This Article First Appeared in Happify
Have you ever started out with a certain intention then ended up in a place where you didn’t want to be? For example, you wanted the best relationship with your partner or child, and instead realized that you spend most of your time feeling resentful or regretful?
Without guideposts that remind us what we truly value, it’s easy to fall off track. It’s easier still when the messages around us pull us away from how we want to live. Which is perhaps why these past few months felt grounding for many of us. We not only got the time to do our inner homework, but we also didn’t have the distractions of a world that does everything to make us more like itself. We realized we don’t need that many nights out and facials. We realized that beneath the many masks we wear to fit into the world, our souls are easy enough to please.
Now that the world is opening again, how do we stay true to our intentions as we step back into it? What are the guideposts we’ll hold close to our hearts, so we don’t go back to the ways that didn’t serve us well? To help find yours, ask yourself these three questions as we prepare to return to the outside world.
What Will I Do to Live with Joy?
Joy is integral to our being. We love to laugh, and we love to play—and I’m talking about belly laughs and unstructured play. We’re both happiness-seeking and meaning-making. And unless we honor our need for small pleasures, carefree moments, and an “Oh, well” shrug, at times, the burden of conscientiousness can weigh us down. I sometimes think the gift of old age is the integration of these two selves, which is why older people can laugh at life’s little joys, even as they carry their sorrows and challenges with them. If you’re struggling to think of what truly makes you feel alive, think of the things that would excite you when you were little, or that have brought you joy during lockdown. For me, it’s the coloring my youngest daughter and I do every night, on a single empty design, bringing our day’s emotions and stories together into one messy picture. What is it for you? How will you ensure you keep feeding your joy even as you return to the world?
What Will I Do to Honor My Struggles?
We’re going back into a world that’s so different than the one we lived in a few months ago. And we’re bringing with us fear and uncertainty about a virus that’s still not well understood and doesn’t have a cure. We need courage by our side so we aren’t pulled into our brain’s fear-based biases that either make us avoid situations or blind us to potential dangers. We’re wired to hang onto the negative and to avoid pain. But we’re also wired to be bad at risk-assessment in our pursuit of pleasure. I find that asking myself “What do I really need in this moment?” helps me address my fears, and thus have the courage to be intentional. Last week, I kept justifying to myself why I shouldn’t go for a walk in the park. The question helped me realize what I really needed was the reassurance that I wasn’t putting myself or others in danger. Maybe your tendency isn’t avoidance but over-optimism. Maybe you’re justifying that it’s ok to go back to all your old hangouts because you’re young and healthy. Ask yourself what you really need. Is it connection or, perhaps, a feeling of control? And then see whether you can give it to yourself in a way that’s better for you and for others.
What Will I Do to Make a Difference?
If there’s one thing that’s stood out these last three months, it’s that the world we were living in was unsustainable, because we’d mostly put ourselves at the center of it. Not only had we been blind to the pain and suffering around us, but we were also on an endless treadmill that brought us short-lived happiness, at best, and left us feeling burned out and unfulfilled. That’s because individual pursuits are devoid of meaning unless they’re cradled in our collective human purpose to belong to something much larger than ourselves. On a practical level, it means asking ourselves, “What will I do today to spread love?” And “What will I do today to spread light?” I’ve come up with these two questions because they’re based on the two core constructs of humanistic psychology—unconditional love and positive regard. As we step into the world again, these questions are critical to helping us move forward collectively. Because we’re each other’s only hope.
Reflect on these guideposts every morning when you wake up, before the tasks and stresses of the day fill your awareness. And reflect on them again every night, so you hold yourself accountable, adjust what’s not working, and celebrate the journey toward the life you want to live.
It’s this continuous turning inward and then outward into the world that helps us stay intentional in our lives, and become the person we want to be.