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Sunday, July 31, 2016

Small Changes


One magazine I love buying is Flow magazine. Published by 2 Dutch ladies and translated into English, it has articles on simple living, features on creative artists and comes with beautiful paper goodies, yay :) 

The current issue has an article on small changes that spoke to me.

Many people have big dreams stemming from current dissatisfactions. When we are dissatisfied with our house, job or partner, we make big dreams for ourselves in which we shed off all vestiges of our previous life and start afresh. So we might sell the house and move to a hut in Bali, or break up with the partner and move to France to find a new lover. 

Of course, once I read this, I immediately saw myself in it. Because every time I face a tough time at work, or I find myself dragged out of bed before dawn, I wish that I was doing something different. I wish that I was running my own art school, or writing books or just being a jobless bum at home. 

Whether such solutions solve my problems or not does not feature in my fantasy, of course. That's the point of a fantasy after all, to make you feel better by letting you dream. 

The article gives a different idea: that you don't have to take such big steps to making yourself happy and that small steps can be enough. Not everyone can afford drastic steps in their life, or should either. While I don't like the responsibilities that come with my job, I also appreciate very much that the monthly paycheck pays for my house and food while letting me save towards the future! That is not something I might easily get should I decide to quit and write a book!

The dream image though may represent a certain longing that is not being satisfied in your current life. According to the Self-Determination Theory, there are 3 basic needs to be fulfilled to make yourself happier. They are:

1. Autonomy - The need to do it your own way
2. Relatedness - the need to feel connected to other people
3. Competence - the need to do something you are good at

Taking the example of my own life, why is it then I feel dissatisfied at my job? First, the autonomy needs are not met, because much of what I do with the kids are determined by others. The competence needs are not met, because the job requires much planning and meticulousness that I struggle with. And it being a big place, my relatedness needs are not met as well either.

This is also why quitting it all to work on creative pursuits also seems more appealing. I get to do things my own way, paint what I want, write what I want (autonomy). I can meet other likeminded people who share the same creative dreams (relatedness). I can do something I feel I am good at (competence). 

But I don't always have to quit it all in order to pursue these needs. Small changes can also be taken as well. I already pursue the competence need by writing and painting in my free time. I pursue the relatedness need by meeting with friends and blogging and posting photos on Instagram. 

The autonomy needs... ah, that's a tougher nut to crack. There are commitments of time here that need to be fulfilled. I can meet this sometimes by taking the afternoon off to go on a photowalk, for example, but it's not something I can do every day. 

Here, the article talks about thinking in terms of solutions. Rather than paying attention to what's wrong with my life, what can I do then to make it right?

The example given is that of a big miracle. Imagine a big miracle happened and I don't have to work any more. What would I do? 

Well, I can imagine long afternoons reading at the library, painting at home or exploring the town with my camera. 

Do I necessarily need to quit my job to do this? Actually, I don't. I can spend some afternoons doing these, but planning is required. I would need to plan in advance which days I can get away with leaving the marking at the desk or having nothing at all. Or maybe even play hooky sometimes, hehe. 

So there is a solution. The solution is to plan the days I want to do this and then make sure nothing in my afternoon interferes with this plan. And it is a solution that allows me to keep my job and my salary. 

My thoughts on this article is that it is a bit simplistic and optimistic at the same time. Simplistic because it's not as if a solution can be found to all of every one's problems. I'm lucky enough because I still have flexibility when it comes to my afternoons, but not everyone who is stuck working 9-5 has the same luck.

But yet, optimistic because it tells you that it is possible to find happiness in the littlest of things. It's not always that you have to make drastic changes to find happiness but if you are aware of what makes you happy, you can make small changes to work towards that happiness. It's something that I try to carry out on a weekly basis and I do see an overall increase in happiness when I did so. 

Here are the small steps to do the same:

1. Identify the needs you are lacking. Autonomy, relatedness or competence? Look at your big dream. What is it about it that appeals to you?
2. Create spaces to fulfill those needs in your life. Where can you make time for it? What steps would you need to take?
3. Think in terms of solutions, not problems. It's about what you can do, not how much it sucks.
(adapted from Flow magazine, Issue 14)

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