What a funny old time to be alive. With circumstances, statistics and rules and regulations changing daily in the wake of Covid-19’s rampant spread, the past week especially has felt like some sort of trial run in how we’re all supposed to live in our new worlds – each different from those of our friends and other family members, and each entirely different from what we ourselves knew just a few weeks ago. With shakeups comes change though, which they say is as good as a rest, and with forced rest comes reflection. Where once we may have been running around like headless chickens chasing money, status or other material gain, now we have been forced to respect the simple essentials in life – our elders, our privilege and our health to name but three – and to re-evaluate what really matters. If ever there was a time to reconsider what success really means, it is now.
Understand that health is wealth
“It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
People bandy this notion about as lightly as it’s likely strewn across the ‘statement’ t-shirts of wealthy celebs and never has this irony been more perverse. In the blink of an eye, we’ve realised that wealth is not determined by bank balances, by how much you can hoodwink your customers by raising the cost of in-demand products (take a bow, Mr Sports Direct), or by what car you drive, but that we are in fact richer than we’ve ever been if we are not one of the thousands who are at best currently confined to their beds and at worst have lost their lives.
The current pandemic aside, the values that we live by, the people we choose surround ourselves with and the way we treat our bodies has a direct impact on how we feel and how we act. Input hugely impacts output and we cannot thrive in life if we’re running on empty, so work at a pace that doesn’t overwhelm you and for people that value you, surround yourself with positive, active friends, and nourish your body with good food and exercise – it has nothing to do with money apart from the hefty personal price you’ll pay if you don’t.
Love what you do
“Whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is done well.”
– Van Gogh
I can feel some of you raising your eyebrows as you read this and I can hear the dismissive internal chorus of ‘it’s not that easy’. But actually, it is. Retraining is a big step and one that most people quickly write off as impossible before they even dare to think about it, but according to research between 20% and 40% of us are unhappy in our jobs. Follow-up studies have reasoned that unhappiness at work can lead to stress, weight gain, a weaker immune system, relationship difficulties, insomnia and depression – all of which are a strain on physical and mental health. The bottom line is if you really don’t like your job, or if you’re simply doing it for money, it’s well worth getting some advice about other ways your skills can be put to use and pay the bills in the process.
Work aside, think about what you actually do love and embrace it. If you love playing Mario Kart on your kids’ Nintendo Switch after they’ve gone to bed (which, let’s face it is far too a specific example for it not to be me) then play it; if you want to start a blog, ignore the ‘blogs are dead’ naysayers and share your thoughts with the world (FYI, they’re far from dead); if your favourite snack is rollmop herrings with sour cream and sliced apple (yes, me again, dammit) then eat it – loving the things you do makes you happy, so do them.
Self-care is an essential reward in itself
“We need to do a better job of putting ourselves higher on our own to-do list.”
– Michelle Obama
Perhaps we should have all realised things were getting weird when the simple act of having a bath with a face mask on for longer than 15 minutes suddenly became a buzzword; yes, ‘self-care’ may in recent years have become a highly marketable term for something that’s been inaccurately packaged as hugely indulgent, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s essential for our wellbeing. Weaving self-care into your daily routine in whatever way makes you happy, be that getting a massage, meditating, reading for more than 10 minutes or doing a workout, not only rewards you in a way that isn’t financial, but also buys you the priceless gift of destressing and ongoing positivity.
Let go of ‘should’
“Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.”
– Alexander Pope
Thinking, reading, feeling, saying…there’s an ever-growing list of ‘shoulds’ that weighs heavy in everyday life. Magazines are a maze of marketing campaigns highlighting what we should be doing or buying to be thinner, younger and more successful; the media bombards us daily with their own take on how we should feel about the world; society dictates that if you don’t follow politics closely you’re an incomplete citizen, if you haven’t read the entire works of Dickens you’re a philistine and if your two-year-old isn’t reciting the alphabet backwards you’re somehow failing at parenting. Phew. It’s a minefield out there. So, let it go – cut out the habits and activities that you feel you should be doing to make way for those you want to, if something doesn’t excite you or make you feel good about yourself stop doing it and, most importantly, don’t question your own intuition: ‘gut feeling’ is a thing for a reason.
“Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance.”
– Eckhart Tolle
Stand back and have a look at what you have – a roof over your head, food in the fridge, a comfy bed to climb into at night, your health – how lucky are you already? There is, in most people, an internal battle between appreciation for what they do have and longing for what they don’t, but if you make the effort to readdress that conflict using gratitude as your starting point, slowly but surely you will begin to worry an awful lot less about what you lack and truly realise all that you have. Every night, when you climb into that comfy bed, take five minutes to reflect on what you are truly grateful for in your life; even if it’s as simple as a delicious cup of coffee or the comforting warmth of the sun on your skin, it will make you feel thankful and calm.
Pay more attention to life than likes
“Society is getting addicted to technology, especially social media, quite like one gets addicted to cocaine or pot. And it all works through the neurochemical process of reward and punishment. And furthermore, when a whole world starts functioning driven by this petty instinctual process of reward and punishment, things in existence begin to get really messed up, like it has already started.”
– Abhijit Naskar
To be fair, Naskar has summed this up better than I ever could. Social media is neither an arena to scrutinise your life against others, nor a popularity contest. Success is nothing to do with how many Facebook friends you have. Used properly, social media is a great tool for business and a handy way to keep in touch with friends far and wide, but if you’re using it for any other purpose, back away, consider whether it’s adding anything to your life and if it isn’t, simply stop paying attention. Value your real life over your online one and own your decisions, what anyone else thinks is irrelevant.