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How Prioritizing Things You Enjoy Doing Can Create More Joy in Life

How Prioritizing Things You Enjoy Doing Can Create More Joy in Life

Prioritizing the things you enjoy seems like common sense. You love it, so you would choose to do it more often, right? Yet, this doesn’t seem to happen. How many of us, for instance, would say watching TV is a priority in our lives? Other than TV critics, probably very few. Still, the average American will spend nine years of their lives watching TV.

Our behavior affects our thinking. From how we sit, to the time we spend outside, we can create more opportunity for relaxation, connection, and joy in our lives.

Emotions are Responses to Actions

A few months ago, I had begun working with The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron. Every week, I needed to do an artist date, a commitment to spend time with myself. While self-conscious, I picked up a cheap chalk set and took it home with me. The next morning, I went outside, put on some music and began drawing. Swirling color on the asphalt, listening to music, I couldn’t stop smiling.

The drawings became larger and larger. My clothes were a mess, my hair got sweaty, but I was engrossed in the bright colors against the black. There was no ulterior motive, no pressure in how this had to look. It was just a joyful few hours. In fact, I ran out of chalk!

The craziest part of this was not that I enjoyed chalk, but that I hadn’t done it in 10 or 12 years. What was so much fun as a kid wasn’t cool as a teenager, or as an adult. So I stopped doing it. But who did that hurt? Only me. My embarrassment cut out an activity I enjoyed. Worse, it cut out the opportunity to feel joy in life.

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Emotions are responses to our experiences. Fundamentally, they are a way of keeping us safe and alive through positive responses to beneficial activities. When we’re hungry, it feels good to eat because we are nourishing our bodies. When we are burned, it hurts because it threatens our health. They are a great barometer for how our actions affect us.

When you take time to do things you enjoy, you create the opportunity to feel pleasure. You may feel self-conscious or a bit awkward initially, but you will enjoy the activity. Maybe you only crack a smile, but it’s an opening to something larger.

Joy as Your Compass

Brené Brown has done amazing research on human connection and what brings joy and meaning to people’s lives. What’s fascinating about her work though, is the need for authenticity. As human beings, we are social creatures and we need connection. But the connection we want hinges on an important factor: being ourselves. If we aren’t ourselves fully and truly, we can’t create real connections in life.

But what does it mean to be authentic? It’s a practice, it’s showing up every day and making the choice to be yourself. Authenticity isn’t something you wake up with, like freckles or long legs. It’s a practice requiring commitment.

So who is your authentic self? Is it the person you’ve fallen in to being? I know that figuring this out isn’t easy. I graduated from college three years ago, thinking I wanted to give my life in the service of others. I had grown up helping others, not thinking about myself. While noble, it took six months of living abroad to realize I wasn’t happy. It was hard to admit, but selfless service wasn’t for me.

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I had to come back to America and figure out what work made me smile, gave me joy. I discovered it right under my nose: writing. Journaling led to poetry, which led to short stories, and eventually got me a job as a copywriter. The path wasn’t easy, but I now wake up and enjoy what I do. And in my own small way, my words help people, and myself.

Your story doesn’t have to be as drastic as mine. Prioritizing the activities you enjoy can help you decide what you do and don’t like. It helps you stay rooted in yourself. The question, “Do I enjoy this?” suddenly has you looking to yourself for answers. Prioritizing your joy puts you in command of your life.

Creating Meaning in Your Life

Blue Zones teamed up with National Geographic to have some of the best researchers study longevity and what, if anything, can be found to help people live longer and better lives. They have found multiple “blue zones” in a variety of places from Japan to Southern California. Some of their findings have been hyped: movement and diet especially. More fascinating have been the social and psychological factors.

One psychological factor that all these communities shared was the need for meaning. Each of us needs to be able to answer: Why do I get up in the morning? Yes, this is a daunting question. If you haven’t thought about your priorities, then the question becomes unanswerable.

Prioritizing things you enjoy can help you find those answers, as well as keep you grounded in meaningful activities. Joy as a compass for authenticity, also helps guide you to your answers. Perhaps your priority is raising your children in a safe and loving environment. Thus, even when you’re deep in a long PTA meeting, you can remember that this meeting will help your kids. Remembering the bigger priority will help you see the silver lining, and get through a painful meeting a bit more easily.

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Letting Go of the Negative

I hate to admit it, but most mornings I wake up and check social media. A bit clichéd for a millennial, but I am addicted to the internet. More and more, however, I’m focusing on writing in my journal instead. I free write for three pages, clearing my head for the day. Change is hard, but more and more I find the benefits of writing outweigh any excitement from a Tweet or Facebook notification.

As humans, we only have so much time. In one day you work for at least eight hours, and sleep for hopefully another seven to eight. At the minimum, that’s fifteen hours of your day gone. No one can do it all, for better or worse, so as your habits change, you will let things go.

When you begin to prioritize things that make you happy, you’ll slowly let go of activities you’ve done that didn’t help you. Perhaps you’ll spend less time on social media like me. Maybe you’ll go out drinking less and start hiking more. You could even start cooking or traveling on mini trips on the weekend. Wherever joy takes you, you’ll find it easier to let go of things holding you back. You’re not depriving yourself, you’re nurturing yourself with something even better than before.

Celebrating Life

Reflections of the Earth

    The only certainties in life, Benjamin Franklin once joked, are death and taxes. While morose, this is also true. Time, of all the things we possess, is the most precious commodity. How we choose to spend it reveals more about ourselves than anything we say.

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    Life will never be easy or perfect. You will still have to pay taxes, go to work, get stuck in traffic, and make mistakes. There will be days you don’t want to get out of bed or wish that you were anywhere else. That doesn’t make your life bad, it makes you healthy, normal.

    But you have choice in your actions. You can choose to sit down and spend quality time with your kids. You can choose to go outside for a hike instead of turning on the TV. You can create pockets of joy in five or ten minutes.

    Featured photo credit: Express Monorail via flickr.com

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    Published on April 7, 2021

    6 Signs Of A Controlling Person To Be Aware Of

    6 Signs Of A Controlling Person To Be Aware Of

    Some of the most manipulative people are so good at what they do that their words and actions can convince you into thinking they truly care about what’s best for you when in reality, it’s quite the opposite. The most common signs of a controlling person are rarely obvious to outside observers. And for someone enmeshed in a controlling relationship or friendship, it can be incredibly challenging to stay away from this toxic person, even if you’re aware of their emotionally abusive tendencies.

    While it’s ultimately up to you to decide whether to preserve or leave a lopsided, unfulfilling relationship, it’s nevertheless critical to understand the following six signs of controlling people so you can better advocate for yourself and mitigate the influence of their manipulative tendencies in your own life.

    1. They Push Their Own Personal Agenda

    Do you know someone who always tries to micromanage the words, behaviors, and attitudes of people around them? Does this person act like they have the right to know anything they want about you, including your location, what you’re doing in a given moment, who you’re talking to online, or any other private information about you? And when planning events and special occasions, does this person dominate conversations, steer plans in their own preferred directions, disparage others’ suggestions, and refuse to collaborate with anyone who might disagree with them?

    If you answered “yes” to some of the above questions, then those are clear signs of a controlling person whom you absolutely need to be cautious around. Controlling people are reluctant to even consider alternative ideas, let alone enthusiastically work with people who have differing views. They prefer to be the captain of every ship—regardless of how much or how little an issue personally impacts them—and they have an arsenal of manipulative tactics to deploy if someone stands in the way of them achieving their own personal agendas.

    In long-term relationships with controlling people, you may feel constantly pressured to meet their demands, follow their schedule, and focus on whatever they feel is most important. It’s not an exaggeration to say that these people act like the universe revolves around them, which can be exhausting to deal with for their family members, friends, and colleagues.

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    2. They Make Everything Transactional

    Controlling people aren’t always self-centered, but they’re not too empathetic either. Empathy for them tends to appear in the form of strategic concessions they use as a means to get what they want. They typically view interpersonal relationships as transactional opportunities to extract more value from people surrounding them, which can have a draining effect on those they interact with.

    For example, one sign of a controlling person may be their insistence on “keeping score.” This can involve doing nice things for you with the ulterior motive of demanding something from you at a later date in exchange for what you thought was just an act of kindness or a friendly support.

    Perhaps they shower you in praise (also known as “love-bombing”) or gifts then blow up at you if you don’t intuitively know they’re expecting something back from you. None of us are mind-readers, but controlling people behave as though everyone else should think and act like they want others to and those who fall out of line are punished for failing to meet their impossible expectations.

    A controlling person may also threaten to withhold support if you don’t adhere to their demands, but they do so in such subtle ways that the guilt they impose blinds you from the unreasonable nature of their behaviors.

    Some statements to be wary of include:

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    • “I did ___________ for you. What do you mean you can’t do ___________ for me?”
    • “Remember how I helped you with ___________? That took a lot of time and energy from me, but I guess you didn’t appreciate my help.”
    • “I always give you ___________. Don’t you care about my needs too?”
    • “You’re so selfish!” or “You don’t care about me at all!” (gaslighting if you respond with hesitation or politely decline their request for help for perfectly valid reasons, such as not having enough time or resources to assist them)

    3. They Criticize Everything

    One of the most common telltale signs of a controlling person is their capacity to criticize anything and everything, even small things that seemingly don’t matter. As with many toxic traits in relationships, these problems typically start out so small that you may not even notice. At first, you may even agree with their criticism or at least be able to understand their perspective when they bring up an issue.

    However, the criticism tends to get more intense, more constant, and more perplexing for people who maintain relationships with controlling people. You’ll likely notice how they rarely seem to criticize something they do. It’s almost always other-oriented and these types of people are so manipulative that any rationale they offer can seem plausibly legitimate.

    Some warning signs of a controlling person who’s overly critical to the point of abusiveness include:

    • Criticizing things about you that you have little to no control over (e.g., appearance, disability, family)
    • Criticizing your personal choices and interests, such as educational pursuits, career, clothing, favorite music, time spent on your hobbies, etc.
    • Punishing you for expressing vulnerability by invalidating thoughts and feelings you share with them
    • Attacking you whenever you express an opinion counter to theirs

    4. They Balk When Someone Criticizes Them

    We all know the adage, “what goes around, comes around.” But this statement doesn’t apply as much to toxic, controlling people. They’d much prefer to dish out criticism without ever having to take it in return.

    For instance, if your friend constantly talks about your appearance with little regard for your emotions but flips out if you make just a single comment about their appearance, there’s a possibility that they could have some hidden controlling tendencies left unchecked. Remember, these people aren’t just controlling in their behaviors towards others. They’re also actively trying to stay in complete control over every aspect of their lives, which includes how others view them.

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    This seemingly insatiable desire for control can prompt them to lash out against even the smallest bits of criticism, leaving people around them too weary or scared to speak up again in the future. While it’s possible they may suffer from something called rejection sensitivity dysphoria, this does not excuse them from the consequences of their words and actions. They should seek professional help to better manage their reactions to criticism.

    5. They Socially Isolate You

    Not all controlling people do this, but for manipulative narcissists, socially isolating victims is a go-to strategy for maintaining control because it’s effective at preventing people from truly understanding how toxic their partner, family member, or friend is treating them. Think of it this way—if you don’t talk to many other people in your life, there’s less of a risk that you’ll damage their reputation by revealing their abusive tendencies.

    Socially isolating others also gives the person more control over you and your life as it becomes more difficult to break away from them if you don’t have other healthier channels of communication and interpersonal support to turn to.

    This process doesn’t happen overnight, nor is it something you can readily recognize as abusive. At first, it may seem reasonable, such as asking you to stop engaging so often with family members with whom both of you disagree on major social or political issues. As the social isolation progresses, they may suggest cutting people out of your life—especially if they don’t like that person, regardless of how you personally feel—or even conjure up high-stakes problems like “it’s me or them” under the guise of saving you from people in your life whom they don’t like for whatever reason.

    In a controlling person’s life narrative, they’re always the protagonist who’s incapable of any wrongdoing. The blame is always redirected at someone else, whether that’s you or other people in your life. The more they isolate you from other supportive people in your life, the more susceptible you’ll be to falsely believing that they’re right and you “don’t need” your other friends and family when you have someone as perfect as this person.

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    6. They’re Emotionally Abusive

    It’s hard enough to be in control of your own emotions but when someone else is constantly belittling you and your interests or leveraging guilt and shame to manipulate you into saying or doing what they want, this can make it even more challenging to stay in control of your own life and emotional well-being.

    Emotional abuse is another sign of a controlling person that is often overlooked in relationships. After all, human personalities vary widely in terms of passivity, and it’s not uncommon for one person in a relationship to be significantly more passive than the other. This becomes an issue when the controlling partner or friend exudes signs of emotional abuse, which can start subtly and become much more pronounced over time.

    Concerning signs of emotionally abusive language or behavior to watch out for include:

    • Dismissing your needs and/or belittling your interests in counterproductive ways
    • Privately or publicly shaming or humiliating you
    • Making you feel as though you can never live up to their expectations or do anything right (according to their own vague, subjective standards)
    • Gaslighting you into thinking they said or did something that never actually happened (making you question your own reality)

    Final Thoughts

    It’s sometimes hard to see the negative things about someone with whom we have a relationship. We may sometimes unconsciously overlook the signs of a controlling person, especially if that person is someone we have known for a long time or are close to us. However, cutting them off your life is the best thing you can do for yourself. Just watch out for these six signs of a controlling person and take immediate action when you spot them.

    More Tips on How To Deal With a Controlling Person

    Featured photo credit: Külli Kittus via unsplash.com

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