Finding Happiness, One Latte at a Time

I never like to start things on a negative note, but the last couple months have been a bit rough.  To be fair, I still live in a nice little house in a relatively nice neighborhood, and I still have a job and enough money to eat. Believe me–I can hear the peanut gallery asking what’s so rough about my 1st world life. I’ll tell you:

  • My ill-conceived wish to be part of my neighborhood’s HOA recently came true. I now spend a chunk of my leisure time–already missing 6 hours a week because of a class I’m taking–on that weekly when I’d rather be enjoying time with family and friends.
  • Our cute little puppy has been having anxiety attacks. At least, that’s the only explanation I can find for him eating massive holes out of the carpet and scratching up the walls near our front door.
  • Bonus: Our older dog revenge-pooped all over the house because we gave the puppy so much attention. The carpet is trashed.

On top of it all, I still spend pretty much every day/week doing my best to balance work, school, and maintenance of a household with my selfish goals of improving my physical fitness and finding time for the occasional bubble bath. Despite the hustle and bustle of this day-to-day grind of an existence, I don’t actually find myself stressed at bed time or wishing for a lie in when my alarm goes off on a weekday. I think I may have actually found the cure for being stressed out by a busy life.

Are you ready for this? It’s revolutionary:

The cure for constant stress and frustration is making time–real, substantive time–for the things that are most important to you.

You don’t understand–I really don’t have time!, you might be thinking to yourself. But I’m not suggesting that you block off two hours daily to tackle a pet project or spend more time catching up on your Netflix queue. (That would be kind of awesome, though, now that I mention it.) No, what I’m suggesting is a small start, preferably with something that feels like an absolute indulgence to you. That is, at least, how I started on this path to more peaceful mornings and restful afternoons about a month ago. I’ll walk you through my plan of action–

Step 1: Figure Out What You’re Really Craving

With so many obligations and annoyances in my life, all I wanted was respite. I found myself daydreaming about sleeping in and escaping to the local Starbucks to enjoy a creamy latte and a good book. I wanted to feel rested, and I wanted time to myself to think or read. Surely that couldn’t be too much to ask for!

Step 2: Carve As Much Time As Possible Out of Your Day

My two wants didn’t seem possible with 8AM-9PM pretty much blocked off for work, school, and the busywork of daily life. I knew I could perhaps cut some time out in the afternoon, but I wasn’t willing to sacrifice proper home cooking or my daily workouts to do it. So naturally I did what every article on better living seems to suggest: I made the most of my mornings. For a long time I’d been leaving for work quite early with the plan of arriving at the office early so I could return home early. The only snag in this mindset? My weekday class runs until 9PM, a bit too late to really get enough sleep–at least in my book!–before a 5AM wake-up. As much as it bugged me to give up on this seemingly productive habit, I bit the bullet and decided that I would give myself an extra half hour every morning to enjoy at my leisure. It’s a sacrifice that means giving up prime parking, but getting more steps in every morning seemed like a good alternative to losing my mind.

Step 3: Decide On How to Maximize Your Leisure Time

Don’t. Waste. Your. Free. Time. On. Social. Media.

Seriously, the time goes by way too quickly and you won’t find yourself thinking how rested/enriched/happy you feel after mindlessly scrolling through carefully curated versions of the lives your friends are leading. Instead, why not go for that thing you always wish you had time to do, but you never seem to have time to do? For me it was enjoying a well-brewed cup of coffee at my own pace, with plenty of time to browse the news or a magazine. I bought myself a frother so I could make my lattes as fancy as possible, and downloaded a virtual stack of magazines through my local library to enjoy on my iPad.

I now spend five minutes of every morning–French press and milk frother at hand–preparing an unbelievably tasty treat before I spend the next 25 minutes reading Runner’s World or the Economist. Seriously, I thought only rich people could afford the time to do this! Since I started this morning ritual, I’ve even added a bit to it. I love spending time with our pups, so I make time to walk our little (fur) boy several mornings a week so we can both get some fresh air before the day starts. I’ve honestly never felt so relaxed on my morning commutes before!

But what about your mornings? Or your afternoons or evenings? How are you going to make time for yourself to do something you want to do? That is, how will you make time for yourself to make sure you don’t resent the other things you have to do? It’s a question you’ll have to answer for yourself, but I can suggest a few ideas that are low in time cost.

If you’re craving more quality time relaxing with your partner…

…try planning a couple 30- or 60-minute blocks per week for watching your favorite show together or drinking a homemade cocktail together. Planning in advance means you’ll have time to look forward to the time together, which will definitely make it feel more special than the nights you just mindlessly plop on the couch for reruns.

…cut out the time you spend in the kitchen once a week and dress-up take-out from a local restaurant with cloth napkins and real cutlery. It might cost a bit to pick up some lo mein and kung pao chicken now and then, but spending time together without worrying about getting dinner sorted out on a weeknight can be a great return on the investment.

If what you’re missing is solitude and time for reflection…

…consider taking a detour to your local park or book store on your way home. I can’t remember where I read this, but a psychologist referred to the first hour when you get home from work as “adult tantrum hour.” Take time to decompress with a walk, perusing some books, or even people watching. Your mind will thank you for the extra time to wander.

…enlist your family and friends to help out. Sometimes there just isn’t any time to take for yourself when your to-do list is longer than the hours in your days. Whether you need a little free time at work to take a proper lunch, or just need less time doing dishes so you can spend a little more time catching your breath in the evenings, asking those around you to help share the load can relieve a lot of stress.

If you feel uninspired and want some excitement in your day to day life…

…try a new hobby. A lot of beginner classes–for everything from dancing and martial arts, to painting or playing an instrument–offer newbies classes once a week or once a month for an hour or two. If getting back into your car after getting home sounds like torture, check out YouTube; all kinds of people make videos about the hobbies they’re passionate about so they can teach others to enjoy them, too! Either way, taking up a new activity can add a lot of fun to the week without eating up a lot of time.

…consider starting a new project. I know this might sound a little stressful to some (one more thing to do!?), but, after teaching ourselves some basic skills, I have to say my husband and I had a lot of fun building our dining room table. It definitely wasn’t easy, and we certainly had to pace ourselves to keep from burning out, but having a project to work on gave us something new to get excited about every weekend.

That’s all from me for now 🙂 I hope this was at least a little helpful and inspiring–life is too short not to be excited about it!

 

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