My time is about halfway up. I’ve loved and lost. My once young heart has turned wise. My laugh lines have run into my worry lines. I keep on breathing.
There are only a fistful of things I know by now to be true in life. They weren’t what I thought I knew even five years earlier. I thought I was smart. As it turns out, self-perception is a tricky snit. It got me.
So, what do I know to be true?
We miss a lot of simple-but-important stuff that could give us the strength to stand up a little straighter, laugh a little more, and feel loved everyday. Take it from a 40-year-old (alright, 42-year-old) who knows she knows nothing.
I try to do these things everyday. Maybe they can give you a boost, too.
1. I say “Hi!” to strangers first.
It usually shocks the hell out of them, and the good ones smile and say hi back. We zing for a moment and take a break from this big, cold world.
2. I forgive my mother.
She’s a raging narcissist. After years of therapy, I realized that if I let her issues go with a quick meditation in the morning, I could be more compassionate to everyone else for the rest of the day.
3. I write my list of highest priorities from long to medium term in a journal at night.
Then I wake up and go about my day. When I’m about to spend money on something, I pull out my journal and ask myself if it supports the goals I wrote down the night before. If it doesn’t, I move on. Bye-bye, Free People poncho.
4. I laugh with my little belly.
I don’t know about you, but when I don’t laugh for a few days, I turn grey. My yellowish-brown skin turns ashen, and my smile gets toothy.
Whatever it is that makes me laugh, I do it. I rent something on Amazon Video, I go to a comedy show, or I read a funny book. I really make sure I belt it out. I’ve been reading Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, based on a recommendation from Darius Foroux. They’re both way too wise for their age.
And yes, you can laugh about things that used to hurt.
5. I remind myself that certain words have power.
I try to never say “never.” I steer clear of “should” when I can. Hopefully, I can “hope” without “need”.
Sometimes, a “maybe” is preferable to a “yes” or a “no.” I know, it’s rookie mistake #1 according to self-help gurus. No offense, Tony Robbins.
I love to “do” now more than I used to “think” about what I was going to do.
Rather than push, I try to give the people around me the freedom to choose their lives, because I would want the same for myself.
6. I take nothing personally.
Everyone is hurting. I assume no evil.
Can you imagine what it would be like if people assumed you meant every crappy thing you ever did? I’d be toast. I pay that grace forward.
7. I read a new book. Often.
Reading is my only go-to lifelong “hack.”
Life is short. There isn’t enough time to learn how to best approach its most difficult challenges without mentors. The truth is that even though we may want to feel special, none of us are unique snowflakes. “Personal” problems are never personal. Every single problem we face has been faced by countless others.
Try to think of a problem that you struggle with that hasn’t been written about, or at least experienced by a good chunk of the human population. It’s hard. We’re connected more than we are disconnected.
I want to know how my mentors before me overcame problems that defeated many others. A good book is inspiring.
8. I do something for someone else.
Whenever I start to feel sorry for myself, I do something good for someone else. It’s the best cure in the world for self-pity.
Over the last few years, the most unexpected people were kind when I was struggling. So now, I:
- Talk to the lonely.
- Visit whoever’s at the hospital.
- Volunteer at food banks.
- Write a story to support a friend.
- Give money to a charitable organization.
- Stop the car when I see someone crying.
- Share hugs.
- Generally, anything and everything to be useful to someone.
I used to only help people I thought could help me. My heroes were jerks. These days, my kids’ nanny is my personal hero. She’s the mom I never had. She’s the kindest person I know. I would do anything for her.
9. I breathe and sweat.
I hate exercise. But it gets my juices flowing and mind whirring, so I accept the challenge everyday. No matter what, I’ll never be a health nut. (Oops, I violated rule #5.)
10. I focus on green lights.
I tend to see red. I grew up in a pessimistic family environment, so I do what I can to mentally balance myself out. I look for green lights.
11. I expect things to not go as planned.
I used to get irritated when my perfect plans were foiled. Now, I laugh. Fixing the world was never my responsibility. I thought it was, when in reality, I could only fix my own values to be the ones that mattered most — you know, things like honesty, self-respect, compassion for others, patience, etc. instead of other, less productive values, like living an easy life, having a big house, and getting the kids into the right school. You know.
Whatever people think or do after I change my own values is out of my scope. It’s such a burden off my small shoulders to see that. I set my day up as best I can, then I go for it. I do my best. I try to make a difference. Whatever doesn’t work, I let go.
12. I say “Thank you” out loud when I open my eyes in the morning.
It motivates me to want to contribute my best to whatever I’ll be accomplishing that day.
If I do six out of these twelve things, it’s a great day. I’m smiling from the inside out. I hope you feel better, too.
Jane Hwangbo is a former investment analyst and portfolio manager who founded Mission Over Money, a personal coaching program designed to change the way individuals see and interact with money. Visit her website or find her on Twitter.
Image via Unsplash