Finding happiness and living your story: a daily checklist

Just like life -- every day can reflect your entire life story. Photo via:

Just like life — every day can reflect your entire life story. Photo via:

It has been quite a year of transition for me. I finished my marketing degree, extended my work at Concur and moved into my own apartment in Oakland. Those are all fantastic developments! Of course, this welcome lull in intense demands on my energy has afforded me time to focus on higher-order needs again.

Lately I have been thinking about what the perfect day looks like for me. I’ve been thinking about balance and how an excess of any one thing quickly chips away at feelings of happiness and contentedness. For example, if I work constantly for several days, I crave down time. But after spending an entire weekend on the couch watching television, I still end up feeling unfulfilled.

Where is the sweet spot?

I’m thinking the answer has to be balance. Isn’t balance always the answer?

Now, I know I’ve come to this realization before, and even wrote about it a year ago for Jayme Soulati’s blog series on happiness. (So there’s another truth for us today – realizations come and go and everything is a process.)

But I tried an experiment yesterday. I asked myself the following question:

If this were my last day on Earth, what would I do?

This is what I wrote:

  • Visit the Farmer’s Market — leisurely.
  • Talk to someone I love.
  • Have a meaningful human interaction.
  • Help someone.
  • Take care of my business — close loops.
  • Take a nap.
  • Enjoy some exercise and feel physically tired and ready when I close the book at the end.
  • Oh, and LAUGH.

And then I set out to do it.

One day at a time — over and over again

Looking at my list, I found I had created more than a blueprint for a final day on Earth. This list is a recipe for making any day feel happy and complete. And extending that idea outward, isn’t a life well-lived simply an accumulation of days that feel happy and complete?

Another piece of the puzzle — tell your own story

It occurs to me that another way to approach the goal of structuring life for maximum contentedness and satisfaction is to view it from a storytelling perspective. If your life is one long story, then each day should be able to function as a standalone episode mirroring the arc of the bigger story. Maybe, just as Zen teaches us to live and die with each breath we take, we can approach each day as a whole and complete cycle.

And similarly, if we view this through the paradigm of communications strategy – which is a little nerdy, I know, but it’s obviously something I think about all the time – when we know the story we want to tell, we just have to align the majority our actions with that story to give it life.

So, I think with some minor modifications, I’m going to work on using yesterday’s list as a framework for today, and tomorrow, and all the days after that.

By the way, I accomplished all of the items on my list yesterday except the exercise one – unless the bike ride to the Farmer’s Market and my daily dose of stair-climbing counts. Let’s just say it does. And yesterday felt great.

What do you think about all this? What would you do with your last day on earth, and can you use your answers as a recipe for steady contentment?

4 Comments on “Finding happiness and living your story: a daily checklist”

  1. Word Ninja says:

    Ah, Dwayne, a wonderful list. I heard something interesting once, that balance means that something is divvied up onto each side of the scale…which I guess always puts us in the middle. That made me think of how it’s not so much about balance, i.e. I do this half of my life during this time and this half the other time, but more about melding it all. Like you said, the actions that give our stories life. Really lovely and true.

    • Thank you so much for taking time to read and comment! It really means a lot. And I definitely get what you mean about balance. If it’s balance, then the center definitely shifts and we probably need more of some things and less of others each day. A thrill a minute! : )

  2. Paula Kiger (Big Green Pen) says:

    Well, I love this (didn’t I say this last time I responded to one of your blogs?). But I do … and am going to think on it. I do agree that although the *BIG* momentous instances in life do make incredible memories, on balance it is the collection of small choices and experiences that get woven into our life quilt. My sister-in-law died in her sleep at age 30 unexpectedly. I remember my brother in law telling me shortly after about walking my niece into day care (she was 4 at the time) and how he was thinking “it’s a beautiful sunny day, I’m holding my beautiful child’s hand and I am crying because this is what she is missing …” (this is a paraphrase but that’s the idea). It’s why I rarely get really ticked off in traffic. Really, what’s the use (and coincidentally I kind of wrote about THAT for Jayme’s happiness series!!). Great thoughts Dwayne.

    • Phew, that is an intense story, Paula. I’m so sorry your family had to experience that loss. That’s precisely the kind of reality I’m talking about — each moment could be our last. You know, over the summer I had that near-death experience being rear-ended by a pickup truck while minding my own business on my bike and, and that served as a wake-up call for me. Unfortunately, I have still had some ridiculously mopey spells since then, and still sweat the small stuff too often, but I suppose that is part of life, as well.

      I have to say I always notice and admire your exuberance and passion for living, so I think you are a great model for anyone to follow! Thank you for being so awesome!

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