When this year started with so much loss, I began to question how, in the face of such adversity, do we stay hopeful and positive about our lives? How can we engage in the climate change conversation, without becoming depleted by it? How do we balance the enormity of the world’s problems with the smallness of our own impact? How do we create a beautiful life?
As Rebecca Solnit, author of Hope in the Dark, writes (my emphasis):
“Hope is an embrace of the unknown and the unknowable, an alternative to the certainty of both optimists and pessimists. Optimists think it will all be fine without our involvement; pessimists take the opposite position; both excuse themselves from acting. It’s the belief that what we do matters even though how and when it may matter, who and what it may impact, are not things we can know beforehand.”
For those of us who are sensitive, tuning in to the news too often can be overwhelming and we may end up feeling there’s little we can do to help. I’ve learnt from experience to be selective about my news sources and to limit the repetitive exposure that is part of the reporting of tragic events. At such times, my focus shifts to the small actions I take that can contribute to making the world a more hopeful place.
While I’m tempted to write about everyday practices that help us to live more sustainably, my expertise lies in other areas. And while I know it may seem frivolous to think about how we can create beautiful lives in the face of the devastation we’ve seen this year, I know that filling your own cup is essential if you want the energy to give to others.
Even if you’ve experienced direct loss, there’s value and comfort in embracing small changes that will help you to create a beautiful life – regardless of your external circumstances.
1. Find your own way to take care of our planet
When I feel overwhelmed by the issue of climate change, I recall Rebecca Solnit’s words – what we do matters. There are always small ways that each of us can help. Start by engaging in these simple tips and if you’re in a position to do so, consider offering financial or volunteer support to an environmental cause of your choice.
2. Create a morning routine
This is particularly helpful when you’ve experienced a loss or if you feel ungrounded. Start each day with a small ritual. Meditate, walk, do some deep breathing or yoga stretches upon waking, mindfully eat breakfast while you’re sitting down or simply write a to-do list to make the best use of your day. The key is to create a simple routine that works for you and commit to it every day.
3. Move your body daily
Like the morning routine, moving your body is one of the best ways to restore mental strength and boost your mood. Choose an activity you genuinely love rather than engaging in a form of movement you think you should be doing. If possible, make this a time when you can also connect with nature.
4. Live to your values
If there’s one thing that will change the way you interact with the world, it’s learning to live to your values. Regardless of your life circumstances, you can live in alignment with your chosen set of values at any given time. This practice is also key to helping you find your way to your life purpose.
5. Make your living environment beautiful
Even if your home is temporary, in need of renovating or imperfect, creating a space that feels nurturing and welcome will go a long way to cultivating inner calm. Make your bed every morning. Keep your kitchen table clear so you have somewhere pleasant to eat your meals. Gather some storage boxes so you have places to put things away. Light a scented candle or diffuse an essential oil to lift your mood. Pick and arrange flowers and foliage from your garden or buy yourself a bunch of fresh flowers or an indoor plant. Turn on a lamp instead of your overhead lights. These small external changes will go a long way toward transforming your inner world.
6. Savour food
Eating is one of life’s greatest pleasures, yet so many of us forget to savour the simple experience of eating because our relationship with food is complex. Slow down and savour a meal you love. Give your meals – and any people you may enjoy them with – your full attention. Try leaving your phone away from the table. Tune into the foods that energise you most and do your best to recognise when you’re hungry or full. Add a few vegetarian options to your meal plan and buy from your local farmer’s market to take better care of our land.
7. Give yourself something to look forward to
A practice that has really helped me create a beautiful life is to plan a couple of short breaks at the beginning of each year so we have something to look forward to. If you’re busy or your finances are limited, you may not be able to schedule a long holiday to a faraway destination. Regular local mini-breaks and day trips, enjoyed alone or in company, can be equally rejuvenating. Aim to find one new activity every week or two. This can be as simple as visiting a different café, walking a new route, viewing an exhibition, starting a book or having a picnic in a park. These are times to savour your solitude or create special moments and memories with your partner, family or friends.
8. Practise self-compassion
We spend so much time being self-critical that we often forget to honour our positive traits or offer ourselves kindness when life is difficult. Be aware of any negative self-talk. Learning the art of self-compassion will go a long way to building self-acceptance and self-belief. Take Kristin Neff’s free self-compassion test here.
9. Learn to forgive
Holding onto resentment and blame is a heavy load for any of us to bear. Sometimes we feel unwilling or unable to forgive others for mistakes or past hurts because we fear we’ll be letting someone off the hook for poor behaviour or we’ll allow those things to happen again. Forgiveness is mostly about freeing yourself and it can also help with healthy boundary setting. If you’re finding it hard to forgive, try Tara Brach’s ten-day course on Insight Timer.
10. Find your own version of spirituality
There’s a growing body of evidence that confirms that having a sense of spirituality helps us to find meaning and understanding in life. Your version of spirituality might mean feeling grateful for the things that already beautiful in your life or grounding your energy by spending time in nature. It might mean tuning into your intuition or learning to practise equanimity. Allow yourself to be curious about connecting with something that’s bigger than you.
When I started meditating twenty-six years ago, I was hoping to create more calm in my life. What I didn’t know at the time was that this daily ritual would become a pathway to healing, compassion, creativity and insight. Try my Mindful Morning Meditation on the free Insight Timer app. If you’re too anxious to close your eyes and sit with your thoughts, try a movement meditation such as yoga or qigong.
12. Connect with others
When you’re feeling overwhelmed about the world or anxious about your life, it can be tempting to isolate yourself while you make sense of your feelings. While being comfortable with and enjoying your own company is a truly valuable attribute, spending too much time on your own can mean getting caught in overthinking which makes it difficult to keep a balanced perspective. Even when you don’t feel like it, make a habit of keeping in touch with friends and occasionally push yourself to make new ones when you come across people you feel a synergy with. Along with connection to self, staying connected to others is vital to help you create a beautiful life.