Here we are again, closing in on another year. If Oliver Burkeman is correct and we have on average 4000 weeks then I am in short supply. But the truth is nobody knows their expiry date. My mother lived to be 100. Because of her, there is an assumption that I too will live to be 100. But then there is my father who died at 79, three years older than I am now. Who knows? And since we don’t know, the best thing we can do is treasure our days; get our affairs in order; don’t wait to say “I love you” or do the things that are important to us, and pay attention to the unbelievable miracle that we go to bed at night and we wake up in the morning. Our heart keeps beating while we sleep.
When I say these things it can so easily be taken as a formula or another reason to be disappointed with yourself. Please don’t do that. We all need to lighten up. We will never get it all done or get it done perfectly. Some days we aren’t up to spreading cheer or checking off items on our to-do list. There is no end to the ways we can beat ourselves up in this culture. We have become a nation of faultfinders. And the standards by which we measure success often get translated into how much of everything we have acquired. Kids are not exempt.
However, every day that we wake up we have an opportunity to do at least one lovely thing for ourselves and for another. Today my friend mentioned Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who died last fall. He was a scholar and psychologist who devoted his life to studying ways to “wake up” and cultivate aliveness and the state of flow in our daily lives. I learned from him.
author, distinguished professor of Psychology and Management, and thought leader, had this to say on “waking up.”
“Wake up in the morning with a specific goal to look forward to. Creative individuals don’t have to be dragged out of bed; they are eager to start the day. This is not because they are cheerful, enthusiastic types. Nor do they necessarily have something exciting to do. But they believe that there is something meaningful to accomplish each day, and they can’t wait to get started on it. Most of us don’t feel our actions are that meaningful. Yet everyone can discover at least one thing every day that is worth waking up for. It could be meeting a certain person, shopping for a special item, potting a plant, cleaning the office desk, writing a letter, trying on a new dress.
It is easier if each night before falling asleep, you review the next day and choose a particular task that, compared to the rest of the day, should be relatively interesting and exciting. Then next morning, open your eyes and visualize the chosen event—play it out briefly in your mind, like an inner videotape, until you can hardly wait to get dressed and get going. It does not matter if at first the goals are trivial and not that interesting. The important thing is to take the easy first steps until you master the habit, and then slowly work up to more complex goals. Eventually most of the day should consist of tasks you look forward to, until you feel that getting up in the morning is a privilege, not a chore.”
― Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention (1934-2021)
Be a Beginner
Please carefully note that Mihaly is not talking about the treadmill or just being more efficient and productive. He speaks of something to look forward to.
I have a sense that what we look forward to changes as we live longer. At least it does for me. In fact, it can’t hurt to take stock now and again and ask if how we are spending much of our time are old habits and defaults or if we are doing things that allow us to look forward to our day. This does not imply that we need to look forward to everything that needs doing, but it does suggest that within the circumstances of our lives there will always be something meaningful we can do, every single day should we choose to do it. This may take cultivating a curious and investigative mindset. Being a beginner. Experimenting with new ways of doing things. It is always up to us to work with what we have and at the same time to figure out how to bring a little more light and life to the situation we find ourselves in. It is worth it.
1:) The seminal work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. I also liked Finding Flow: The Psychology Of Engagement With Everyday Life You pronounce his name like this: (Me-High Chick-sent-Me-High) Once you know, it’s easy.
2:) Viktor Frankl “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way…when we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
3:) A delightful nature/art video from PBS, or perhaps I should say, using found acorns and small sticks and having fun. PBS Becorns start at 30 seconds to dive right in.
4:) A deep bow to all of you dear readers. As we enter December, with all of its lights, festivals, and traditions, let’s remember that this is not everyone’s favourite time. If this is you, please know I think about this, although I personally love the lights and trees and trimmings. Furthermore, I deeply hope you find your own special ways to bring celebration into your life. This could be curled up in front of the fire with a good book and a little something that you like to eat or drink. You get to decide. What’s great about growing older is that it feels like we have more freedom and flexibility to do things differently.