The Secret to Building a Better Life
Many people say, “I’ll eat better to live longer,” “I’ll exercise to lose weight,” or “I’ll meditate to feel less angry.” Although it’s true that healthier eating may contribute to longevity, that exercise may help shed pounds, and meditation may reduce reactivity, those goals miss a more essential point about such practices: that while you’re doing them, you feel better and that by doing enough practices in a day that increase feelings of well-being you make yourselves happier, more hopeful and more proud.
Many dysregulated eaters—many people, period—don’t string together enough behaviors in a day or a week to combat stress or keep their mood relatively elevated. Instead they think about and plan down-the-road activities which will boost their spirits: outings and vacations, purchases and external self-care activities such as massages and facials. They contemplate what they’ll drink and eat and where they’ll go to do it.
There’s nothing wrong with any of these pursuits. I engage in and enjoy them myself. But this “I’ll be happy when I’m doing whatever in the future” mentality will not bring you the kind of benefits you hope for. That will happen only when you do the things that bring you energy, joy, peace and pride each day of your life.
For example, science tells us that exercise and meditation lower your blood pressure over time. However, we also get immediate benefit from doing these activities—pleasure in the moment and pride in nourishing ourselves with care. Aside from long-term benefits, these effort are worthwhile because we they help us generate more positive actions and feelings into a day.
I talk a great deal with clients about building their lives around healthy pleasurable moments, not doing activities because they “have” to or will gain some future benefit. We shower or bathe to become clean but there’s something about the process that is enjoyable if we take a moment to realize it. It feels better to say nice rather than nasty things to ourselves and it also contributes to higher self-esteem. Meditation boosts our sense of well-being while we’re doing it. So we do it over and over again, not to become better at it, but because it makes us feel better and has no downside.
Why wouldn’t you want to schedule many pleasures into your day? They need not be large or take up a great deal of time: playing with your dog or cat for 10 minutes, taking a 20-minute walk, listening to your favorite playlist, and dancing around the living room. Enjoying a lovely meal or a glass of wine would count as well. The goal is to do these activities repeatedly because they help brighten your day.