10 Steps to Joy and Balance by Christina Knowles

balance_1212130
via barevitality.com

For the past few years, I’ve been struggling to find balance and contentment in the midst of my busy life of responsibilities. A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog describing my struggle called, Balance, Yeah Right, basically feeling lost regarding making significant changes. Well, since then, much to my surprise, I’ve actually made real progress. I feel happier and more relaxed than I have in years. No, I did not quit my jobs—any of them. I still teach college, high school; I still write my blog—in fact, now I have two. I’m publishing a collection of poetry, working on a short story collection, and writing another suspense thriller. So, what’s different? How can you takes steps to a happier, more balanced life too? Well, here’s what I did. Maybe it will work for you too.

  1. Separate work and home. First of all, I set boundaries between work and home. I do all my grading and planning at work and don’t let it invade my free time. The only exception is when I get an unexpected day off in addition to my normal weekend, and even in this case, I limit my work to a couple of hours. In fact, I have developed such a habit of not working at home that I can barely force myself to do even this.
  2. Get help and scale down. I resisted this for the longest time. I didn’t want someone else coming into my house, cleaning it in a way that was different than I do it. I didn’t want to spend the money either, but I finally gave in. It came down to the fact that I was tired of spending my only day off cleaning the house, grocery shopping, doing laundry, and cooking. The only time I spent with my husband was cleaning together or shopping together. I started dreaming of spending a day with him and my dog, walking through the streets of quaint Old Colorado City, going to the dog park, hiking, visiting a museum, or curling up together to read a suspenseful novel. That’s all it took.

We hired a trustworthy, bonded maid service to come when we aren’t home, we cut our grocery shopping down to every other week, and I gave up cooking all single ingredient homemade organic meals. We still eat healthy foods, but now I buy a few easy-to-prepare organic foods like premade sauces and deli-made meals or something similar. Not cooking everything from scratch has given me my life back! We had to compromise a little, but we still make sure we are eating healthy, natural foods, and I still make the homemade stuff, but only when I feel like it. What’s more is I actually enjoy cooking again!

I had to relax and be okay with the fact that my house may not be cleaned exactly as I would do it, but they still do a great job. Only shopping every two weeks has saved us money as well, so it kind of balances out, and that’s what it’s all about.

  1. Say no. This was a hard one for me. Have you ever been secretly relieved when someone cancelled plans with you, even though when you made them you really wanted to participate? I still find saying no difficult, but I’m getting better at turning things down when I know I’m overwhelmed. With that said, make sure not to isolate yourself by saying no to everything. Dump the responsibilities for a few hours, see your friends and loved ones, and nurture the relationships that enrich your life, but stay home and do nothing when you really want to.
  2. You can say no at work too. In the past, I thought I had to do whatever I was told even if it didn’t fit my job description or if it was impossible to do within the time allotted during my work-day. I finally had to stand up for myself and say that it wasn’t okay to ask me to work extra hours for free and allow work to invade my free time. I work my butt off without even taking a lunch break at work in order to get all my duties done at a stellar level during my working hours, but if it doesn’t get done, it doesn’t get done. No one has the right to expect the impossible. I guess I’ve had to lower my standards, but it’s the best thing I ever could have done for myself, and the strange thing is, I don’t think it’s lowered the quality of my work at all. On the contrary, everything seems to work better than ever before. Maybe it’s my happy, no-longer-abused attitude working to my advantage, allowing me to concentrate on the essentials of my job without stress.
  3. Make a practical and realistic plan. Every day I make two lists—one for work and one for home. I write down everything that needs to be done, and then star the most important things that are non-negotiable. I get the most important things done first, and then do the lesser things when I’m done. Whatever doesn’t get done, goes on tomorrow’s list. I always get the non-negotiables done. I also get a great deal of satisfaction crossing things off my list.
  4. Realize that some days it’s okay to throw out the plan altogether. I don’t do this often, but there’s nothing better than just ignoring the list altogether and doing what you want sometimes. By the way, there should always be at least one day a week when there is never a list at all.
  5. Fit little moments of relaxation and fun in wherever you can. I like to take 15 minutes in the morning after getting ready for work to read or work on a puzzle I’ve been putting together. I listen to fun, adventurous, or suspenseful books on CD in my car whenever I drive. This makes me feel like I haven’t neglected all the books I want to read, it makes me look forward to going to work or driving anywhere, and it has the surprising effect of making even rush hour traffic peaceful and enjoyable. I have actually wished that I could be stuck in traffic longer just so I can finish a book. I also keep an adult coloring book nearby to pick up whenever I need a few minutes of relaxation (not in the car!). I have a Kindle book on my phone at all times, so I can enjoy a few minutes of escapism whenever I have to sit and wait for anything. I get some sunshine and fresh air whenever I can by reading outside or walking my dog or meditating under a shade tree. These little moments are more than stress reduction. They make me feel like I have dozens of happy things in my routine that make every day feel like a joy.
  6. Do what you love, and it won’t seem like work. Everyone says this, but it is so much easier said than done. I know not everyone can just quit a secure job and change careers at the drop of a hat, but if you really hate your job, you need to make a plan for a change. However, you may not need to do anything that drastic. Once you make some changes in what you are willing to do and what you are unwilling to do, you may start loving that old job again. It’s amazing what setting limits can do to your attitude at work. You may start looking forward to working once you feel like you are no longer being taken advantage of. If not, then it might be time to look for something else.
  7. Realize that you don’t have control over most things. This can be tough, but realizing that there is nothing you can do about some things, and that you can’t control the outcome all the time is really quite freeing. Know that if your plans don’t work, it’s not the end of the world. You are going to be okay. Life is full of making little adjustments. Keep adjusting your course in ways that add joy, and before you know it, you’ll wonder why you ever bothered to be unhappy in the past.
  8. Finally, be content within yourself, and you will be happy most of the time. If we love who we are, take care of ourselves, and treat ourselves with respect, then we will be content and joyful almost all the time. Happiness is a fleeting thing, and when tragedies strike, of course, we will grieve, but we can experience moments of joy more and more often when we are accepting of who we are and take the time to nurture ourselves.

So, this is what I’ve done and what is working for me. I’m no life coach, but I know what it is like to struggle with stress, busyness, and discontentment, and I also know what it feels like to be free, joyful, to love my job and home life, and to finally feel relaxed. I hope you find this same contentment in your life. Peace. –Christina Knowles

How To Be Happy by Christina Knowles

Snagged from fastcompany.com
Snagged from fast company.com

As we start a new year, most of are thinking of new beginnings, fresh starts, or making changes of some kind. Why? Most of us just want to be happy. That got me to thinking about the times I have been really happy, and what makes the difference between those times and times of discontent. I noticed some things, many of which you may already do, and others you may want to try. As for me, I’m going to remind myself of these often.

  1. Don’t get upset at insignificant things; save your anger for righteous causes: Most things don’t really merit the damaging side-effects of anger. Learn to blow things off, unless they truly deserve anger. Righteous anger over injustice or cruelty can make a difference in the world. If it isn’t going to make a positive difference in the world, let it go. One way to mitigate anger is to change your perspective by putting yourself into the metaphorical shoes of the people making you angry. When you understand where someone is coming from and what motivates him, it’s a lot easier to let go of anger.
  2. Do something nice for someone when it is completely not your responsibility: A generous act of kindness means the most to others and to you when you know that doing it is in no way your responsibility. Cooking dinner when it’s your turn—you’re supposed to do that. Cook dinner when it’s someone else’s turn, and it means something. It also creates a pleasant feeling. But make sure you do not expect or even want something in return. That kind of destroys the whole concept.
  3. Be grateful for what you have. The old saying goes: “It’s not getting what you want; it’s wanting what you get.” It’s so easy to be discontent when you think of all that you need or would like to have—even non-material things like a relationship or more time. Try to stop yourself when you think of these things and focus on what you now have that you didn’t have before. Notice how far you’ve come and realize you will probably have those things someday anyway.
  4. See yourself as a member of a community: Everyone needs to feel like she belongs to something bigger than herself. For some this is a church family; for others it is a local charitable organization. Still others join book clubs or Cosplay groups. When you connect to people with similar interests, you develop meaningful friendships that can alleviate loneliness, add meaning to your life, and give you a break from stress as well as something to look forward to.
  5. Spend time each day doing something you enjoy: Don’t wait for the weekend to have some fun. Take a little time, even in the busiest day, to treat yourself to something you love. It may be taking the time to get in a workout, reading a chapter of a good book, watching a favorite TV show or movie, or taking a quick nap. Never get so busy that you neglect taking a moment to relish your life.
  6. Do meaningful work or make your work meaningful: Face it. You probably spend most of your time at work. With this in mind, you need to make your work matter. You will enjoy it so much more if you believe the work you do is important—and not just for paying the bills or important for improving the company’s bottom line. If your work is meaningless, either find a way to make your work improve the lives of others or find work that does.
  7. Don’t think you are more deserving than someone else: The quickest way to unhappiness is to become bitter and jealous, thinking you deserve what someone else has. Don’t compare yourself to others or elevate yourself over anyone. Be humble. Humility leads to gratitude and gratitude to contentment.
  8. Realize that everything changes and look forward to it: You can’t stop change. Embrace it and know that every change is a chance to make things even better.
  9. Find something to laugh at every day: Laughter is good for your health and state of mind. Don’t take things so seriously, and find something that makes you really belly-laugh often.
  10. Don’t just laugh: Express yourself emotionally whenever appropriate. Don’t hold in your feelings. Cry when you need to and express anger and disappointment in kind, thoughtful ways. Show love when you feel it. Feeling your emotions gives depth and beauty to life.
  11. Think about what you say and how you will say it before speaking: Few things cause such damage as careless words. You can save yourself a lot of heartache with a few carefully chosen words or deciding words are not necessary at all.
  12. Don’t lie—ever: Yes, easier said than done, but lying is not only unethical, it can cause a lot of stress. If you make a habit of not lying, you never have to worry about it coming back to haunt you or about it having unintended consequences. Also, when you are totally honest, you are allowing people to really know the real you. Being known by another person, and being accepted anyway, is necessary to happiness.
  13. Don’t gossip: Even innocent and seemingly harmless gossip can end with serious consequences. Your gossip will come back to burn you when you least expect it, and it hurts people you probably never meant to hurt.
  14. Truthfully compliment someone every day: Consciously notice good things about others, including those you may have conflicts with, but especially those you want to keep loving, and then let them know that you noticed these good things. Not only does this make those you compliment feel good, it makes you like them more. When we look for the good in others, we will find it, and we will realize their value more often. It also makes us happier to see the good in others, rather than focusing on their faults.
  15. Spend some time in nature as often as possible: Even city lovers benefit from listening to nature’s sounds, breathing in fresh air, and feeling the earth beneath their bare feet. Connecting to the earth can be a spiritual experience for some, creating inner peace, calming stress, and lowering blood pressure. Spending at least twenty minutes a day in the sunshine helps prevent cancer and lifts the mood as well.
  16. Take care of yourself: Mind and body. Eat delicious, nutritious foods, exercise your body, get plenty of sleep, and use your brain. In addition to physical exercise, exercise your mind by reading, solving puzzles, riddles, or problems. Learn something new or memorize a favorite quote or poem. Keep a vocabulary list of definitions of interesting new words and use them daily. Being healthy, mind and body, contributes to happiness.
  17. Enjoy the arts, even if you aren’t talented: Read and write poetry, watch dance or dance yourself, view and make visual art, go to a play or act in a local theater production, listen to music or make music yourself. The arts make life more beautiful, and creating anything artistic naturally leads to joy.
  18. Give to charity throughout the year: We often think of donating at the end of the year either for tax benefits or because everyone is having their end-of-the-year drives for contributions, but organizations need help all year long. Giving is much more meaningful if we research and support organizations that represent our personal convictions and passions. As an animal lover, I find it rewarding and important to give to no-kill shelters and animal rescues. I also like to give to organizations that help the poor in my own community, such as the Springs Rescue Mission, the Salvation Army, and the local Red Cross shelter. My husband and I support National Public Radio as sustaining members because its presence and content is important in our lives and that of the community. We also give to various charities that help the community and to fundraisers we find worthy. Giving throughout the year, helps others, makes you a part of a larger community, gives a sense of belonging, and reinforces the values you claim as your own. Charity gives a sense of identity that corresponds to the ideals you hold dear, makes you more of the person you aspire to someday be, and gives you a sense of joy seated in the idea that hope continues to exist in the world, despite the tragedies and pain you also endure.
  19. Love an animal: Few things imbue such a sense of satisfaction and tranquility as sharing your life with an animal that loves you in return. Giving and receiving love from an animal actually makes your heart bigger and kinder. Caring for an animal has been shown to create empathy in sociopaths, purpose in the elderly, and kindness and gentleness in bullies. Personally, I can’t imagine being truly happy without a dog or a cat to share my home.
  20. Cultivate meaningful relationships: We are social beings and not complete without relationships. Make time to develop at least one or two relationships with people you value. Even though we can have friends who remain dear without proximity, to have a life-enhancing, close relationship with a person requires time together on a regular basis. Choose just a few people who are important to you and devote some time to them at least a few times a month. The time is well-spent. True friendship brings a great deal of happiness. Don’t be fooled into thinking that you don’t have the time to cultivate at least one relationship. In your old age, these relationships will be what you fondly cherish, and you will likely wish you spent even more time on them.
  21. Enjoy your own company: One thing is certain—you will always have yourself, so it is imperative for happiness that you enjoy time alone. You need to love and like yourself If you don’t, you need to figure out why and fix it. Time alone can refresh you in important ways; it allows an opportunity for introspection, self-expression, self-improvement, and lets you know who you are, so that you can identify what you need to be happy, and when you know who you are and what you need, you can more easily share that with others, not only for your benefit, but for theirs. Truly knowing and accepting yourself gives you a strong foundation that can keep you from sinking in the shifting sands of change and even tragedy. Liking yourself and enjoying time alone can be the basis for happiness that comes from the inside out.

I’m not saying that happiness should be the most important thing we aspire to. I’m sure there are loftier ideals; however, the same things that are good for the world—other people and animals—are the same things that tend to make individuals happy, so why not? Go ahead, be happy. –Christina Knowles

UPDATE: Check out Part 2 of “How to Be Happy”

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