My Happiness Breakthrough: How I Built a More Joyful Routine

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.

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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.

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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.

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Gemma Hartley is a freelance writer with a BA in writing from the University of Nevada, Reno. Her work has appeared on Redbook Magazine, Washington Post, Good Housekeeping and more, in addition to contributing regularly to SheKnows, Ravishly, and Romper. She lives in Reno with her husband, three young kids, an awesome dog and a terrible cat.