For the first time in my life, a blood test came back with abnormal numbers. That’s what happens as you inch towards fifty-years-old.
My doctor told me not to worry about it. The number was a hair above normal, and it spikes with stress.
It got me thinking about what makes me happy in life. What should I give up? Where should I focus my efforts?
I rarely thought about what brought me contentment, but it was a simple exercise for me. When I make time for myself and act in a way consistent with my self-image, I’m relatively content. When I do those things, I’m a better husband, father, son, sibling, and friend.
These seven recommendations might not suit everyone, but you will find something here that resonates with you. None of this advice will blow your mind. You’ll recognize it as common sense wisdom.
Perhaps that’s the best and most productive kind of advice; the kind that reminds you of what you already know but rarely put into practice.
1) Never compare yourself to someone better off than you
You’ll always end up disappointed because you’ll always find someone better off in some area of life that’s important to you.
The key to avoiding this destructive behavior lies in gratitude. Several years ago, I tried doing the gratitude journal. It failed because it felt contrived and disingenuous.
The process was the problem, not the concept. You need to deploy the gratitude strategy when you need it, not at a scheduled time and place.
A wise mentor once gave me snarky yet practical advice.
If you want to feel better about what you have, compare yourself to someone who has less.
It’s easy to brood over the state of your thirty-year-old kitchen or that friend of yours who makes more money than you. It’s easy to forget the vast number of people who lack food, can’t afford a home or struggle to survive.
When you think about how much better off you are compared to so many others, it forces you to feel gratitude for what you have.
2) Be Okay With Not Being Perfect
Perfectionism haunts us in every corner of life. Your creation will never reach perfection, but you need to share it with the world anyway. That person who has been working on their book for fourteen years will never publish it. They’ll never get to a point where they feel it’s good enough.
Perfectionism also causes us to get angry at ourselves for not living up to unrealistic expectations. Do you have a policy of always telling the truth? I gave that up long ago. I lie on occasion. I usually do it with good intentions, but sometimes I lie to cover my ass even though I know I’ll regret it later.
I’ll beat myself up for it and try to set things right if I can. Everyone screws up now and then. We all have moments where we fail to live up to our expectations. There’s no escaping it. Recognize the failure and use the experience as a learning opportunity.
3) Keep a journal
Journaling has served as the foundation of my existence for the last three years. Without my pre-bed journaling process, I’d be a lost soul adrift in the middle of an ocean.
My journaling process generates all of my ideas. It acts as a tool to release my worries and anxieties. It also serves as a vehicle to crystallize the lessons learned from my day.
Make your journal process as simple as possible. Buy a notebook and spend fifteen minutes before bedtime writing down your daily thoughts, experiences, worries, mistakes and ideas. Write a few lines about what you learned from your mistakes or how you could have handled a situation differently.
4) Embrace your true nature
I’m a quiet person by nature. I’ve never been the talkative type. I spent most of my life trying to “fix” that problem. I had spent fortunes on books, courses, and coaches to learn the secrets of smooth talking snake oil salesmen.
It was only recently that I realized my quiet nature came with advantages. It made me a good listener, attentive to body language, and kept me from saying stupid things.
If you feel different and unable to fit in, don’t try to change your nature. I tried for almost forty years and it frustrated me. I found contentment only when I embraced my true-self.
There are upsides to being the odd one. Make a list of those advantages. Write a manifesto about your weirdness. See my example here.
5) Life isn’t always a transaction
I read Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand when I was a teenager. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I was a disciple of her teaching (ranting) for several years. I scoffed at people who professed the virtue of generosity. What losers, I thought.
In my early thirties, someone was generous with me at a time when I needed help.
That experience forced me to rethink my worldview. From then on, I embraced generosity.
Our culture has watered down the meaning of generosity. A well-regarded finance expert once complained to me that his generosity went unrewarded. He had shared his valuable financial wisdom with me. In return, he demanded detailed information about my spending and investment habits.
His sharing of knowledge wasn’t an act of generosity. It was a trade.
He thought of himself as generous because he gave away hard-fought knowledge before he asked for something in exchange.
Real generosity means giving without the expectation of receiving anything in return. True generosity comes from a desire to give without the expectation of reciprocity.
6) Do something that makes you feel alive
I work a regular job, pay bills and fight through the other drudgeries of life. But I spend at least one hour every day writing for myself. One hour is enough to stir my passion, bring me peace, and make me feel like I’m doing something useful on this planet.
If your professional career provides you that fulfillment, then great; I envy you. If it doesn’t, you need to find something that does. I’m all for discovering meaning in my day job, but that sliver of fulfillment will never satisfy the hunger to pursue my real dream.
All you need is one hour. You can find the time in the cracks and crevices of your life: watching television, browsing social media, your lunch break, the time between you wake up and get out of bed.
One hour a day of passion time exponentially enhances your life.
7) Thirty minutes a day of sacred time
I walk alone for thirty minutes every day. It’s my sacred time, the only part of the day where I feel bliss — the sense of freeness, letting go of the tethered connection to my emotional world and experiencing an intoxicating form of freedom.
Sacred time only works in solitude. It’s not something you do with a group of friends. It’s a time for you to disconnect from the world.
Pick whatever activity suits you: walking, hiking, biking or any other light exercise. Turn off your connections and enjoy the solitude.
Thirty minutes a day of it rejuvenates your soul, makes you more forgiving, understanding, and hardened against the tension and strain of modern life.