I work with several couples who love each other and want their relationships to thrive and grow, but they don’t put much effort into planning quality time together. “Busyness” has become a major rationale for many couples, as they balance the multiple roles of employee or business owner, parent, friend, relative, self-care, and partner.
I find myself telling couples with some frequency that wanted time together won’t just happen on its own when you have a lot on your plate. Wishing for it isn’t enough – you need to be more intentional about making it happen by putting it near the top of your priority list and individually and together planning.
If you’re a bit wary about whether your ideas for meaningful, fun time together will be a hit with your partner then ask them about the kinds of activities indoors and outdoors they’d enjoy. You can each make a list, put the ideas in a jar, and pick from each other’s jars, taking turns. (My “Jar Exercise” I refer to in one of my free articles you can receive by signing up). Don’t allow quality time together to become a one-person job. It’s best to share the labor of connection. You’ll also get more “bang for your buck” by introducing novel places and activities. Neuroscience points out the benefit of novelty to the bonding experience between couples, so try to avoid doing the same old thing every time you’re together. Try to balance tried and true rituals you both enjoy with new experiences and places. You’ll be enriching your relationship in a major way. You’ll be avoiding the big pit of “busyness” and disconnection in your relationship, and you’ll feel better about being proactive about this issue.
This past weekend it was a balmy 24 degrees for the high on most of Saturday and Sunday here in the Northeast. Many of you might grimace at this information, especially if you live in Maine or New Hampshire and routinely experience a six month winter. You’re even more likely to look at this photo of me on the Lincoln Woods trail, deep in the heart of the mountains, and think I’m crazy, right? What you may not realize is that, along with some good friends and my husband I was practicing the art of making peace with the cold, given the fact that we can’t change it and would certainly get very depressed hanging around inside all winter. (What you can’t see in this particular photo is the fact that all four of us had just driven two hours North to see the Ice Castles, basically, an ambitious bunch of ice towers near Loon Mountain – all freezing stuff)!
But, there’s method to the madness: Get out in nature after you’ve sufficiently bundled up, experience it’s beauty, yield to it, and you’ll be taking a natural anti-depressant! So, whatever feels most comfortable to you – downhill skiing, cross country skiing, snow shoeing, ice skating, or just plain trail walking with your dog, if you have one – any of these activities will help you not only get through the very long New England winter, but will give you exercise, social contact, a happy dog and communion with nature. All very good things….
Meet Barley (Lager) – our new “Grandson.” He may be the youngest member of our family, but we think he’s wiser than all the rest of us combined. He knows how to live and love and get his way when he wants to do his thing. You can’t walk with him ten feet in public without his universal fan club, (mostly older, very fancy, done up ladies), stopping, shrieking, cuddling him and kissing him on the mouth – even though he may have just eaten some fresh deer poop. Like most puppies, he loves everyone and everyone loves him. Of course, it helps that he’s soft and fuzzy, full of kisses and clumsy like a baby. But, he knows a few things about how to live with joy that the rest of us could learn from, probably saving us thousands in therapists fees like mine, and thousands of hours of searching through self help books. If we all just emulated the Barleys of the world we’d probably also spare ourselves loads of angst, and mountains of emptiness and stress.
So, here’s what Barley has already taught me about how to live happier:
- Be present in the moment, whatever that is
- Be curious – it’s an amazing, big world out there!
- Eat heartily when you’re hungry and nap when you’re tired
- Play a lot with gusto and abandon
- Be loyal, but also love the one you’re with – unless they’re mean
- Forgive and forget – today’s a new day
- Cuddle and kiss your family whenever you can, especially when you greet them
- Ask for what you want without shame
- Enjoy your own body – it’s full of wonderful parts!
- Give everyone the benefit of the doubt – maybe they’ll be a new friend!
- Back off when someone says “No” – and don’t bite!
- Be determined about getting your rewards
- Listen very carefully, trust your nose and tune in
- Be silly and unselfconscious – who gets hurt if you’re having fun?
(Feel free to add to this list in the name of helping all of us “grown ups” learn to live with more joy and exuberance). Right now, with Barley’s modeling, I need a nap…..
It’s been awhile since I’ve checked in here because I’ve been practicing what I preach: giving myself a break. And, you know what? Nobody got killed! I took time to do some light gardening, some socializing with family and friends, some cooking and baking, some Spring organizing, some reading, and some mindless fun. It was totally delightful. For a few weeks no major trainings, no BlogTalk Radio shows, no bookkeeping, no internet work, no professional reading, no raking and mulching, and no blog writing. It was a daily practice of exorcizing my “shoulds,” and I would strongly recommend it to all of you as part of your mental health workout.
People today talk constantly about being too busy, but often don’t challenge the underlying assumptions and automatic or duty-driven behaviors which fuel the compulsive whirlwind of activity. Companies expect employees to be available without limitations, so it exacerbates the perception and experience of busyness as “loyal,” “responsible” and “valued.”
I would invite you however, to step off the emotional treadmill every so often to stop and smell the roses. Be silly, non-“productive,” self indulgent, time “wasting,” and in the moment. Relax, and see what happens…..
As the seasons change, many people I know are bemoaning the loss of “time off” they’ve had in the summer. There’s an obvious feeling of ambivalence about the upcoming season of busyness and social obligations dovetailing with work and family responsibilities. People tend to dread being over scheduled and deprived of personal time to self-nurture or play. The myth we seem to have bought into in the American culture is that one needs to be on vacation to fully experience joy, spontaneity, discovery and meaningful connection.
I invite you instead, to explore the experience of what I call “time on,” or living your everyday life with more wonder, appreciation and joy. Start by regularly taking a “snapshot” of the present moment – notice your breathing, the air on your skin, the color of the sky, the sound of the wind in the leaves. Notice the quality of the conversation and connection with the person facing you. Take a “snapshot” of this sharing as it is unfolding. Savor it. Drive more slowly and take in the tones of the changing season. Take a “snapshot” of that field of hay, or the person trying to get somewhere in the car next to you. Take a risk and smile at them and your common circumstance. Be more playful with yourself and those around you. Laugh at yourself more often. Be physical – dance, walk, run, move! Appreciate the daily work your body does for you, and treat it with kindness and compassion. Stop, and pet your dog or your cat if you have one. It will be good for both of you. Pick a wildflower and stick it in your hair. Write a poem, play an instrument. Turn off your automatic TV watching, and read a good book or listen to a symphony.
Just be present for your life each day, not just for one or two weeks of vacation in the summer. Use your “time on,” your everyday life, to be cognizant of, and grateful for your blessings. You’ll be a much happier person…….
PS. Rick Hanson, a neuropsychologist and eloquent writer, is a terrific resource for the issues of happiness, staying present and in the “now.” You can get any of his wonderful books on these subjects at my Amazon store by going to: http://astore.amazon.com/wwwsusanlagec-20