As I hiked a large summit on a summer camping trip with my extended family, I was overwhelmed by the joy I felt. I swam in a lake, lay in a hammock, slept beneath the stars. Why don’t I make every weekend this special? Why can’t I always be this happy? I was hit, suddenly, with the urge to create a new sort of lifestyle. One that would be filled with more happy moments like this one. But making happiness a reality in my day-to-day life was easier said than done.
Whenever I tried to revamp my routine to fit in a bevy of new happiness habits, whether it was staying in touch with friends, planning more adventures or going for a run first thing in the morning, they never seemed to stick.
After yet another year of half-hearted New Year’s Resolutions not panning out some six months after that blissful camping trip, I was forced to reexamine my habits and try to figure out where I went wrong. I wasn’t making time for the things I wanted to prioritize, but it was hard to figure out where to fit in all the things I wanted from my life. I wanted to make more time for my family, but I already felt stretched so thin. I wanted to keep a consistent workout routine, but something always got in the way. My days never seemed to follow the predictable pattern I craved, and so the happiness habits I hoped to adopt fell by the wayside.
It made me wonder if I even had enough time to do all the things that would contribute to a happy life. How am I supposed to balance the things I have to do with the things that make me happy? How do I build a routine that brings me joy? It felt so insurmountable.
Then it dawned on me: If time was the problem, I needed to figure out where all my time was going. I decided to track my time, hour-by-hour, to see what I was doing every day.
Tracking my time made me more aware of how I was spending every minute, and so I was much more likely to “do what ought to be done” instead of waste time on Facebook or aimlessly refresh my inbox. I did dishes, laundry, vacuumed, ran errands, and felt very productive. But “productive” didn’t necessarily mean I was using my time in a happy manner. I could let housecleaning use up every spare second, but a sparkling toilet didn’t exactly bring me joy. The things that did leave me feeling happy — going out with my friends, spending time reading and journaling, or getting a good morning workout in — didn’t happen every day. But as I looked over my week, it was clear that carving out time for one of these activities each day would make for a more fulfilling life.
I realized that my quest to find the perfect daily routine was my happiness stumbling block. My days varied depending on my work schedule or whether or not I had special plans, but looking over the course of my week or even my month, I could find ample time to knit together all the things that would create a happy life. I simply needed to look at the big picture instead of trying to pack more into each day.
After I realized that a strict daily routine wasn’t the answer for me, I placed more focus on carving out time for what really mattered – time with friends and family, writing, working out, making meals, or baking cakes (since I love to cook). I added a little note to my calendar each week to give myself time to plan and reflect. What did my last week look like? What would I like to see more of as I enter the next few weeks? What could I do less? The balancing act does not lie in a single day, but rather in the hours, weeks, months, and years that make up a joy-filled life.
Originally published on March 15, 2017.