Life planning begins as thoughts and ultimately shapes our entire destiny. It is similar to the Chinese proverb:
Be careful of your thoughts,
for your thoughts become your words.
Be careful of your words,
for your words become your actions.
Be careful of your actions,
for your actions become your habits.
Be careful of your habits,
for your habits become your character.
Be careful of your character,
for your character becomes your destiny.
Life planning is often difficult to begin because thoughts about the ultimate purpose of our lives seem too disconnected with mundane daily experience. In the busyness of life, we don’t know where to begin.
However, there is a very simple place to start the process of changing our destiny:
Each day notice the things that make you happy and try experiencing more of them.
I used the word happy specifically because it is not filled with spiritual significance. Normally, we recognize easily what makes us happy. Only through the process of noticing that an experience made us happy can we reflect long enough to also reflect on what we valued from the experience.
If you prefer, you can use the word joy instead of happy, or the word fulfilled. You can notice when you are thriving or what you are thankful for. Or you can notice when you enjoy God’s creation or when you feel God’s pleasure.
Ultimately, life planning deals with very spiritual values. Successful life planning results in our feeling fulfilled because our lives have significance. You may decide that happiness is too mundane a word for your own life planning. If so, pick a different word that resonates with your unique purpose. I use happiness specifically because it is a universal word with which we can all relate.
In my religious tradition, we are called to “always give thanks for everything,” which is an admirable and difficult aspiration.
The habit begins with being mindful and appreciating the moments of each day which bring us happiness.
This is not a simple or easy task.
First, we have to be mindful enough to notice what moments fill our days. Many days pass frantically without us stopping to fully appreciate the individual moments. We are so busy planning for the future that we are not aware of the present moment.
Don’t get me wrong. Being future oriented usually results in the greatest success in life. In fact, wealth management is based on the future-oriented thinking of making very small changes now to yield enormous gains over time. Being future oriented is essential for success in nearly everything except happiness. Future orientation means making your future-self happy. Actually being happy requires stopping every now and then to appreciate the moment your past-self helped to make reality.
When first establishing this habit, it is good to have times during the day which will remind you to stop and appreciate its best moments. Meals are a good time to stop give thanks. As you are going to bed is another time to survey your day and think of its best moments.
It is also important to do more than simply thinking. Words and actions can build thoughts into habits and character. Try giving thanks out loud. Try keeping a journal of what you appreciate each day.
Even the darkest days have moments worthy of appreciation and gratitude. Finding something in each day is another important part of the process.
Morning is an opportunity to reflect on past experiences that you have appreciated and make intentions to try to experience more of them. Morning reflections can sway the course of your entire day as you go out of your way to make things happen and appreciate them when they do.
Some people pray in the morning. Some people meditate. Others just think through their day and prioritize the ultimate importance of everything which is clamoring for their attention in order to separate the seemingly urgent from the truly important. Any reflection is better than the hurried mornings most of us have.
Anticipation is a powerful catalyst for appreciation and gratitude. I’ve adopted the practice of picking an iconic moment of an anticipated upcoming event as the moment I am looking forward to. It doesn’t have to be the greatest moment; I think it is better if it is not. A small moment that is highly anticipated will have greater significance and meaning. And when that moment happens at least you will recognize and be in that one moment.
Habits are best set slowly in order to be successful. Start by committing to notice one enjoyable experience each day at some point in the day. You can do more than that if you want to. Over time you can build your own habits of appreciation and gratitude.
Photo used here under Flickr Creative Commons.