You’ve come home from work after a horrible day. Your boss micromanaged your project, and picked apart everything you’d done.
In your mail you get a letter from your bank saying there’s been a screw-up and it takes you half an hour to get through on the phone, continually getting recorded messages asking you to repeat yourself. You find yourself yelling at the phone.
Because you’re tired, you microwave a frozen burrito and wash it down with a diet drink, thus undermining your plans to eat healthier.
Research tells us that a basic source of unhappiness is feeling out of control of our lives.
And that’s practically a definition of American life today. We’re in debt, we’re overweight, we’re rushed and harried. We don’t get to manage our own lives either at work or at home.
What can we do to give ourselves more control?
There are lots of personal things we can do, but we should never forget that the purpose of a government is to help people control their lives — to have policies that empower rather than undermine. In the Gross National Happiness movement (www.happycounts.org) we’re trying to persuade officials to make policies that give people things like more job security, basic health care, and more affordable education — all things that would give us more control and decrease our stress. In fact, out of 151 countries, the United States is at 145th on stress!
But we can also take action ourselves. I’ve discovered certain tips that help us gain control.
First, if you want to start doing something regularly, like exercise, try to make it more fun. Don’t just rely on will power. One of the best ways to make something fun is to do it with someone else. For instance, walking with others is much more fun than walking alone.
In fact, doing something with others is one of the most effective methods of change. People who have groups where they talk about their goals and actions are more likely to carry through. Weight Watchers is a good example. (In the summer we have “happiness and simplicity” groups run through the Phinney Neighborhood Center.)
Another effective method of taking control is what I call the “five minute” rule. When there’s something you want to start doing regularly — but you keep procrastinating— just tell yourself that you only need to do it for 5 minutes!
For example, I’ve been playing the flute since grade school and I still like to play. Sometimes I don’t feel like practicing, but when you skip a few days, you feel yourself slipping back. So I just tell myself to play for five minutes. I know I can handle that. Of course, once I get started, I almost always play more. This also works for projects like writing or clearing out your closet or cleaning your garage.
You’re also more likely to do something if you remove some of the obstacles. For instance, I always leave my flute out instead of putting it away. When I have to go to the trouble of unpacking it and putting it together I’m much less likely to play.
That’s one reason walking is such a good form of exercise. You don’t really have to do much to get ready. Always wear shoes good shoes and you’re ready anytime!
I also try to walk around the same time everyday. Research shows that if you can make something a habit, you’re more likely to keep it up.
My favorite rule, though, is to keep my standards low! I often use the words: “That’s good enough!” Perfectionists are rarely satisfied!
Basic to happiness and feelings of control is knowing your own values and acting on them. This is at the heart of Simplicity. Simplicity is the “examined life” where you ask yourself “what’s important and what matters.” It’s stripping away the inessential so you have time for the essential. This means building into your day some time to stop and think and evaluate your life — either quiet time alone or gathering with friends to talk.
Ultimately, one of the most essential aspects of control and happiness is the feeling that you’re involved in helping shape your society. Of course that’s what democracy is all about. Feeling a part of your society, feeling a sense of solidarity with others as you act on your values is the ultimate form of satisfaction. So get involved in your community. You won’t even notice your messy house.
Cecile Andrews will present workshops at the Puyallup, Wash. 2012 MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR.