Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Krista O’Reilly-Davi-Digui of A Life in Progress.
We have two lives: the one we learn with and the life we live after that. —Bernard Malamud
My 40’s have undoubtedly been the hardest and best years of my life so far. I have grieved, walked through pain, moved kids to college, learned to rest. I’ve learned to love myself in earnest and show up through fear, I’ve healed and done hard things, put down deeper roots.
It has been a season of learning to let go of what no longer serves.
While I am a slow & simple advocate, it is neither the pursuit of simplicity nor absence of stuff alone that determines my happiness. My happiness is rooted instead in a sense of freedom, of living on purpose, and in inner calm.
Happiness grows its tenacious roots inside of me.
I Joyfully Decluttered These 5 Things to Boost Happiness
1. Needing you to like me
Care about what others think and you will always be their prisoner. —Lao Tzu
One of the greatest obstacles to my freedom—and happiness—is caring much what others think of me. I stopped saying yes out of obligation, trying to be a good girl or please others at the expense of my mental health or family. I packed up my efforts at trying to keep up perfectly and made more space to laugh, create, and simply breathe.
I appreciate the wise advice of Brené Brown who suggests we take a 1 x 1 inch square of paper and make a list of people whose opinions matter to us—those people who love and accept us with all our quirks and imperfections. “If you need more paper, you need to edit,” she encourages. Interestingly, I don’t need you to like me as much now because I’ve decided to like myself.
The more I have come to like and appreciate myself—to see my strengths and weaknesses with neither shame nor ego, my happiness grows. As I offer myself more compassion and learn to move through perfectionism, fear, and comparison, I am also more able to pour out compassion for others and show up with courage to serve.
2. Needing to know all the answers
Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answers. —Rainer Maria Rilke
One of the bulkiest pieces of baggage I’ve decluttered was my desperate need to have health and faith, parenting and marriage, all figured out with a surefire 7-step program, no questions or fears remaining. I wanted certainty and rules and a perfect framework to guide me—instead I lived dripping with anger and anxiety.
To boost happiness, I needed to make space for the questions. I have learned through challenging circumstances to loosen my grip and make space for more mystery and possibility. To trust that I can do hard things and no matter what, I will be OK.
Releasing an imaginary construct of how life “should be” allows me to step out onto the small bit of light ahead of me. I show up curious now—one step and then another—and experience far greater joy on this messy journey. I don’t need to control my world or have all the answers to feel safe. I can just show up messy, imperfect, and real.
3. Living stuck in fear
In the depths of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer. —Albert Camus
Sometimes it is in the smelly and litter-strewn trenches that we learn we have what it takes. We are far stronger and more resilient than we ever understood before. I haven’t exactly figured out how to declutter fear but I’ve broken the tight grip it had on me. I show up every day afraid but I also show up happy and filled with gratitude.
Fear itself is a human emotion, there is no shame in it. But I always get to choose my response. I can show up through fear to help build a world I want to live in. I can get honest with myself above all about who I am and what I want or need and love the world and my family to the best of my ability.
Burying many family members to cancer leaves its scars and as I approach the age at which my mom died I find myself counting down the years. The truth is none of us knows the number of days we get so I make a decision each morning that this simple day is my favorite.
4. Letting outward circumstances dictate my joy
The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven. —John Milton
Much of happiness is a choice and the result of not putting our hope in transient things. A deliberate decision to scan for beauty, live with gratitude, and intentionally choose our response.
Without a doubt one of the most impactful ways I boosted happiness in my 40’s was by remembering that I am the boss of my thoughts. I kicked out the old negative stories and unhelpful imagining. I no longer believe every story that my brain spins for me and I’ve learned that no other human or circumstance can make me unhappy. I always get to choose.
Nice things and opportunities are lovely gifts, but for health and happiness purpose trumps pleasure. Instead of waiting for life to make me happy, or for everyone and everything in my world to be at peace, I focus on contribution and building community.
5. Listening to external voices instead of letting my life speak
Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am. —Parker Palmer
There is constant temptation to conform in this world but I’ve never found happiness in being who I’m not. I need to wrestle and question and forge my own path. I want to honor that to which I feel called.
For my birthday this year I chose a new theme or mantra – “listen to your life speak.” In my 40’s I’ve been decluttering trying to look like, sound like, or keep up to anyone else. I’m remembering who I am. My mission, the gifts I have to offer, what I require to feel healthy, what it is that I’m after. When I let go of needing to be deemed acceptable by you, I grow increasingly happy and calm.
I’m not a fan of “gurus” or “experts” because you’re the expert of your life. I believe we’re wired differently on purpose—different style, different speech, different gifts to build this world. We can boost happiness by listening in and then offering our unique perspective.
It’s never too late to change direction. Cull your closet, reduce purchases, simplify your calendar to live with intention. But dig in deeper too; what burdensome weight do you need to declutter so you can live free, on purpose, and show up happier?
At 47 I’ve likely walked out more than half of my story but my happiness grows more robust than ever. I am no longer willing to carry baggage that isn’t mine or chase happiness in accolade or external reward. And if it is true that we have two lives—then I’m joyfully living the second of mine.
Krista is a writer & Joyful Living Educator. She helps other messy humans move through perfectionism, comparison, and fear to show up fully to their imperfect and beautiful lives. Connect with her on Facebook or at A Life in Progress.