It’s easy to believe that more is more…bigger is better… I spent my 20s and early 30s in a perpetual state of delayed gratification, focusing on the light at the end of the tunnel.
If I could travel back in time about 15 years, I’d tell myself to stop looking ahead and to enjoy the abundance of today. Enjoy the challenge of clipping coupons, shopping at consignment sales and the thrill of keeping your checkbook out of the red each month. Enjoy your cozy house, with your sweet little family snuggled up on your old, broken-in couch. Treasure your friends who share your struggles and make you laugh (sometimes through your tears). Daydream about the future, but know that you are living your dream.
I spent last week on Spring Break, skiing with my family in Steamboat, Colorado; this is my husband’s and oldest son’s “happy place.” It made me consider if our lives would be happier if we lived there year-round? Would the laid-back, Colorado lifestyle benefit my type-a, hard-charging husband? Would my son be happier if he could ski all winter, rather than a few days a year? Would my husband be happier if he could fly fish and hike on his days off rather than once a year? Would more be more?
To date, my life experiences have taught me that more is not more:
Stuff. I’ve just finished hauling loads of my kids’ outgrown clothes and toys to our school’s annual garage sale. While collecting our donation, I stood in my own closet and realized that I have worn the same five tops and two pairs of jeans over and over, while my closet is full of dusty clothes that date back to college. I rounded up boxes of holiday decorations that my mom gave me because she no longer wanted them; I’ve moved them from our apartment in Kansas to our house in North Carolina to our house in Nebraska and never displayed them… There is something incredibly liberating about defining what is essential and eliminating everything else.
Attention. When I decided to stay home with my kids, I approached motherhood as a full-time job. I worked everyday to provide enrichment activities for my first two children (19 months apart), taking them to book babies at the library and the local children’s museum regularly, playing with them on the floor and reading to them for hours on end. Consequently, my kids always looked to me to be their entertainer. When my youngest son was born 4 ½ years later, our family’s full schedule did not allow me to give him the same level of focus. And guess what? He learned to entertain himself. He has an incredible imagination and an easy-going personality. You can argue about nature vs. nurture, but I believe that he’s thrived under my non-intentional “less attention is more” approach to motherhood the third time around.
Kids’ activities. With three kids, it’s easy to let you family’s calendar get totally out of control with various lessons, practices and games. Initially, it takes time to expose your kids to all of the extracurricular activities out there. Eleven years into this parenting thing, I firmly believe that you can’t do everything and do it all well. Now, I challenge my kids to follow their interests and to make choices. It’s so easy to overschedule; it really benefits no one.
Volunteer commitments. I am a “yes” person and always up for a new challenge. These traits have made me a target for lots of opportunities requiring free labor. My volunteer work has served as a positive outlet in my life; it’s allowed me to get outside of the house and to use my professional skills to raise money for non-profits that enrich my community. It can be stressful and time-consuming in the days and weeks leading up to a big event, which can be annoying to my family. Experience has taught me to limit my “yeses.” Defining my focus keeps me from spreading myself too thin and allows me to better balance my needs with those of my family.
I guess that my conclusion is simple: life is a balancing act. More of one thing can mean less of another. Moving to your “happy place” seems like it would make your life happier. But, it would also mean moving away from all of the things that currently bring you joy: family, friends, teachers, coaches, neighbors and church (to name a few). Happiness is about focusing on your abundant blessings, which if you stop to count often multiply.