Some of us are prone to wandering through life in a daze of discontentment because we don’t know any different.
If pressed, we might pick around the edges of our problem plate and bitch to friends about things that are annoying us, when we actually need to fundamentally re-evaluate where we’re going in life.
This means self-analysis, something that is often seen as self-indulgent. One way of doing this is to write things out, not for anyone’s consumption but your own. When I’ve suggested turning brain soup into words to some people, the response has been “I don’t think like that” or “I don’t do things that way”.
That’s fair enough, but if you’re willing to put yourself through a life warrant of fitness, there are some questions you should consider.
The following list is from The 80/20 Principle by Richard Koch:
- Am I living with the right person or people?
- Am I living in the right place?
- Am I working the right hours and do they match my ideal work/play rhythm, and suit my family/social needs?
- Do I feel in control?
- Can I exercise or meditate when I want?
- Am I nearly always relaxed and comfortable with my surroundings?
- Does my lifestyle make it easy for me to be creative and fulfil my potential?
- Do I have enough money and are my affairs organised so that I don’t have to worry about them?
- Does the lifestyle facilitate whatever contribution I want to make to enriching the lives of people I want to help?
- Do I see my close friends enough?
- Is the extent of travel in my life just right, not too much or too little?
- Is the lifestyle right for my partner and family too?
- Do I have everything that I need right here: do I have it all?
There are some big questions in there, and not all will apply. But they are worth asking, even if you think you know the answer – because often you don’t. You might have an answer, but discover it’s actually a pat response you’ve been trying to convince yourself is true when it isn’t.
The answer to some of these questions may be no, and the thought of changing your circumstances may seem like a pipe dream. Work, for example, your living arrangements, or your financial situation. Before you get too despondent, do some further thinking and ask yourself honestly whether the reason change eludes you is because you can’t – or because you won’t.
Some of the biggest changes we need to make in our lives in order to improve our happiness are also the scariest. They’re changes that initially could lead to further upheaval, so we avoid making those decisions because we fear the pain of ripping off the band-aid.
At the other end of the scale, you may find that the elements for a happy life are already within your grasp – this is where the final question on the list comes in. It could just be that your priorities are out of whack because you’ve fallen into obligations and patterns that don’t suit you.
I’ve put myself through a life warrant of fitness just recently. After spending 2011 in a flurry of activity that led to several burnouts, I was determined to start this year with a better work/life balance.
However, I found myself halfway through the year still struggling with the discontentment daze – at best. Sometimes it was actually closer to existential despair, the worst kind of feeling because it’s non-specific and does genuinely feel self-indulgent.
When I went back to the types of questions asked above, though, I discovered that when I’d resolved to make changes at the start of the year, I hadn’t changed enough things. I’d vacuumed the living room and forgotten about the rest of the house.
I didn’t feel in control. I didn’t see my family enough. My lifestyle was not making it easy to be creative, which is insane when you consider that my career is largely a creative one. I was not relaxed or comfortable in my surroundings, so I holed myself up in the house.
The 80/20 rule is a powerful one. 80% of the discontentment in your life will come from 20% of causes. Similarly with 80% of the happiness and satisfaction.
By asking yourself the questions above, you can sift out the ingredients that make up your current life. You can see what you have, and what’s missing. And once you know, you can work on expanding that precious 20% so it takes up more of your limited time on earth.