Life is Short. Cram it Full of Happy.

By Jen Holman

 

My friend and I were recently discussing the near-impossible task of balancing work and family (and school and church and volunteering) commitments. We realized we had failed to add weight to the scales for personal growth or relaxation or—God forbid—fun.

We marveled at a friend in her early 30s who committed to spending at least five minutes a day doing the three things that make her happy: knitting, painting and reading. While it’s true I can rarely find time enough to shave both legs in one shower, wouldn’t it be great if we were as self-aware as this woman? Wouldn’t it be lovely if we made ourselves, our happiness, a priority? When was the last time you did anything just for the sheer pleasure of it? If you’re like me, those moments are few and far between, and typically start with "pedi" and end with "cure."

But what about more complex things? What about major life decisions? Have you ever followed your heart and let your paycheck fall where it may? I know what you’re thinking: “Yeah, right. If I quit my job to open a plant nursery, who’s going to pay the house note?”

But it can happen. It does happen. People follow their dreams and make it. Take me, for example. I’m writing novels and loving every hair-pulling, self-doubting minute of it. A close friend quit her job curating museums to run a knitting store. A woman I know gave up her work as an attorney to be a baker. Someone I know reworked and downsized their family’s entire household to stay home with a new baby.

Several friends send their kids to great schools and continue their dreams to rule the world as attorneys, advocates or accountants. Like you, I know many parents who gain purpose and satisfaction from their work in business or government or education. These parents are following their hearts. Is it easy? I feel confident the answer to that question is a resounding “no.” But is it worth it? You bet.

Maybe it’s because I’m closing in on 40 that the pursuit of happiness weighs so heavily on my mind. Do you ever look up at the clock after putting the kids to bed, cleaning the dinner dishes, and picking up the living room to see it’s already 10 o’clock? Happens to me all the time. Did spring break and Easter catch you completely off- guard? Summer will be here before you know it because time flies by.

Life expectancy for a woman in Arkansas is a little over 78 years. Considering I can’t remember the first 10 years of my life and likely won’t remember the last, I can roughly expect 28 more good years. As fast as the last 40 years have passed, I don’t want to spend a single one of my remaining years feeling unhappy or unsatisfied if I can help it.

Now, I’m not advocating quitting your job or selling everything to drag your kids across the country in an RV. Although, whose dream is that? Sounds like my own personal hell.

What I propose is a self inventory. What do you enjoy doing? (And no, sleep is not an acceptable answer here, though I know we all need more of it.) What makes you truly happy? What makes you feel satisfied and complete and at peace?

Have you thought about going back to school? Perhaps you’d like to commit more time to volunteering at the animal shelter. Maybe your dream is being the best darned room mom in all of Pulaski County. Could be you want to take up landscape design, even for your own yard. Maybe you work so hard from 8 to 5 that you’d really like to find five minutes alone to knit, to paint or to read.

I think it must be in a mother’s DNA to put everyone and everything ahead of her own needs. Most times that’s what it takes to get things done. I know that. But I also know that over time, continually putting ourselves last adds up, and before long we’re not even standing in line anymore.

It’ll take a conscious effort and a strategic plan to change that. And it’ll take serious self-reflection to determine what it is we even need. Franklin Roosevelt said, “It isn’t sufficient just to want—you’ve got to ask yourself what you are going to do to get the things you want.” Life is fleeting and precious. Let’s figure out what we want, and then let’s get it. 

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Jen Holman is often irreverent and frequently imperfect. But she’s happy, by God, and that’s what matters. She lives in Little Rock with her husband and three children, striking that delicate balance between inspiration and frustration. Jen has published three novels under the pen name Jen Crane, the second of which was selected by iTunes/iBooks as “Our Pick” in fantasy sci-fi.