Every January we are faced with the question, “What will I accomplish for this year?” Our annual goals might be things like, lose weight, find a new job, finally organize that hall closet… Setting goals are great, whether they are new year resolutions or not, but are we really focusing on the right things when we set these goals? This year, I challenge you to set a goal of figuring out how to live your best life!
I once heard someone say “Life’s big punch line is that you can’t become happy, you can only be happy”. I can’t remember who said it but it really stuck with me. We all spend a lot of time trying to create and find happiness. Myself included! Ultimately though happiness is an elusive goal and most spend their entire lives chasing it without ever catching it. Could it really be as simple as looking up and choosing to just be happy in the moment you are currently in? Keep reading because I have some ideas I want you to really think about and consider how focusing on these questions might help you take steps to living your best life!
What does it mean to live your best life? If you ask Instagram, it means sunset hikes and Starbucks. Avocado toast and pristine homes tastefully decorated in white furniture. On social media, the phrase has been dumbed down to illustrate uniformity rather than subjectivity. “Living my best life” is used to tell you what society has decided the best life should look like. A caption that accompanies an image of perfectly placed food, selfies, and the latest travel destination. For many it serves to make them feel like their life is lacking. That others are living life better than they are. The photos you see online are carefully constructed moments to show off a person’s “best life” but if you could see outside that snapshot you would see struggles, loneliness, fear, anxiety, and self-doubt just like everyone else.
The most important part of the phrase “Living Your Best Life” is Your! No one else’s idea of the best life will look the same as yours. We cannot compare ourselves to the slivers we see of other people. It is like comparing Apples to Avocadoes…
The real question is how do You start living your best life?
What makes life worth living? The very first question you need to consider is what the most important aspects of life for you are? Dive deeper than the basics, family, friends, career ect… What moments bring you the most joy? What challenges cause you the most excitement? It’s not about the big picture, it’s about the small things that add up to a life well lived. Write down what makes life worth living for you and dedicate more time and energy to those things. You might just discover hidden passions you didn’t realize were so fulfilling! But let me warn you, finding your passion is not a cure all no matter what Hollywood tells you. The real key is to find a way to enjoy at least some small part of the experience of getting to where you want to be. Even simple every day life can feel amazing when we are living with purpose.
Are You Stuck In The Future? This has always been a big struggle for me. When I was a teenager I couldn’t wait to grow up and have my own place and make my own money. When I was in my early 20’s I couldn’t wait to fall in love and get married. Once I was married, I couldn’t wait to start having kids and creating a family of my own. It took far too long for me to realize that I was always so busy planning for my future that I never took the time to enjoy the part of life I was currently living in. I always felt like once I reached that next stage I would finally be living my best life. But when the future I had been dreaming of finally arrived, I barely acknowledged it before moving on to the next goal. When you focus quality attention on the present moment, instead of waiting around for happiness to show up one day in the future, you become more open, curious, hopeful, and receptive to possibilities.
Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at Wharton, explains that living for the future is a type of mental time travel, a psychological phenomenon whereby people transport themselves to the past or future. Psychology research shows that looking to the future shifts our attention from the monotony of the mundane to something more meaningful: the why. The future becomes an emotional target that gives us purpose and helps us manage our frustration. When we live for the future however, we build grand expectations. We put years of expected happiness on a single moment, and in doing so, we set ourselves up for inevitable disappointment.
I’m not telling you to stop dreaming about the future or making plans. Dream big! Set goals and plans for the future! But don’t allow dreaming about tomorrow to replace living in the moment today. Dreaming about the future is only productive when combined with action taken now. Someday you are going to look back at the chapters of your live and I hope you look back with fondness at the fun, love and memories you created. It isn’t your best life if you are always waiting and never living.
Are You Living Authentically? Authentic living means frequently asking yourself what is working and what isn’t, and acting accordingly. Creating the life you want requires a commitment to personal growth. We must be willing to change, to grow, and to do what it takes to live your best life. Those changes may include walking away from relationships, jobs and habits that no longer support your growth and goals. Discovering what we want in life also means facing what we don’t want, and that process can be painful. But learning to live with authenticity leads to rewards that we couldn’t have even imagined.
Do you go through your day with excitement and passion? Or are you plugging along just waiting for the weekend? There is a common saying, “Love what you do and you’ll never work a day in your life.” This is admirable in many ways, but it also requires a lot of free time and financial privilege, which for most is not a choice. Find ways to do what you love regardless of circumstances. I love to write, so I write this blog and I write and host a podcast. But I also have a mortgage and a family to support. My day job isn’t my passion but it allows me the freedom to follow my passions on the side. The key is to find a way to enjoy at least some small part of the experience of getting to where you want to be.
Do You Love Yourself? Living my best life begins with appreciating the fact that I am alive. Realizing that life is a gift and every single day is a blessing. Appreciating life means respecting and loving myself. When we prioritize getting to know ourselves, we gain information that can be extremely helpful in changing our lives for the better. Society has taught us to be very hard on ourselves and self-critical in the face of challenges or aspects of ourselves we would like to change. However, research shows self-criticism can have a very negative impact on our health, well-being, and the quality of our lives. The good news is, self-compassion can be learned! The next time you find yourself being overly self-critical, try changing the narrative, reassuring yourself, choosing to be kind to yourself instead. Ask yourself what you would say to a friend in that situation. We tend to be much kinder and more understanding in the advice we give to others. We should strive to be just as kind to ourselves. If self-awareness is something you want to improve, consider working with a therapist or coach, journaling, meditating, or practicing deep honesty with yourself.
What’s Distracting You From Living Your Best Life? Sometimes we are so busy in life that we don’t take time out to hear our inner voice. We can become blind to destructive habits that can have negative long-term effects on our well-being. We can spend so much time worrying about what other people are doing, trying to live the life that society expects of us, that it can be easy to lose track of what makes us happy and what our best life actually looks like. Look back to the first question, what makes life worth living? Now analyze what distractions in your life are keeping you from the things you love the most. Do you need to change your priorities? When you say “I don’t have enough free time” are you ignoring how much time you waste on social media and television? Your life is right there waiting for you to look up! Your best life is passing you by as you distract yourself with the lives of others. Look Up!