People often want something different, something more. We find it quite hard to see the potential for happiness in the present, even when the present is fantastic. Even during our “most exciting times,” we tend to think about what’s coming next. On vacation, we’re thinking of the next day’s surfing, of the friends coming to visit, of the great dinner we’re going to have. It’s hard for us to “just be,” to eek out all the joy in what is happening right here, right now.
For many of us, life is busy enough that a healthy perspective about the balance between what we get out of life and what we contribute to the world and other people is challenging. It can be hard to think about what we might do, not because we have to, but because it will make someone else happy—because it will make the world a better place.
The benefits of generosity
Why is giving back important? Whether or not we realize it, generosity is very beneficial to us. It makes us feel good about ourselves, it makes our relationships closer and warmer, and it contributes to meaning in our lives. Generosity also feeds on itself. If someone does something nice for you, you are more inclined to do something nice for someone else. We have a tendency to pay it forward.
In the modern world, we are often pulled in many directions at the same time. Demands of work, the needs of our family, our desire to be healthy—we have many voices demanding our attention and our emotional energy. Our lives can become a series of silos—discreet elements that don’t feed off of or into each other. This forces people to constantly switch gears mentally and emotionally. How can we prevent our lives from becoming a jumble of unrelated activities? How can we keep it all together?
Who are you at your core?
If you strip away all the extraneous stuff in your life, what would be left?
In modern society, it’s hard to connect to our true identity because of all the static. The expectations, the influences, the demands: all this external pressure makes it difficult to know our true selves.
It can be helpful to take a step back and think about your essential self. By essential self, I mean the person at your very heart, the person you have left after you strip away everything not essential to your being.
What should I do now?
At every moment of every day, we have a choice. What should we do? Sometimes we feel productive. Sometimes we feel creative. Sometimes we feel like having fun. How do we decide what to do with this particular moment? What can we do to make this moment as meaningful and fulfilling as it can possibly be?
What about when we feel uninspired? Our time in this life is limited, but does that mean we have to make every second of every day count? If we’re just not feeling it, is it OK to become mindless and browse YouTube videos?
When I’m feeling uninspired or unproductive, I can’t force myself to create or produce. But that doesn’t mean I have to surrender, make myself a drink, and plop down on the couch. There’s a lot of space between not being productive and not doing anything. There’s nothing wrong with mindless entertainment, and we all need some downtime (see “Downtime”). But if nothing is the only thing we can imagine doing when we’re not feeling productive, then we’re missing out on a wealth of possibilities.