Many people are hooked on the excitement of a fast-paced life. Ask your best friend how shes doing, and shes likely to say, Things are good. Im really busy. But when did being busy mean the same as being happy? asks Diana Donald, a Toronto psychotherapist. To say that were busy is our way of saying that were important, and that we belong to society, she says. We are always looking for something more outside of us to make us happy inside. The more we run, the more important we feel.
But the constant lack of time and sense of being out of control that accompanies a busy life is very damaging, and could even be anti-life, says Mark Burch, a Winnipeg educator and author of Stepping Lightly: Simplicity for People and the Planet. When we follow the industrial/business model, which is focused exclusively on productivity, our human relationships begin to suffer and we become shrunken as human beings, self-centred, selfish, frightened, alone, almost incapable of relating. And very cynical.
Sometimes, simplifying can create stress and insecurity. It takes effort to acquire new habits, examine personal values and acknowledge individual priorities. Sometimes its easier to keep running, because its more comfortable, says Dr. Vic Parliament, of the department of psychology at St. Marys University in Halifax Parliament. Anyone who feels trapped or depressed, is worried and not sleeping well, might need to re-evaluate priorities or values.
Need help figuring out where to start simplifying?
Here are some guidelines to kick-start the process:
Cultivate mindfulness We must learn to pay full attention to whatever we are experiencing in the present moment, says Burch in his book Stepping Lightly. You have to take the special moments when you can get them, agrees Greta Gala, a senior financial manager from southern Ontario. She rarely has time for sit-down dinners with her family. My kids always open up when we are in the car together. So I turn off the radio and listen.
Write it down Harold Taylor, a Toronto-based time management consultant and author, says planning the evening before is key to simplifying next day events. There is less rushing if you know where youre going and when. To-do lists are a great starting point; but events, such as a gym workout, should be booked in your calendar the same as a doctors appointment.
Know your values Theres often a disconnect between personal values and work obligations, says Burch, who teaches a university course on simplicity. Woods and her husband, also a teacher, resist the temptation to work at home by designating 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. as family time.
Turn to technology There are only 24 hours in every day and no technical or material innovation can add or subtract any hours to this total, says Burch. But they can cut some chores. Banking by telephone or online is one example. Turning off the ringer on your phone is another. We never answer the phone during the week, and everyone who calls us knows that, says Gala. They just leave a message and we call them back.
Less is sometimes better Jill Woods, a Grade 6 teacher and the mother of two toddlers in Barrie, Ontario, and her husband decided on a small house because they like to take lots of weekend trips, and attend plays and musicals. It was important to us to not be tied to a lot of property, she says. People need to know how much is enough and they need to distinguish between need and filling an emotional void with material wealth. We see what our parents have and assume we need the same amount of things for our home, says Parliament. But as people age, they require fewer possessions.
Dont squander precious hours. Spend time with people who are important to you, and drop obligatory events.
The recipe for simplifying life is highly personal, says Parliament. It is important to keep that mind-body-spirit balance in order to be happy, but the proportions vary with each person.