Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Happiness Series: 9 - To Be Happy: Organise Your Priorities

How Do We Define Priorities?

Our priorities are what we identify as important and how we spend our time. Sometimes, we have a very clear idea of what is important to us, but it isn’t reflected in our actions. We give time to things we say are unimportant, while putting aside the things we claim matter to use.

So it is important to consider both: thoughts and actions. The things we SAY are important, and the things we actually give our time to. If these two elements are in conflict, it is difficult to be truly happy.

If we say our children matter most to us, but we never have any time for them, how could we be happy? We are wasting our time on things that don’t matter to us, and we are missing time with that which is most precious.

Maybe we say our education matters to us right now, but all our time is going to netflix. I’m sure for some of you, just reading that gave you a sense of guilt and anxiety. We can’t feel guilty and anxious about how we are using our time, and still be happy.

What Role Do Priorities Play In Our Lives?

Priorities influence our conscious and unconscious choices. Our priorities, or the priorities we pretend to have, help define us as people. They are are part of our identity. They also influence how we spend our time, so you can see that our priorities are vitally important.

They decide how we spend our time, how we make choices and influence our identity. And yet, generally they aren’t something we give a lot of thought to. Rather, they are just there. Unquestioned and assumed.

In fact, for many of us, our priorities only come up when we are in direct conflict with someone else. Conflicts between spouses about money are often conflicts of priorities. One person prioritizes financial security, saving or even just communication before spending, and the other felt that spending the money was a more valuable use of resources.

So regardless how how much attention you pay to your priorities, they are impacting almost every part of your life, every day.

Identify Your Current Priorities:

The truth is, your current priorities are probably not what you want them to be. If you say your health is important to you, but work takes priority over exercise and cooking healthy meals, health is not really at the top of your list.

Same goes with a lot of people on my friend’s list and writing. A lot of them want writing to be a priority, they claim it is, but they never actually take any steps to put it ahead of other things in their life. Their spouses, children and friends are always first, and writing never happens.

Maybe you claim your priority is paying off debt, but you still can’t walk past a book or video game sale. This is generally because, in the moment, we believe the purchase will make us happier than our formerly stated goal of paying off debt. In the long term though, we will probably wish we had stuck to paying off our credit cards.

So if we want to take control of our own identity, the choices we make and how we spend our time, its a good idea to start by identifying what our priorities really are.

The best way to to that is by tracking how you spend your time. Then label each activity with the priority it represents. Cleaning might be homemaking, cooking might be health, but it could also be ‘children’, exercise might be ‘weight loss’ or ‘health’ or even something like ‘meditation’.

Be aware of mis-attributing things, because you want to feel better about them. Don’t call cooking health, if you are eating terrible food. Don’t call browsing websites ‘relaxation’ if it doesn’t relax you, its really just avoidance behavior that makes you feel guilty.

If you can’t be honest with yourself about where your priorities really are, you can’t fix them. Its very hard to get first aid and treat an injury if you refuse to admit you have a gaping wound.

If all your priorities were in order, and being attended to properly, this exercise couldn’t help you. You want to find some problems, because that means you have room to improve the situation.

What Priorities Will Make You Happy?

What priorities will make YOU happy, depends on you, what you want from your life and what sort of person you want to be. However some things are more likely to make you happy than others. Family and friends, for example, had been shown to make the biggest impact on our overall happiness, so moving them higher on your priority list may improve your life. Particularly if you focus on good quality, meaningful time together, rather than just cleaning up after your kids and calling that a ‘family’ priority.

Here is a list, in no particular order, of the things you might consider when writing your list of priorities:

- Family and socialization
- Finances and safety
- Health
- Diet and home life
- Career
- Education and personal development
- Spirituality
- Community and charity
- Hobbies
- Reputation
- Events, concerts, exhibitions
- Sports
- Holidays

What Do You Want Your Priorities To Be?

Okay, so you know what your priorities are, and there are some areas in your life that need work. The next thing you ask yourself, is what order do you want your priorities to be in?

Write a list, rank things in importance, be realistic. Your writing is never going to be more important than your family or paying the bills. However when you have a list that outlines what you want your priorities to be in life, make those your priorities. When choosing what to do with your time, use the list. When you are trying to focus on something and something else interrupts, refer to your list. Put the most important thing first. Tell your kids or husband to wait, so solve their own problems. Tell your boss he’ll have to talk to you during work hours, or even turn your phone off.

Life your life, tending to your priorities in the order they matter to you.

Learn to say no and ignore the things that don’t matter to you. They don’t matter. Its time to make room for the things that do.

Moving Forward:

Now we have our priorities organized, next week we are going to acknowledge our own value. This is harder for some than others, but it is integral to being happy. Or, at least, happier.

So I hope you’ll tune in next week, ready to love the shit out of the best person you know: you.

Jake, In Summary:

I think most people who know me, know my priorities. I think occasionally people passing me on the street know my priorities. They are not something I am shy about sharing with the world.

Two things most important to me are my writing, and my pets and close family. Other things high on my priority list are finding solutions to my health issues, supporting and interacting with my friends, my relationship with God, my finances, my hobbies and furthering my education.

Despite being single, romance doesn’t really make an entry on my priority list. Nor does travel, sport or attending concerts. Though I am very partial to gardening events and shows.

I think my priorities are going to be changing soon, and it is a good time for me to sit down and think about the person I want to be in this next stage of my life. I’m looking forward to weeks 11 to 16, when we do all the exercise parts of this series—though they’ll probably be too personal to share here!

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