1. What was the happiest time period of your life?
And I don’t mean happy as in “I was happiest at 7 years old, obviously, because I had no bills to pay, and I could skip a day or two of showering and still smell tolerable.” Because that’s just what it feels like to have no problems or responsibilities in life, which is never going to happen again.
So what I’m really asking is: When was the last time you felt complete? When were you emotionally satisfied, optimistic, and free?
2. What made the best period in your life so special?
Be specific, damn it! (I’m bossy because I love you.) What kind of people surrounded you, what was your typical week like, and what made you feel proud?
After reflecting on this, accept that some of your old treasures can be regained, while others can never ever come back to you. Which leaves us with…
3. How can you recreate the flavors of the past without necessarily having the same cooking ingredients?
You may not have access to the same loved ones, same job, same amount of money, same opportunities, or same young and healthy body that you once did. But the important “flavors” in life can always be found, again and again, and in the most surprising places. These flavors are: Love, Peace, Joy, and Good Work. (By “Good Work” I mean the kind that feeds your soul– work that calls on your greatest talents and resources to contribute something positive to the world.)
All of these flavors come in an endless stream of Goodness, accessible to us at all times, making their appearance in many unexpected forms. So keep your eyes and heart open. Seek and you shall find. Knock and the door will be opened to you. (Yup, I just got Biblical on your ass.)
* * * *
If answering these 3 questions made you realize that NOW is the most fulfilling period of your life, I’m so glad for you, my friend. I mean it. And I hope the only feeling that matches your level of happiness is your sense of gratitude, because that only makes things taste sweeter.
But sadly, I can’t say the same for myself.
I wrote this post because I realized something terrible while preparing my Annual Review.
Last year was full of outward success for me. (I landed great jobs, ran a side business, helped my husband quit his 9-5 job to pursue his dream, stayed out of debt, improved my health, and traveled.) But even with all those accomplishments, it wasn’t one of my favorite years.
That’s right: I reached many goals, but did not feel complete. I was successful but not happy.
Same goes for my husband. Our lives were so full of WORK and WORRY that there was no room JOY.
Say what?! you ask. Well, my friends. Turns out there’s much more to life than reaching personal goals, even if they’re pretty honorable ones.
When I created and answered the 3 Essential Questions above, I realized I was happiest in my mid to early 20′s. At that time I absolutely hated my job (as in, crying in the ladies room during my lunch break). I wasn’t nearly as driven, healthy, or fancy-pants successful as I am now. But *every* weekend I was volunteering, hosting spiritual retreats, and serving others, all while in the company of wonderful friends. I had: Love, Peace, Joy, and Good Work. What I did NOT have was a perfect life. Because really, you don’t need perfection to feel complete. (Shocker of the year!!!)
Answering the 3 Essential Questions also led me to realize that there are 2 things in life that I need in order to feel happy: Community and Service. I may never have them in the same form that they appeared back in my 20′s, but this year I’m on a mission to recreate those flavors with different ingredients.
And Now, A Story
A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, he wordlessly picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.
The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.
The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full.. The students responded with a unanimous ‘yes.’
The professor then produced two beers from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar effectively filling the empty space between the sand.The students laughed.
‘Now,’ said the professor as the laughter subsided, ‘I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things—-your family, your children, your health, your friends and your favorite passions—-and if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house and your car.. The sand is everything else—-the small stuff.
‘If you put the sand into the jar first,’ he continued, ‘there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life.
If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff you will never have room for the things that are important to you.
Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness.
Spend time with your children. Spend time with your parents. Visit with grandparents. Take your spouse out to dinner. Play another 18. There will always be time to clean the house and mow the lawn.
Take care of the golf balls first—-the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.
One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the Beer represented. The professor smiled and said, ‘I’m glad you asked.’ The Beer just shows you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of beers with a friend.
Your Turn: How would you answer the 3 Essential Questions? What changes must be made in order for you to feel more complete?