"2 hours down, 6 to go until quittin' time."
"I can't wait for the weekend. Could Friday hurry up and get here?"
"Staring at the clock, waiting for the weekend."
Without a doubt, most of us are working for the weekend. We're all guilty of clock-watching at least some days, and we've all wished that days would speed by. But if you're constantly miserable during the week and only living for the weekend, have you ever considered how much life you're missing?
The average American lives to 78.4, according to the World Bank. We spend, let's say, 17 years in school, then about 45 years working.
That leaves about 16 years where we're presumably free to do as we please seven days a week, and for many of us, those years come when we're either too young or too old to appreciate them. (Though I'm a firm believer in age just being a number!)
Those years of five days a week spent working and in school represent about 56% of our total days on Earth. Do you really want to wish more than half of your life away?
I challenge you to find joy in the mundane activities of daily life. Seek pleasure every weekday. Spread happiness an extra five days a week, in addition to anticipating your fun-filled weekends.
These goals aren't as lofty as they seem. While it's no secret that these days I love my job, that wasn't always the case. In my former life as both an employee and a student, I felt a pit in my stomach on Sunday nights, felt time slow down as I waited for Friday afternoon to pass by, felt anxiety as I battled traffic each morning.
I was stressed. I was tired. And I frequently was miserable during the week.
Stress isn't what ails us, but rather it's a symptom of something else. It's a sign that we're trying to evade the here-and-now for the what-might-be or what-once-was. Eckhart Tolle explained this to National Public Radio's Christa Tippett:
MR. TOLLE: And then that takes your attention into your inner space, into your emotional field, and into your mind. Is my mind denying the present moment? Am I in a state of stress? What is stress? Stress is normal in our civilization but really basically what it means is you would rather be somewhere else. [Laughter] Stress means you want to be in the next moment or you want already to be finished with what you're doing while you're still doing it. You would rather be finished with it. Or while you're traveling towards someplace you'd rather already be there.
MS. TIPPETT: OK.
MR. TOLLE: But you're not. And stress is so normal that everybody accepts that, OK, if you're successful in life then you must be under stress.
MS. TIPPETT: Right. But I think counterintuitively I think you're saying you lean in rather than wishing it away.
MR. TOLLE: Yes. It's by becoming friendly with the present moment, what's my relationship, is the present moment my friend or my enemy? Another little pointer. And it's a strange question, but if you look very closely, you'd find that very often you make the present moment into virtually an enemy. Or it becomes an obstacle.
MS. TIPPETT: And you're saying that we do have the power. Whatever is enclosed in that moment, we have the power not to define it as an obstacle. And that's going to change the way we approach it.
MR. TOLLE: Yes. The first thing is the realization of what you're doing. In other words, one could say see the madness in yourself. And that's not a bad thing; it's a great thing, because that is not something to be depressed about. That means that you are awakening. And that which is awakening is the awareness behind the thinking.
We have no choice but to experience each and every moment of life. We could anesthetize ourselves using various drugs or drinks, but that's an entirely different topic. We are here physically regardless of how we feel mentally, but what would happen if we tried to synch our mind and body? If we tried to be really present and find small moments of happiness throughout the work or school day?
When I was most stressed, I had a few tactics, some of them healthier than others. Using the same techniques you apply to your weight-loss and healthy living program (Fast Breaks, SparkStreaks, 10-minute bursts, etc.), you can improve your overall quality of life during the work or school day and in the evening.
Down the road, you can change your life and find larger, more permanent ways to inject happiness into your life. For now, isn't it better to try to find small moments of happiness?
Changing your mindset from merely existing to really living isn't easy, but once you do, you'll be surprised at how contagious your positive attitude can be.
- Take a walk. No headphones, no phone, no company. Just walk. Breathe in the fresh air, feel the bright sun on your face, listen to the sounds around you. Pay attention to each and every step. Notice the rhythm of your steps, hear your breath, feel your heart beat. Whether you're walking around the parking lot, around the block, or around the city, take those few moments just for yourself.
- Treat yourself for a job well done. Each and every day, we all have to do tasks we abhor: scrubbing the bathtub, dealing with rude customer, filing paperwork, driving carpool, writing reports. Loathesome as they are, they're necessary, and as with all things in life, we have to take the good with the bad. No one is going to reward you for just doing your job, but you can reward yourself for buckling down and getting things done. Whether it's a single piece of your favorite candy, a two-minute footrub or stretch session, or a favorite song played on repeat, reward yourself for getting through boring or difficult tasks.
- Refuse to commiserate. Bad moods are contagious. It's easy to get caught up in office politics, gossip, and kvetching. Every office has a complainer, a busybody, a tattletale. Though it's easier said than done, removing yourself from such conversations and committing to only positive dialogues will help you feel more optimistic.
- Walk through the door with a smile. Regardless of what awaits you--hungry kids, a crabby partner, a dog that's dying to go out--you'll feel more mentally prepared to tackle it if you pause, smile and open the door.
- Take a lesson from your pets. Treat your loved ones like you treat your pets. If you tend to argue with your partner or kids when you get home from work, take a tip from this New York Times blog post from Tara Parker-Pope. "Even on bad days, we greet our pets with a happy, animated hello, and usually a pat on the head or a hug," suggests clinical psychologist Suzanne B. Phillips of Long Island University, in Pope's blog. "Do you greet your spouse that way?" Strange, but it works!
- Take 10 minutes for yourself. Homework needs to be checked. Dishes need to be cleared from the table. Laundry needs to be folded. Those tasks will all seem more do-able if you're rested and clear-minded. Set a timer and do whatever you want for 10 minutes. Read a book. Listen to music. Watch part of a TV show.
- Ask for help. Make cleaning up a family affair. My boyfriend and I put on music as we clean the kitchen each night, a task we both dread. Instead of trying to weasel out of the task (or bribe the other one to do it--"I'll do three loads of laundry this week if you clean the entire kitchen alone tonight"), now we make it a joint effort. Do the same thing with your kids and partner. Share the load, and it'll be more fun.
- Find peace in menial tasks. Watering the garden is one of the most boring tasks for me. However, I know my tomatoes need the extra H20. Now, when I venture to the garden at sunset, I use the time to breathe deeply, examine the plants, and watch the night arrive.
- Think of your commute as "me" time. Yes, driving in heavy traffic is stressful. But if you're going to be stuck in the car, make use of your time. Make yourself a mix CD, borrow audiobooks from the library and consider learning a new language. Chances are, those 20, 30, or 60 minutes you drive to work are your only alone time all day. It's not ideal to be trapped in a car in gridlock, but at least you have music. Keep healthy snacks on hand for those nights when your stomach just won't stop growling.
- Consider public transit. I rode the bus for two years and called it "the poor woman's limousine" because I could read for 20 minutes before someone dropped me off just around the corner from my office. No warming up the car, no getting annoyed by other drivers, and no fighting for a parking space. Just me, my book, some headphones, and 20 minutes to decompress before arriving at the office.
- Pick a mantra--and repeat it. My mantra changes based on the situation, but I have two that are great for hard or long days: "Lead with your heart, and the rest of you will follow," becomes "Lead with your heart" when my patience is challenged. "I can't change the world, but I can change myself," becomes "I can't change the world" for easier repetition when I've been slighted. (~INDYGIRL has some great ones! Find them here.) These positive affirmations can help you stay focused when you're stressed or upset.
- Respect the lows. Life is full of highs and lows. The lows feel awful at the time, but it's important to remember that without them, the highs wouldn't feel as wonderful. Without life's bitterness, would we appreciate the sweet as much? By remembering that this bad day, this bout of the blues, this plateau, will pass, you'll be able to stay focused on the journey ahead.
- Reach out. Pick up the phone, send an email, post on the Message Boards, or walk over to a co-worker's desk. Get a hug from your kids or partner. Human contact, whether real or virtual, can be a huge stress reliever. Now and when I was down in the dumps in my old life, a mid-week walk or glass of wine with friends did wonders to propel me through the week.
Are you one who lives only for the weekends, or do you try to find joy in life seven days a week? Is this possible for everyone? What are some ways you find happiness during the work or school week?