Small Steps Toward Letting Yourself Be Happier


Last month, John Paul Iwuoha (JPI) posted an article on LinkedIn called “The 5 Biggest Regrets People Have Before They Die.”  His post referenced a study conducted by Bronnie Ware, a nurse and counselor who worked extensively in palliative care. It caught my attention and the attention of some of my colleagues. The question of “Are we living it right?” makes everyone take pause, and in my case, it also made me feel a little anxious.  As Mr. Iwuoha pointed out, those of us who are still alive have time to do something about our regrets. The question is, how? It was overwhelming to consider. Mr. Iwuoha offered some general insights for mitigating those regrets, but I wanted more.


As someone who is on a perpetual diet, the advice I see most often for weight loss success is to “take small steps.” Can we take small steps to mitigate our biggest regrets? I think we can.


I do not have the expertise or the bandwidth to speak to the psychological and emotional aspects of all 5 regrets, but as a full-time recruiter and working mother, I have strategized about some small steps that generally speak to the 5th biggest regret people have at the end of their lives: I wish I let myself be happier. These strategies apply to the first two biggest regrets observed by Bronnie Ware.


Regret #1:  I wish I had pursued my dreams and aspirations, and not the life others expected of me.               JPI: If you know what really makes you happy, do it!


OK, this first one alone is complicated on several levels. I mean, as responsible adults we can’t always do only what we want to do. That’s just part of life, right? Well, maybe so, but we can take some small steps toward embracing our true selves.


Small Step #1: If you are stuck in a job that pays the bills but ignores your passion, volunteer your time working in an area that brings you joy. You may not have become a veterinarian, but you can volunteer at the ASPCA. You may have failed to get your teaching credentials, but you can read to local school children at the public library. You may not have gone to culinary school, but the soup kitchen always needs help. You get the point.


Taking small steps toward fulfilling your passion at any level can mitigate regret. But what if you never really figured out what you truly want to do? This can actually be an even bigger heartbreak. You know you must have dreams and aspirations, but where are they?


Small Step #2:  If this is you, perhaps you should set aside some time to consider what makes your heart sing. Come on, there must be something you see yourself doing that brings you joy. Turn off your phone, shut off your laptop, get out of the car and take some time to focus. What are you good at? Sometimes that alone is a great clue.


Small Step #3:  If you really don’t know, here’s an idea.  Make an appointment with a career counselor. Career counseling is a process that will help you to know and understand yourself and the world of work in order to make career, educational and life decisions.


Regret #2:  I wish I didn’t work so hard.

JPI: By simplifying our lifestyle and making better choices, we may not need all that money we’re chasing. That way, we can create more space in our lives for happiness and spend more time with the people who mean the most to us.


Many of us have to work to provide for our families, arguably the most important things in our lives. Yet, the rub is that in providing for our families, we miss actually participating in family life. To a greater extent, we miss out on participating in our own lives in order to support those we love. Mr. Iwuoha suggests that we may not need all that money we’re chasing. But what about those of us who don’t work for fancy cars and lavish vacations, but for food and clothing and housing?


I don’t have all the answers, but I have discovered this.  Mr. Iwuoha was on to something when he suggested creating more space in our lives for happiness. Small moments of happiness and their effect on the big picture are tangible. Here are some small steps that can create big changes in your work/life balance.


Small Step #1: Take a lunch break. It doesn’t need to be for an hour, and it doesn’t need to be at a fancy restaurant. But you do need to leave your work environment. Go outside and feel the sun. Chew while thinking of nothing remotely connected to work. Close your eyes and relish in not staring at a screen. In some paradigms, allowing your mind to wander is called mindfulness or meditation.  You might just find that this ritual makes you happy.


Small Step #2: Don’t talk on the phone while you’re in your car. Not even if your bluetooth is connected and you have the best audio available. I know this isn’t always avoidable, but try to limit your availability while driving. You may find you are relieved that you don’t have to multi-task during your commute. Turn on some music that makes you want to sing out loud. Or, just be.


Small Step #3: If you have kids, park down the street and sit for 20 minutes before entering the house after work. I’m not kidding. Taking a few minutes to collect yourself before entering the zone of “What’s for dinner?” and “I need help with Algebra!” can be life changing. Transitions are an important part of sanity in our daily lives, and if we’re lucky, those transitions can make us happy. Think about it. Stopping for coffee before boarding the train, buying a lottery ticket on your way to the post office, going to Cinnabon before checking into your flight…these transitions can bring joy to your heart while you remain on the treadmill.


Small Step #4: Weekends. For those of us who work full time, a weekend can be just a two day period to do those errands you didn’t have time to do during the work week. Laundry, cleaning, grocery shopping – it all adds up. But here is a novel idea. Spend one whole weekend day doing nothing that has to get done. I mean it. Reserve 24 hours to blow off every “must do” or even “should do.” You will be amazed at how happy it can make you, to just be. I promise, you won’t regret it.


I would love to hear about small steps you have taken to improve your lives!


Julianne Schoepp is a Principal & Executive Recruiter at Morgan Consulting Resources, a healthcare executive search firm celebrating over 20 successful years in business.

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