Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Rachel Macy Stafford of Hands Free Mama.
There are certain times of year when unrealistic pressures and unnecessary comparisons creep into my mind. This is one of those times. I just came off what I like to call a Live Better/Love More Summer.
With two surgeries, I had to let go of a lot. I let my children do more for themselves. I didn’t concern myself with what other people were doing and embraced what felt right for my family. I let go of the need for my home, my physique, and my life to look a certain way. I stopped trying to control the outcome and simply let things unfold. For several joyful weeks, I was able to push away the superficial and hold the significant right in my hands.
But I feel a change in the air.
As I walked home from the morning bus stop the other day, my mind raced with work deadlines, school supply lists, and practice schedules. To add to my discomfort, I noticed a few porches adorned with potted orange mums and festive autumn décor. Suddenly the triumph I felt for peeling the wet stack of advertisements off my driveway drastically diminished.
As fall approaches, back-to-school busyness ramps up, activities and duties increase, and value is placed on what is urgent, rather than on what’s important. Getting distracted from what truly matters is an easy thing to do in this high-resolution, high-standard, high-pressured, picture-perfect world we live in.
With each new season, we are bombarded with images and messages that imply our home, children, and lives would be so much better if we buy into what they’re selling. We are led to believe that foliage trimmed doors, succulent pumpkin recipes, designer boots paired with skinny jeans, and award-winning tailgate parties are the ingredients of a happy life.
But that is not truth.
When I feel myself succumbing to societal pressure and ideals, I think back to the red leaf. One year ago, something caught my eye as I walked past my bedroom window. It was a vibrant red leaf gently drifting down from a tree of green. Despite the duties and deadlines hanging over my head, I walked outside and picked up that red leaf. I thought about pinning it to my shirt as a reminder, but I didn’t need to. That red leaf got its point across. That red leaf was much more than an ordinary leaf; it was a day in my life. And quantities were limited.
Whether it be a frantic Monday or a soul-draining Wednesday, I want to see each day as a leaf drifting down, down, down. It might not be a vibrant red leaf that takes my breath away, but it’s a leaf that will never be on my tree of life again. I want to make it count by investing in what matters and not letting my moments of joy and connection get lost in the excess.
I’ve decided that this fall will not be about gathering more stuff. I am not going to add additional stress to my life or fill counters and closets with more unneeded items. Instead, I am going to gather happiness—happiness to sustain me this winter … happiness to sustain me when I encounter life’s difficult trials … happiness to sustain me in my ripe old age.
Along my Hands Free journey, I’ve discovered eight ways to let happiness into the sacred spaces of my day and life. I will be practicing as many as I can this season, and I’d love for you to join me.
8 Ways to Gather Happiness:
1. Use the phrase, “I’ll wait for you,” or “We have time.” Such offerings only cost a few minutes but have the potential to bring instant peace to any situation.
2. Accept one invitation that will make someone else happier.
Yes, you can throw a penny in the fountain.
Yes, we can read one more book.
Yes, we should have a date night! Let’s get the calendar.
Then notice the joy YES brings; that joy is yours for the taking.
3. Decline one request that will result in greater happiness.
No, that doesn’t work for me right now.
I wish I could, but I can’t.
It’s no for today, but please ask me another time.
Feel the relief NO brings. Commend yourself for guarding your time and energy.
4. Be a Silver-Lining Spotter.
In the midst of a challenging moment, find the bright side:
Well, at least we didn’t miss the whole thing.
Well, it could be raining too.
Well, at least we had a few minutes to talk while we waited for the doctor.
Added bonus: This positive practice teaches your loved ones to be Silver-Lining Spotters too.
5. Believe in the power of one. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the tasks or duties ahead of you, remind yourself that you do not have to do them all at once. Just start with one. Get into the habit of asking: What matters most right now?
6. Use meaningful measurements of success. Resist the urge to let society define success by achievements, awards, monetary value, or public recognition. Consider attributes like courage, effort, honesty, patience, determination, risk-taking, and compassion when evaluating yourself or your loved ones. Make a point to acknowledge your beginning point and frequently celebrate your progress.
7. Provide breathing room. Remind yourself that you and your loved ones need time to pause each day. Don’t let guilt or pressure fool you into thinking do-nothing moments are a waste of time. Say to yourself: “This is my breathing room. This is fuel for my soul. This pause will help me be more creative … more productive … more joyful … more present.”
8. Fulfill true needs rather than superficial needs. In the flurry and frenzy of our busy lives, our most critical needs often get buried beneath extraneous needs and immediate needs. But the needs that keep our spirits alive, strengthen bonds, and build promising futures are the needs that must not be forgotten. He needs love. She needs love. You need love. And we have the power to fulfill that need.
This fall will be far from perfect. I’m sure I’ll lose my way a time or three. But I can’t help but believe placing value on what matters now will reflect in my children’s lives later—particularly in the way they connect, create, and cultivate family traditions.
Part of me hopes that one crisp fall night, my daughters will call their children to the back porch where a big fat pumpkin will sit waiting to be carved. As everyone ponders what expression the pumpkin should have, my older daughter will say, “I think the pumpkin should be happy. Mom always said fall was about gathering as much happiness as you can.” Perhaps my younger daughter will then refer to the fall of 2015. We didn’t grow brilliant orange mums that season, but we grew our hearts by collecting red leaves and warm hugs.
Let us gather as much happiness as we can to sustain us in the days and years ahead. (tweet that)
Rachel’s just released book, HANDS FREE LIFE, is an inspiring guide to living an intentional life. Through truthful story-telling and life-giving Habit Builders, Rachel shows us how to live with more love, more presence, and more grace. HANDS FREE LIFE goes on sale today. For more inspiration, join the Hands Free Revolution on Facebook.