May 17, 2014

Enough with The “To Do” Lists for Getting Happier. ~ Jolie Marie Carey


Ever get tired of the “To Do” List? The “Do This to Be Happier” list? The new year’s resolution list that fell by the wayside after month three?

I get tired of it. I have work lists. I have long grocery lists. I have a fit-this-in-the-yoga-sequence-list. I have a list for reps I want to do at the gym just in case I forget what weights I did last time. I even have a “people I have not emailed or called” in a week list. I have lists for recipes that have never made it to my plate.

I have posted lists on my mirror, on my door, left them on the floor and in my underwear drawer—just to not forget. I seem to love lists. Or do I? I want to throw in all the lists and say—forget it!

This brings me to the “self-helpy” lists sprouting like blossoms in spring. The advice seems so easy, so user friendly, black and white. You will be “happier”, “better off”, “improved”, if you do Steps 1-6. Hurray! A simple solution to my myriad life challenges.

I knew I didn’t need to pay for therapy, find a spiritual coach, take anxiety meds or diversify my workouts. Phew, an easy full proof solution.

Unfortunately, I think there needs to be a bit more levity, and I would like to debunk these pre-existing lists….with (sorry) another list.

You will (not actually) be happier when/if you:

1. Have more persistence.

Sure persistence, or striving for a goal is important. It helps one climb Kilimanjaro (don’t mention the elevation sickness or that you were nearly airlifted), you got a Masters (and now are considering #2), you finally finished that triathlon (with an unsavory time, but heck you were 44) and you can definitely shine on Facebook because you accomplished ________ (fill in the blank).

But persistence doesn’t mean greater happiness. I think it is the opposite. I would like to replace this to be happiness factor list #1: Letting Go. Your ego can be a master of your will, which leads you to accomplishment after accomplishment. Sure, we are dynamic souls. But does it fundamentally serve your soul?

Instead of being more persistent, we need to let go.

I like letting go—of a kite into the wind, of a balloon to find a new tree, of a bird to be free. Letting go is the space that facilitates ease (or in yoga, “sukkha”). Instead of insisting/persisting our child does well in all school subjects—we ease up on your kid, give yourselves a break and skip the gym. We do not persist in the job that is driving you nuts, we walk away.

If persistence was such a great idea, why do we need more time out? Why do we book massages, a spa or yoga retreat, require more days off or know that yin yoga is what the body-soul-spirit is craving? Persist—in letting go.

2. Love Unconditionally.

How does this work exactly? I have an unconditional love of chocolate and I already know this isn’t good for me on multiple levels. How is “unconditional” love such a great idea? For instance, how does one love unconditionally if self-respecting love has boundaries? These conditions are often referred to as “vows” if you get married (or you are legally able.) A condition to facilitate a strong bond of love is establishing and maintaining boundaries.

You know the saying “fences make good neighbors”? Similarly, conditions ensure you are being and feeling valued and no one is overstepping and putting poo on your side of the fence.

I would advocate—especially given conversations I have with women friends—that we may need to work harder at establishing and maintaining our “conditions” and less on “loving and forgiving unconditionally” to continue in a poor situation.

#2: Love to Facilitate Your Well-Being. This is conditional.

3. Maintain a Positive Attitude.

Are you familiar with Kali, the Hindu (kickass) Goddess of destruction? If you were in a cosmic battle against Kali, you wouldn’t stand a chance. You’d be punched to some galaxy and beyond and you’d die a brutal, bloody death and she’d eat you for dessert. Now that’s not very nice, but death and destruction are also a part of life (maybe not in your little grassy knoll, but just pick up the paper).

A positive attitude is great. Yet, I am concerned we are limiting our range of human expression from “slightly unhappy” to off the charts “Disney ecstatic.”

Let us not miss the importance of a range of human emotions. There exists: sadness, grief, black moments, despair, hurt, pain.

Sure, a positive attitude is important. Yes, hope is essential. Wallowing in bleakness is not ideal, but it is also a place for creativity (when well embraced). It is this stillness, this depth of sorrow that also provides fodder for newness.

Can we own our shadow selves, please? I think we need to ensure “love-light-blessings” is not just a glossy exterior. A positive attitude should not be a cover up for a horrid day, truth or real pain. We are looking for #3: Authenticity (not just a “positive outlook”).

4. Do What You Love.

Why not take a flying leap of faith and make knitting your new life! You love making cute woolly items for babies to be. Why is it we seek answers and solutions outside ourselves and “somewhere else”? When I read statements like, “do what you love” I become consumed with self doubt.

Am I doing what I love? I do not love anything 100%…100% of the time. I then get depressed. I have to figure out what I “really” love (insert heightened self doubt also due to age).

But, I have talked to people in their dream jobs and it is not all peace-love-happiness. My acupuncturist loves her job, hates the administrative work and filing taxes for a personal business. I know yoga teachers who burn out because they are teaching too much and need down time. I know studio owners who are just as much part of the drama as they intended to avoid when previously in the corporate world.

So what is this “do what you love” business? (If taken literally, I would be eating bonbons and having sex all day—harem visual allowed—in a “conditional-love-worship-me-only” please scenario.) I think this idea needs to be #4: Create More Love in What You Already Do.

How many people love washing dishes? (If yes, please forward your contact details.) Do you love cleaning the bathroom? I think it is less about what you are doing and more how you are doing it. “The bathroom needs to be cleaned, so find the joy in doing it Jolie.” (My mother doesn’t realize she is a yogi at heart and has helped instill the sutras through chores.)

Yes, there is a place for positivity—and for reality. Not all of us are going to change our life to be that marine biology underwater National Geographic photographer we anticipated. And maybe that’s OK.

Sometimes there is a role in just doing what we are already doing—with love.

Perhaps infuse greater love and creativity into what you already do. Then you can ascertain if it’s just not there and you must flying leap into Wooly Options for Youngins’.

5. Speak your truth.

What the hell is that? If we all are going around speaking our truth we would be offending people right and left. (My mother thinks I am doing this too much already and need to r.e.s.p.e.c.t. hierarchy more.)

There is a balance between being honest, sharing with integrity and compassion to facilitate solution—and the extreme: being conflict averse and “hiding”. And it takes time to know where you fall on this scale, and it varies by situation (and topic).

Let’s revise this to ‘Speak Your Truth With Compassion.’

This requires skill. If I pressed a buzzer for every comment I felt was out of bounds when people were speaking “their truth”, some days it would sound like a siren in NYC. So, I either hang with a lot of “truth speakers” or I’m easily offended. (It’s both.)

The other day I got, “I’d rather spend time with one of my lovers or do something spiritual than go to the beach with you.” Damn. I didn’t make top choice 1 or 2 (OK insecurities, hit me.) Sure it was slightly stream of consciousness conversation, not exactly directed at me and I am glad my friend “followed her truth” and yep, it is an authentic statement.

Did it also sting? Absolutely.

So my truth would be, revert to new list #2: “Conditional Love”. That’s not necessary to share, and you overstepped my compassion-for-you-right-now-boundaries. Keep it to yourself babe.

Granted, I didn’t say anything (am I now a “hider-avoider” and need to “speak my truth” about it?) I got stuck in the delay and wonder if I should add it to the “To Do” list to mention!


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Apprentice Editor: Holly Horne / Editor: Renée Picard

Photo Credit: Walt Stoneburner/Flickr

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