“Some people thrive on dramatic change. Some people prefer the slow and steady route. Do what’s right for you.” ~Julie Morgenstern
You feel like something’s missing from your life.
You see people who have transformed their lives, given up their day jobs, and moved to exotic lands.
People who have created a new life and found whatever was missing from their previous humdrum existences.
But you don’t hate your life. You’re okay with a little humdrum. You like your responsibilities—your partner, kids, house, or job. The thought of the life you have stretching out in front of you isn’t awful.
In fact, you’re just a fraction away from … contentment.
You can see there’s something to be said for adventure. You read the books, the articles, and the posts reminding you to do something new every now and then.
But you wonder, how can you enhance and love the life you have rather than start a new one?
Just Because You Can, Doesn’t Mean You Should
A trend had popped up lately—which given I’m part of, I’m not knocking—for articles about location independence, digital nomads, travel, and freedom.
The world has changed, and the possibilities for us all, particularly those of us lucky enough to be born in the Western world, seem almost endless.
We can move continents, switch jobs, change our lives, or go from being an accountant to an artist. We must sacrifice, sure, but the possibility is there.
But creating a life you love is different for every person. For many people, the way to be happy is through building on what you have rather than starting from scratch.
I moved from the UK to Thailand because I needed a change in my life. I took a while to settle into my life there.
Once I did, I realized that creating a life you love isn’t a one-time thing. One change—even a huge one—doesn’t fix everything. I grew to understand that to avoid growing stagnant and complacent, I needed to continue to make tiny course adjustments to stay on track with an amazing life.
Otherwise, I might end up back where I started—in a life where I didn’t notice I had slipped into full-blown unhappiness until it was almost too late.
But I didn’t need to start again by moving to some other country or making other exponential changes. I wanted to build on the life I had and make that a tiny bit better every day. I could have mini-adventures right where I was.
Below are five ways to be content though building on what you have rather than chucking everything you currently have and starting from scratch.
1. Clear space and pause.
Sometimes, to see what would best serve us, we need some clear space in our lives—time when we aren’t busy doing anything other than daydreaming and letting our minds wander.
These days, we tend to be uncomfortable with the threat of boredom, and when we’re left on our own for a few minutes, we’re quick to pick up our cell phones to fill the time.
I’m as guilty as anyone else. I’ve deleted apps from my phone so that I couldn’t use them like a crutch. I keep my phone in my bag when I’m with others to make sure I don’t check it without thinking.
Some of my favorite moments in the day are when I’m lying in bed, ready to sleep, and I play with the characters I write about in my fiction, considering plot ideas and just “noodling.”
This week, use the spaces when you’d usually fill your time with your device, and just pause. Muse and dream about where in your life a little change or adventure would help you move forward and make your life happier.
2. Reflect and tweak.
How well do you know yourself? Could you clearly state your likes and dislikes, fears and desires, or what your values are?
A few years ago, I tried to do the perfect day exercise over and over, and I came up blank. Sadly, I didn’t know enough about my deeper self to imagine it even in my mind.
I needed time to get to know myself better, including many exercises, courses, and trying out the ideas in this post. But these days, I have no problems visualizing it, and I take a small step closer to it every day.
You can, too, if you mine your subconscious. For the next week, for five timed minutes each day, brainstorm two lists of at least ten items each—one list containing things you love (or desire), one containing things you dislike (or fears). Go wild; don’t try and be rational or edit yourself.
At the end of the week, you should have up to 100 things you do and don’t like (repetition is fine). Reflect on the themes or things that came up a lot, and see where you can tweak your life to decrease or increase the presence of dislikes and likes in your current life.
For example, if nature appears on your list of things you love, be sure to spend a little time every day relaxing or exercising outside. If sitting in traffic appears on your dislikes list, see if you can replace some of your driving time with walking or biking, or make your driving time more enjoyable by listening to your favorite podcasts.
These small tweaks will nudge you in the direction of a more positive and joyful life.
3. Experiment and adventure.
You’re busy; I get that. But you don’t need to go bungee jumping to have an adventure.
Think small, not big, and create space for one tiny adventure or experiment each week.
Plenty of opportunities exist for tiny adventures in life every day, from getting off at a new bus stop to talking to a stranger. Perhaps it’s a new take-out place, a free tour at an art gallery, or choosing a movie at random.
Rather than the head-down, just-get-through-the-day attitude I used to have, I try to see even potentially boring activities as an adventure. Waiting in lines, I people-watch and make up stories, or I dance while doing the housework.
These mini-adventures will push you out of your comfort zone, face down fears, and help you have more fun.
4. Soothe and nurture.
If you’re feeling run down, you’re out of emotional resources, or you’re overworked, you’ll struggle to fit in fun or truly get the most from the life you have.
This has been a huge learning curve for me. I thought that to wring the most from life, I needed to get my head down, focus, and work and play hard. But burning the candle at both ends left me ill, unhappy, and unable to work and play with all my heart and soul.
Schedule thirty clear minutes in your day (lock yourself in the bathroom if you have to!) where you have no agenda, and use this time to take care of yourself in small ways.
You could pay mindful attention to your lunch instead of rushing, snuggle up on the sofa and read when it’s raining, or pay attention to your body by preparing (and eating!) a delicious and healthy meal.
Your body, mind, and soul are intricately linked, and taking time to look after each of these so that you are ready to live the best life possible is crucial.
5. Re-frame and re-label.
Some days are better than others; that’s true.
But it’s also true that two people can see the exact situation from completely opposing viewpoints.
If we change our perspective on a situation that’s bugging us, we can improve our mindset with nothing but a change in attitude.
Instead of feeling annoyed that a friend is late, we can feel glad we have some time to breathe and people-watch (or to do the exercise in #1). Instead of being disappointed that the restaurant we had planned to go to was closed, we can feel excited at the opportunity to experiment with a new cuisine (as in #3).
Sometimes, when I can see a friend is much more positive than I am in a situation, I ask them to share their perspective so that I can try and adopt it. It’s a fascinating exercise—you’ll be amazed at how differently two people can view a state of affairs.
How can you reframe and relabel any disappointments, annoyances, or discontent currently present in your life?
It’s Okay to Live—and Love—the Life You Have
You need to create a life that’s right for you.
One that brings you joy and makes you shine a little brighter in the world.
It doesn’t have to mean leaving your current life behind—your home, job, or relationships—and moving to a far and distant land.
You can bring a little adventure into your life easily, if you start just where you are.
Incremental change, not exponential change, might be exactly what you need.
Love life image via Shutterstock
About Ellen Bard
Ellen Bard’s mission is to help you be your best self at work and in life. A Chartered Psychologist, she’s published two books on self-care, works with those who are too tough on themselves, and loves all things that sparkle. For the free cheat sheet: 5 Unusual Tips to Take Care of Yourself, click over to EllenBard.com.