A while ago, when I was working on Honey Bear’s Guide to Happiness (which I intend to resume at some point… some day…), I checked out a tall stack of books from the library. They all revolved around the same subject: Happiness.
Did you know that there is such a thing as a happiness scholar? There are people who travel the world researching what makes people happy. Sounds like an amazing job to me. Though I have to wonder–what are the happiness statistics on people who research the subject?
Anyway, there were only a couple that I found interesting enough to read cover-to-cover. One was called The Happiness Equation by Neil Pasricha.
Part of Pasricha’s schtick in this book is to create tables. Little four-square things that reduce some complicated ideas down to their roots. One of these had to do with allocating energy and thought to different parts of your life. The idea was that people make hundreds of decisions every day and that decision-making is exhausting and stressful–thus, he wanted his readers to figure out some areas of their lives where they waste energy making decisions and “automate” them.
For example, he described his closet. He has a line of identical dress pants and a rainbow of solid-colored button-downs in his closet. He takes the first pants and first shirt in line and just cycles through them, placing the clean clothes at the back of the line as they come back from the laundry. This is an area of his life that he doesn’t need to waste energy thinking about–he is no clothes horse, but he wears a nice outfit every day.
Of course, not everyone will find the same things to automate. I could not dress like this–I enjoy putting together outfits and trying to find new combinations in my closet. He acknowledges this fact, citing a friend of his who sounds like something out of GQ (Mr. Pasricha is a highly successful person and runs in a crowd of highly successful people–in reading this book, you’ll notice that he has a fair amount of time and money to throw at his own happiness, especially since he’s made a name for himself writing about it).
When I talk about routines, I guess I’m talking about automation. Sort of.
There are things (like cleaning the litter box and emptying the dishwasher) that don’t require decision-making except for the decision to do them. I want to pre-make that decision. My goal is to make these activities rote, do them at a certain time and possibly a certain order each day so I don’t have to think about them, make them so much a part of my day that I feel odd if I don’t do them.
There are things (like making the bed and painting my toenails) that I know can bring me joy if I remind myself of why they’re worth the effort. I want to designate time to do these things–another decision to pre-make, I suppose. I want to make these activities enjoyable for myself, and to use them as moments of mindfulness and peace that I make time to do on a regular, routine basis.
There are things (like eating well and exercising) that are complex and full of decision-making pitfalls. Things I know are worth it–well worth it!–but that can take all my energy to keep on track. Creating routines for these areas is much more complicated, and requires a lot of alternate plans.
There are things (like spending time with my husband and going out with friends) that I don’t want to make routine, per se, but I want to make them regular. I don’t want an automated social life, but I would like an automated calendar–at least to a certain extent.
So I landed on the phrase, “just routine.” Get up, get dressed, take your vitamin, feed the cat; call your mother every Tuesday, go out with the girls on First Fridays; cook and eat dinner, wash the dishes, play a board game with your family. Don’t fight with yourself, don’t sit and stare, don’t waste time. Live your life. It’s just routine.