“Routine: a regular course of procedure”the Merriam Webster Dictionary
If I were to list out all of my daily routines, I’d probably find out that I’m a boring creature. It’d be a fairly mundane list along the lines of:
- wake up
- brush my teeth
- get dressed (sometimes)
- practice yoga
- surf the web
- go for a long walk
Week two of the 52 Lists for Happiness is about circling all the routines that bring me joy and crossing out the ones that don’t. I have a lot of difficulty doing that. On some days, eating feel amazing and on other days it feels gluttonous and over-indulgent. Should I just circle and cross out everything?
Or maybe… I should dig deeper. Are routines in life good or bad? I can see both sides. It’s great to have predictability, stability, and something to look forward to. However, it’s also fun to combat staleness and introduce spontaneity and randomness. “Variety is the spice of life” they say. But, what’s the ideal balance? What makes something more joyful than another? Why is it all so dependent on our environment and mood? Is it possible to take time and enjoy whatever happens in our lives?
I’ve found the beginning of an answer in my yoga practice. There’s a Niyama that I’ve been deeply fascinated with called Santosha. This Sanskrit word embodies the yoga philosophy of contentment. It encourages you towards a life where you accept your circumstances and have a joyful and satisfied mind regardless of your environment. Irrespective of any routines.
Before you raise your pitchforks, please recognize that I’m not advocating for you to resign yourself to the life you’re currently living. You may be in an abusive relationship or unsatisfactory job and it’s unhealthy to will your mind into a happier albeit distorted reality. Get a good grasp on the things you want to change and walk towards that change. But, don’t be afraid to carry a smile for all the great moments that do show up.
The fundamental way I do this is to live in the present and to be present in whatever I do. This means I don’t dwell on my past successes or failures nor do I worry about future ones. It also means that when I’m doing an activity, I’m fully engaged and giving it my best whether it be washing dishes, driving, or having dinner with friends. I’m not thinking about how nice it will be to finish, arrive at my destination, or to go home and sleep. I’m also not compulsively checking my phone. This anticipation of the future causes a lot of anxiety in the present.
I’m not telling you to eschew planning though. You should still plan for the future. However, that’s an act which is done in the present. You set aside some intentional and deliberate time to “create your future”™ to prevent it from overriding your daily thoughts.
Living in the present should be your ultimate expression of happiness. This seems paradoxical, doesn’t it? If you’re supposed to be perfectly happy as you are, why do anything to improve your situation? If you do improve your situation, shouldn’t you be even happier? But if that’s the case, when do you stop climbing the infinite mountain of happiness or scaling the glacier of goals? When you’re the richest person in the world? The smartest? The most attractive? The most successful?
Think of life more as sailing in the ocean. You don’t need to go anywhere. It’s perfectly fine to enjoy the soothing motion of the ocean waves. Permissible to enjoy the wind, sun, water, and briny air. And, if you get bored, you have the choice to sail towards whatever catches your eye, in whatever direction you please. Let your curiosity drive you. It all reminds me of Ralph Waldo Emerson: “life is a journey, not a destination.”