“I simplified my life so that I could actually enjoy it…”
Those were the words of the passenger waiting in front of me for the Southwest flight from Phoenix to LAX.
Her name was Shana.
She wasn’t some fancy health person with ebullient skin snacking on a Real Food Bar.
Nope, she smelled like cigarettes and was wearing a Kenny Chesney t-shirt. (I happen to love country music so that’s not a shot at Kenny Chesney. Just trying to paint the picture for you.)
“What’s your secret to happiness?” I asked, a question I often drop on seemingly joyful and totally random Uber drivers, Starbucks baristas, and those rarest of breeds…the deeply contented airline passenger.
Shana went on to explain how she previously had an important corporate job but she was always chasing the dollar. So she left her job, sold her home, and now lives barebones.
“Why does that make you happier?” I asked.
She said, “I’m not tired everyday, so I actually enjoy the time with my family.”
Now look. I get it. This is not Mark Nepo or Marianne Williamson blowing your socks off with RocketFire wisdom.
But this lady, Shana, had the chutzpah to do what so many of us only dream of.
Most of us, myself included, can’t make a 180 degree shift and strip it down to almost nothing.
You gotta put food on the table…not to mention your partner and kids might not appreciate a move to the forest.
So what kind of sudden change can you and I make if we want to find a deeper level of happiness?
Make the shift from quantity to quality.
Take this holiday weekend, for example.
Don’t worry about creating the perfect weekend.
Go for the perfect moment. (i.e. see above pic of my son’s first bike ride)
-When the fireworks go off, forget trying to get as many photos as you can. Just enjoy it.
-Go for a long walk under the stars with your Kenny Chesney (or Grateful Dead) t-shirt, a chilly drink, and the yogi’s mantra: nowhere to go, no one to be, nothing to do.
-At the barbecues and fireworks parties, instead of attempting to juggle your time with as many people as possible, take it one moment and one person at a time.
Quality. Not quantity.
If you’re thinking, “Dave, get your head out of the stars,”… let’s look at the science.
A recent study reported in the Washington Post that it’s not the amount of time you spend with your family, but the depth of time, that leads to happiness at home.
“Building relationships, seizing quality moments of connection, not quantity, is what emerging research is showing to be most important,” said Melissa Milkie, one of the study’s authors.
Sharing meals, having deep conversations, and actually engaging one-on-one… is what makes for long-lasting, loving relationships.
BUT and this is a big BUT…if we are stressed, sleep-deprived, guilty, or anxious —the time we spend with others can actually be harmful.
Take that in for a minute.
If we’re not fully present, or are feeling stressed or tired or lousy, then we could be damaging not only ourselves but the people around us.
So what do you DO about all of this?
The easier solution would be to strip it down and live barebones like Shana. She probably leads a life without stress, sleep deprivation, guilt or anxiety.
BUT if that’s not possible today or anytime in the near future, surely this is:
Bring your A-game to the few and precious moments you have with the ones you love most.
That also includes parents. I’ve thought a lot about this lately.
When you’re in your forties, you know quite a few friends who have lost a parent.
Reality kicks in and you think, “Hey, these people who loved me, and raised me, and who I drove nuts, but who made insane sacrifices…they are NOT going to be here forever.”
You start to see your parents age. A bad back. Trouble with their vision. Something removed from the skin. A hip replacement…or two. One thing after the other.
The human body, even in optimal health, winds down. Hopefully it’s a slow process, like a beautiful sunset. But sometimes it can come to a grinding halt.
One of my most painful moments was watching a best friend lose his father suddenly to a heart attack at a relatively young age.
It came as such as shock to my friend and it made me think of losing my own dad, suddenly.
My response was to hold more tightly, so that such a thing could never happen.
We call that worrying.
I desperately want my parents to see my children grow up, play sports, graduate, get married.
And I worry that I got started a little too late in life. My parents are in their seventies and my son is only 19 months (and I am very happy to say that we have another one coming in December).
So I end up annoying my parents.
“Mom take care of your back. Do some yoga. Sit up straight.”
“Dad, do you really need to eat that doughnut? C’mon you gotta be lean and mean for your grandkids.”
Worrying is like an infectious disease. It spreads throughout a family, from one member to the next, and manifests differently. One worries out loud, nagging everyone. Another acquires nervous habits. Another takes to the liquor cabinet.
To anyone out there whose solution to most problems is worrying…about their aging parents, or love-hungry children, or lonely partner – let’s take a healing step…together, right now.
As Milkie said, “The amount of time doesn’t matter, but these little pieces of time do.”