with organic energy. I’ve been ruthlessly purging every corner of my house, but despite that I believe it’s okay to keep cherished books, even the ones I doubt I will ever read again. It’s a funny thing, isn’t it? What is their use to me? They take up space in my crowded house. I will make space for them, though – they contain lives and worlds. They are symbols from which I feed, affirming my love of literature, reassuring me that the invisible world exists for more than only me.
There is one more daily thing that I recently added to my list (in addition to yoga and care time for our guinea pig, ha): do something good for another person, beyond what is expected of me. It could be a shoulder rub for my husband, or getting my daughter’s new favorite song onto my iPod so I can surprise her with it in the car, or giving a homeless man a twenty dollar bill. It makes things better. I just started thinking about it in these terms, but when you specifically say, What is my good act for today? you start to enjoy it in a new way.
Maybe these are things we would have done anyway, but I feel the experience more deeply if I remind myself of it as a conscious daily act. It’s a good way to focus on what is most important to me. I harbor no illusions that it’s totally for the recipient; I know that I often reap the benefits of doing good just as much as they do receiving it. Still, it can’t hurt, and it may actually make someone’s day better. This is always helpful for melancholic, analytical people like me, who think about the point of everything. My brain hurts. Sometimes I just need to simplify things with kindness.
Earth and Soul – Oliver Flores
So, what do you need every day? It’s not so hard to think of a few small things and commit to them for a week, just to see if they make you better in this world. It’s interesting to figure out what your own fulfilling day looks like, I swear. What is your personal recipe? No matter if you miss a few days here or there. The goals are the same the next morning.
Tomorrow is fresh, and when the sun rises, it is ready to be plucked and eaten. Eat as much as you can.