I pulled out a crumpled old copy of an article I saved 12 years ago. When I first read it – Love Your Life Guide: 6 Rules for Getting What Really Matters (written by Martha Beck for Redbook magazine) – I loved the simplicity of it. It rang true for me then, and it still does.
As I looked at it again, I realized that the rules outlined in the brief article offer an opportunity to assess the importance of healthy habits in a person’s life. See if you agree.
Rule #1: If it brings you joy, it really matters. A healthy lifestyle can bring joy on its own. The feeling of taking care of ourselves can feel good. Some of you may say, “But I really hate exercise” or “I just don’t like to cook.” Stay with me – there’s a rule that covers that too! (#3)
Rule #2: Give first priority to things that bring you joy. I think that people who cultivate joy in all areas of life – eating and physical activity, but also spending time doing anything that brings joy – will have less stress and will be more motivated to care for their health.
Rule #3: If not doing something would make you unable to experience joy, that something really matters. I love this one. It’s probably the one I think about most often myself. It makes crystal clear the value of doing things that may not feel joyful at the moment, but not doing them would make a joyful life impossible. At this point in my life, the most obvious example of this is caring for my elderly parents. Time spent with them is precious, because I know there is not much of it left, but much of it is spent trying to keep their sinking moods afloat and helping with difficult care tasks. While I do not always feel joyful in the midst of seeing my dad’s mental state decline while my mom struggles with her own health issues, I know for sure that what I am doing matters – a lot. If I did not help when they need it most, I would live the rest of my life with regret about it.
I think personal attention to healthy habits is often like that. Exercise should be somewhat enjoyable, but much of the joy may be experienced when it has been completed! That’s OK. Lack of it would probably make it more difficult to experience joy in life from a diminished quality of life in later years. Eating habits are similar in this respect. Although junk food may promise you joy, it is short-lived at best. For a truly joyful life to be possible, eating mostly healthy food – with temporary joyful indulges – allows for optimal health and a full life in general.
Rule #4: If you don’t love doing it and you don’t have to do it, then don’t do it. Do you hate running, but walking is enjoyable? Why run when walking can offer all the benefits you need? Can you successfully reach a healthier weight by modifying general lifestyle habits (eating only when sitting? stopping food intake after a certain time at night?) without spending lots of time journaling or counting calories? Then don’t just create busy work for yourself. Hate broccoli? There are plenty of other vegetables to choose from Not everyone needs to follow the same formula for health or weight control. Do not do anything you don’t like if it’s not necessary to get results.
Rule #5: If it expresses your love for yourself and others, it really matters. Do you express your love for yourself through self-care? That matters. By caring for yourself and keeping yourself healthy, you ARE expressing your love for others in your life.
Rule #6: Act on love, not the fear of being unloved. Acting on fear is no way to live a joyful life. I read an article recently about Demi Moore, now struggling like so many celebrities before her. She seems scared to death of losing her youth and trim shape. A comment she made stuck with me – something like “My biggest fear is that I will reach the end of my life and realize that I am unlovable.” What a tragic example, but not all that uncommon. Many people, women in particular, deeply fear being fat and the consequences they believe go along with it. While staying trim is certainly more healthful, fear and self loathing are not effective methods for achieving weight control and overall health. Self-love would be so much more effective at creating not just a healthy body but a more joyful life.