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
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
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!
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
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.