Full Life Reflections

Striving for happiness, peace, and fulfillment in a chaotic world

When I launched this blog two months ago, I mentioned that it would pretty much pick up where my previous blog, Recovering Shopaholic, left off. The tagline for that blog was “Trade Your Full Closet for a Full Life,” but the majority of my focus during its four year tenure was on the full closet part of the equation: responsible and mindful shopping, wardrobe management, and personal style. I’m proud of the progress I made in all three of those areas, but I feel that I still have a long way to go in terms of cultivating a fuller and more fulfilling life, which was in large part why I started this new blog.

Many of us have the goal of leading a full life, but what does that really mean? I pondered that question first back in June 2013, but I’d like to delve a bit deeper today. I’ll revisit my original answer to the “What is a Full Life?” question and share new insights I gained from one of the articles I saved when paring down my overloaded “articles to read” folder a few weeks ago.

a full life revisited

My 2013 Thoughts on a Full Life

I recently re-read my initial post on the full life question for the first time and I still wholeheartedly agree with what I wrote almost five years ago. That essay included the following quote from Rita Mae Brown:

Happiness is pretty simple: someone to love, something to do, something to look forward to.”

When I initially pondered that quote, it became abundantly clear why I fell short in terms of life fulfillment, as I lacked sufficient solid connections, a clear life purpose, and a compelling future vision. In many respects, that’s still the case, which is why I’m here now continuing to explore what a full life means to me and how to get there. In that 2013 post, I also highlighted the importance of uncovering and honoring our key values in order to attain happiness and fulfillment in life. My top five values are represented in this collage that I made at a women’s workshop back in 2011:

Key Values Collage

My Top Five Values: Love, Spirituality, Freedom, Growth, Contribution

If I were to create such a collage today, I would have to include “Health” as a foremost value, as it is the foundation for all other things in life, but the other values I mentioned remain at the top of my list as well. Five years on from my first full life definition, I still believe that having someone to love, something to do, and something to look forward to are critical aspects of happiness. I also maintain that defining and living true to our most cherished values cannot be underestimated, yet there are other factors that merit our consideration, as I will summarize below.

The Four Types of Happy Lives

The recent article I found so impactful was called “How to Life a Happy Life, According to Science” from The Week magazine. This article summarizes some of the philosophies of happiness researcher Martin Seligman, who wrote the book Authentic Happiness. Seligman postulated that there are four types of happy lives, each of which has its strengths, weaknesses, and challenges. I will recap these four happiness types below and share my thoughts on how this framework applies to my personal journey.

The Pleasant Life

This type of life is all about having as many positive thoughts and pleasurable experiences as possible. In this existence, life is like one big long vacation filled with good food and drink, laughter, smiles, and the absence of worries and regrets. To experience this type of life, you need to identify the activities that bring you pleasure and include plenty of them in your days and weeks. To make sure this actually happens, it’s helpful to schedule your fun events on your calendar just like you plot out your medical and business appointments.

While the idea of a constant vacation may sound like nirvana to some, Seligman says that it’s actually the least happy type of life. Many people who hold the pleasant life as their ultimate goal end up feeling unfulfilled living in a purely hedonistic manner and begin to desire something more compelling.

The Good Life

Enter The Good Life, which consists of actively doing the things we’re good at and getting lost in those pursuits. In this type of life, the focus is on improving skills, accomplishing goals, and doing rather than just feeling. To springboard into The Good Life, it’s important to determine the things you’re uniquely good at – your “signature strengths” (take this free online test to learn what they are) – and to achieve a “flow state” as often as possible while engaging in them.

The skill development and goal achievement involved in The Good Life leads to a more lasting level of happiness than the fleeting pleasure of The Pleasant Life. As with The Pleasant Life, it’s also important to schedule ample time for exercising your signature strengths and getting into flow. But don’t take it too far, though, as pleasurable experiences and downtime are important for all of us.

The Meaningful Life

Although The Good Life usually leads to a higher level of happiness than The Pleasant Life, both of these lives lack real meaning. A person may truly excel at something like video games (or shopping, as was long a foremost strength and pastime of mine), but such activities are typically meaningless in the grand scheme of things. The Meaningful Life is a step above The Good Life in that one’s signature strengths are used in the service of something larger than themselves, something that helps others. This type of life is also associated with increased work satisfaction and a longer lifespan.

There is a “gotcha,” however. The Meaningful Life takes longer to achieve and can often be more painful. It requires all of the effort involved in The Good Life, plus you also need to care in order to find meaning in your life. This type of attachment to causes and outcomes increases stress, worry, and anxiety, all of which may reduce happiness in the short term.

The Full Life

Happiness can be found in all three of the life types outlined above, but the happiest people in the world are those who are living what Seligman termed The Full Life. This life path involves taking the three previous types in moderation. The Full Life includes pleasure, building signature strengths, and finding meaning through applying those strengths in the service of the greater good.

Those who are living The Full Life savor life’s pleasures and live in the present moment, yet they are also deeply committed to life goals and ambitions. These individuals dedicate a lot of time toward nurturing relationships with family and friends and are willing to offer a helping hand to both personal contacts and strangers when needed.

This all sounds great, but it can also be a lot to handle. The Full Life requires consistency, balance, and some sacrifices along the way, but it’s worth it. It can take a lot of practice and juggling to achieve the high level of happiness found within The Full Life, but the article’s author offers some simple and helpful tips to get you started. On a daily basis, it’s recommended that you endeavor to do the following three things:

  • Do something that makes you smile.
  • Do something you’re good at.
  • Do something that helps another person or makes them smile.

A wonderful sideline benefit of striving to living The Full Life is that it will help you to become a better person as well as a happier one.

My Thoughts…

Although four types of happy lives are set out in the article, there is a strong bias toward the fourth type, The Full Life. This is understandable, as I think that aiming only for pleasure or mastery can become hollow after a while, and focusing only on helping others can lead to martyrdom and exhaustion. Degrees of pleasure-seeking, ambition, and selflessness are admirable and beneficial, but there can always be too much of a good thing.

The Full Life is balanced but can also be elusive, yet the tips above make it feel more approachable and attainable. After all, it’s not that difficult or time-consuming to do one thing that makes you smile each day, another thing that exercises your signature strengths, and one more thing that is in service of someone else. Put in those terms, living The Full Life seems so much more doable to me than it did previously.

Thinking of my life in recent months, however, I realize that what’s simple isn’t always easy to execute. Many of my days don’t include one or more of the happiness components outlined above. I sometimes become so focused on tasks and to-do lists that I fail to take time for things that will make me smile. Additionally, many of the mundane activities that tend to occupy my days are not things I’m particularly great at. They are either tasks that simply need to get done or time-wasting pursuits that should probably be abandoned. I’ve gotten a lot better at minimizing procrastination and mindless actions, but I still struggle to identify and execute on priorities, especially those that aren’t urgent in nature. Some of the things that I’m good at and enjoy don’t have deadlines attached to them, so they are continually left undone. I think that’s true for so many of us…

I enjoy helping people and making others smile, yet I tend to isolate myself so much that I experience many days in which the only person with whom I interact is my husband. My health issues are partially to blame for this isolation, as is my associated depression, but I know I can do better at reaching out to others and making a difference. I think one way in which I err is thinking I have to do something big and significant, when sending a card or a quick message is often more than enough to brighten someone’s day. It really doesn’t take a lot to make a difference in another person’s life.

On Blogging, Signature Strengths, and Next Steps

I’m glad I started blogging again, as publishing a blog post ticks all three of the “happiness boxes.” It always brings me satisfaction to hit the publish button, I feel that writing is something I’m good at, and I believe that my posts are often helpful to readers. I definitely feel happier and more fulfilled since I launched Full Life Reflections – and I don’t even publish new essays all that often. This is sound proof that it doesn’t take grandiose actions to up level our happiness quotient. Even so, I need more, especially since blogging is not something I do daily and it’s also mostly a solitary activity, although I enjoy interacting with readers through comments.

I have taken the Character Strengths Survey mentioned above three times: in 2003, 2013, and 2018 (just yesterday). My top strengths varied slightly on each test, but these ten strengths consistently showed up at the top of the list:

  • Love of LearningMastering new skills, topics, and bodies of knowledge, whether on one’s own or formally; related to the strength of curiosity but goes beyond it to describe the tendency to add systematically to what one knows.
  • Appreciation of Beauty & ExcellenceNoticing and appreciating beauty, excellence, and/or skilled performance in various domains of life, from nature to art to mathematics to science to everyday experience.
  • CuriosityTaking an interest in ongoing experience for its own sake; finding subjects and topics fascinating; exploring and discovering.
  • LoveValuing close relations with others, in particular those in which sharing & caring are reciprocated; being close to people.
  • Humor Liking to laugh and tease; bringing smiles to other people; seeing the light side; making (not necessarily telling) jokes.
  • ForgivenessForgiving those who have done wrong; accepting others’ shortcomings; giving people a second chance; not being vengeful.
  • Creativity Thinking of novel and productive ways to conceptualize and do things; includes artistic achievement but is not limited to it.
  • JudgmentThinking things through and examining them from all sides; not jumping to conclusions; being able to change one’s mind in light of evidence; weighing all evidence fairly.
  • HonestySpeaking the truth but more broadly presenting oneself in a genuine way and acting in a sincere way; being without pretense; taking responsibility for one’s feelings and actions.
  • Prudence Being careful about one’s choices; not taking undue risks; not saying or doing things that might later be regretted.

I think it would be helpful for me to determine new ways to exercise these strengths that will make me smile and also benefit others. This post is getting quite lengthy, so I won’t go into too much detail here, but one activity that jumped out at me right away is photography, as it incorporates many of the above strengths and is something I can share with others as well. I haven’t been taking photos as much recently because I became overwhelmed by the sheer volume of my existing photos. I didn’t want to take more and add to my already substantial digital clutter. Fortunately, I’ve been working on paring down my photo collection to just the best for each location, so I think I’ll be excited to take and share more pictures again soon.

I will continue to think of how I can better attain The Full Life as specified by Martin Seligman. Ultimately, that’s what I want for myself, as I know I won’t be truly satisfied with one of the other three types of happy lives. I want the whole enchilada, so to speak… What’s great, though, is that Seligman’s framework makes a full life so much more tangible. It now feels less like a murky vision and more like a clear picture. I love the idea of taking just three small actions each day, as I am a big believer in the power of small steps. They can add up to a lot over time!

In Closing

I will close with a few quotes from the great Mother Teresa, someone who made a profound difference in the world through a series of small but powerful actions.

“Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.”

“We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do.”

“Love begins at home, and it is not how much we do… but how much love we put in that action.”

“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.”

“We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”

I welcome any thoughts you have on this post and the topic of living a full life in general. I look forward to reading your insights and I wish you a wonderful weekend!

32 thoughts on “What is a Full Life? – Revisited

  1. Claudette says:

    So many nuggets to ponder on, I will come back to this!

  2. Sew Ruthie says:

    Those three points are great
    Do something that makes you smile.
    Do something you’re good at.
    Do something that helps another person or makes them smile.
    An interesting take away!

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      I thought so, too, Ruthie! I like how the author boiled it down to such simple points that seem pretty doable for all of us. Hope you are well! It’s good to see you commenting here.

  3. Christina says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I also like the simple takeaway in three easy steps. It makes it tangible and not overwhelming. By the way, that bracelet you sent me makes me smile every time I wear it and especially when I remember the exceptional kindness behind it 🙂 💕

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      I agree, Christina. Thanks for letting me know you that the bracelet continues to make you smile. I was very happy to pass it on to someone who would love and wear it, and I’m glad you are enjoying it!

  4. SharonW says:

    Hi Debbie. I’m so glad you’re back blogging. Whilst reading your posts I stumbled on a few of my comments and I barely recognize that happy positive person. The last year has been grueling with the decline in my in laws dementia and I can see it has had quite a crushing effect on my spirits. (My hubby’s health remains stable phew) I cant help thinking Ive obviously missed our connection too. Reading the quote above I realise the ‘something to look forward to’ is probably the missing link in my life as I find the future quite terrifying so avoid thinking about it too much. However numbing & avoidance tactics are erasing the normal joy of looking forward to things. Thankfully with the help of your posts I can start taking a bit more notice of my emotions and make some adjustments to my way of thinking. I love the new direction youre taking with this blog as I have curbed my shopping addiction (with your help) and the new content is a lot more relatable.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      I’m happy you’re here, Sharon, but I’m sad that you are struggling so greatly. I can only imagine how difficult it must be to see a loved one battle dementia. With the other stressors you have, I can understand how your spirits have been dampened lately (although I’m very glad that your husband’s health is stable). I struggle a lot with the “something to look forward to” piece, too, at least when I think too far ahead. The way I try to approach it is to have things to look forward to in the short-term, like a walk, a movie, or a meal. The future seems scary to me, too, and definitely unclear, so I get where you’re coming from there. I hope things ease up a bit for you and you’re able to get some of your happy positive self back soon.

  5. Terra Trevor says:

    I’m enjoying our shared paths on this journey and your newfound insights are rich. Age is teaching me that I’m happiest now with a small full life. Looking forward to something has evolved from specific events and instead just waking up and seeing what each day brings and being open to the unexpected changes.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      I love what you wrote here, Terra, and it’s similar to how I responded to Sharon above. I take more pleasure in the “little things” than I used to and I cherish a simple, small, quiet life more than I used to. I still get scared about the future, but when I live more in the now and don’t think too much ahead, I find that I’m happier and more peaceful. My definition of a full life has changed, or rather, evolved. It actually feels more like I can have it now than it did when I had a more grandiose vision for it.

      1. Claire says:

        I really like and resonate with the vibe of what you guys are talking about here. I get so many “small fullness bits” from the trees and wildlife and natural beauty around my neighborhood. I also get fullness from doing laundry, of all things. Then there’s the pleasure of having a sip of coffee in the morning and swig of beer in the evening. These things add up.

        Also figuring out what is not fullness – after nearly 15 years of diligent cooking for me and my husband, I finally gave in to the fact that I dislike so many parts of food prep so intensely that I needed to switch it up. Ugh, what a relief!

  6. Jane says:

    I love your analytical style and I’m so glad to see your new blog. I’m struggling with making my life a “full life” as well (although I still love your Kondoizing articles LOL) so this blog comes at a great time for me.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      I’m glad to see you commenting here, Jane, and I hope you will enjoy this blog and find it beneficial. I’m sure I will do more “Kondoizing” posts in the future, as downsizing our stuff is an important facet of living a fuller life. It can be hard to know what we want and make it happen when we are surrounded by clutter, as many of us know all too well!

  7. jerilynb says:

    What an impressive article! You’ve presented a synthesis of complex material that gives the reader something to think about, mull and chew on. It seems to me you’re reaching a point of wisdom and influence. I must return to this article and take action on it.

    I have chronic health problems and yearn to live well beyond time between medical appointments. Although I know many coping skills, I have trouble implementing them. Essentially. I live a pleasant life. You present a reasonable way to reach beyond this. I suffer from anxiety. The additional stress and worry associated with a fuller life scares me.

    Recently, I’ve noticed that discussion of anxiety seems to make people, including the dearest of friends,
    uncomfortable. I’m left with the impression that one should “take things in stride” rather than mentioning anxiety. Its sort of like bringing up depression. Debbie and dear readers, do you have any thoughts on this?

    Again, Debbie, you’re showing mastery of your subject. Wonderful post.


    1. Debbie Roes says:

      Jeri, I’m glad you liked this article. It helped me to write it, too. There’s a saying that if you want to really learn something, teach it to someone else, so that will be part of what I do here on this blog (win-win!). I’m so sorry that you also struggle with chronic health issues. It can be hard to implement the coping skills and strategies we know well when we’re in a lot of pain. I have lots and lots of ups and downs, but this blog is one of the things I’m doing to “choose life” and try to get to a better place emotionally. Who knows what will happen physically?

      Regarding your question, I think a lot of people are uncomfortable discussing negative emotions or even more types of feelings. I have experienced the type of reaction you wrote about many times and I find it disconcerting. I think maybe people don’t want to look at these issues within themselves, so they don’t want us to talk about them, as it shines a light on the subject. The effect of this type of pattern, though, is that many of us end up feeling isolated, even in the presence of others, including those who we are supposedly close to. I wish I had some good advice for you, but I’m struggling with this myself. I usually deal with it by being a “hermit,” but I know that’s not healthy. I am far more open and honest on this blog than I am in “real life” with people, sadly. That’s something I need to work on more, but it’s hard when the reactions are much like you describe…

  8. jerilynb says:

    ” I have lots and lots of ups and downs, but this blog is one of the things I’m doing to “choose life” and try to get to a better place emotionally. Who knows what will happen physically?” Oh my, Debbie, It occurs to me that I’m putting off life for when I feel better. Mind you, I have multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer, which has a drug-maintained remission. It doesn’t truly go away; side-effects abound. So waiting isn’t a true option.

    I’m not in desperate shape. Your post may help me to get a better handle on moving forward. Here’s a cyber hug.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      I’m so sorry you have such a difficult diagnosis, Jeri, and are struggling with side effects from the drugs that you need in order to be in remission. That is truly a challenging situation… I would be very happy if my post is helpful to you in moving forward in life. I have put life off SO many times for when I will feel better, but it’s been years of declining health interspersed with periods of merely “treading water,” so I may have to accept that the magical “feeling better time” may never come and enjoy the times when I feel less bad and try to get as much joy and happiness out of life as I can. It’s not easy, as you probably know better than I do with your situation (I don’t have one harrowing diagnosis, but a bunch of different conditions that have piled up), but we just have to do the best we can. Cyber hugs to you, too!

  9. SharonW says:

    Hi Jeri. I understand how you feel dealing with other peoples reactions as I experience this too. My husband was diagnosed with incurable cancer 4 years ago (and I have a number of chronic health issues). Family & close friends avoid the subject and its always the elephant in the room. I think most people find dealing with others pain whether emotional or physical just too difficult. Maybe as Debbie says they’re afraid of the feelings it brings up within themselves, or it could be they are frightened of saying the wrong thing and upsetting you further. They are also possibly feeling guilty about being in great health & not suffering. I find it easier to make connections with compassionate strangers who allow you to express your emotions in a safe contained way. Debbie was a lifeline for me when I was struggling after the initial diagnosis even though we’ll likely never meet! Ive had heartfelt connections with shop assistants, dog walkers etc that have brought me the comfort and support missing from close ones. I find with my family/loved ones they just need to think I’m coping so they don’t have to worry about me. Ironically I find I’m left out of the good stuff as they don’t want to brag about their good fortune, which I find frustrating as everybody’s problems are relative.

    1. Vivien says:

      SharonW, when you said, “could be they are frightened of saying the wrong thing and upsetting you further. They are also possibly feeling guilty about being in great health & not suffering.” You hit it right on the head! That’s exactly how I feel when friends and family in my life are in trouble. I know that I am far, far luckier and am in great health and should technically have less stress than pretty much anybody else in my life and still I struggle with generalised anxiety and other problems every day. I also never know what to say in these scenarios. Some people don’t want to be treated differently than they were before but I care so much and am so worried about saying the wrong thing or upsetting them accidentally that I can’t do that. And then I feel guilty about not being able to give them what I know they need (to not be treated or seen differently by me) and it just spirals from there. This whole process, together with life in general, just leaves me feeling helpless and guilty for having problems in my life at all; that I should be happy and elated for every minute and every second of my life because if I’m not then I’m nothing but a failure.

      This is probably going to sound super stupid, but how can I provide those heartfelt connections that you described having with shop assistants and so on that were missing from your loved ones? I feel like I can’t do anything except either describe my own experiences in similar situations (which makes me sound vain and then I worry that I am once again over-dominating a conversation), attempt to give my thoughts on the situation (which sounds like I’m putting words into their mouth) or attempting to reassure them somehow (which just sounds false and empty even though it’s definitelty not my intention). Actually, I usually end up doing all 3 things at once and then some.

      Oh, and an alternative is to just let the other person talk and let them lead the conversation wherever, which is good right up until I realise that I’ve only contributed with generic “mm”s. And that just makes it look like I either wasn’t listening, have a poor attention span or just something bad. I don’t want to let people in trouble down but I don’t know how to not let them down anyway. So yeah, any advice you have would be really great as I’m directly on the other side of the scenario you’re describing.

      As with the great health thing, my guilt from having great health and then still having problems has ironically driven me to a lot of addictive, procrastinatory behaviour. I also have a weird obsession with wanting and needing to appear to be perfect on the surface (and by that I mean bold, memorable, calm, collected, chilled, relaxed, I-don’-care attitude and I-know-what-I’m-doing demeanour) because I think that’s what people expect from me and my circumstances and also what I expect of myself. So that probably doesn’t help. But then I think of what people would think when they find out about my problems (and that I have them) and then I feel pathetic. I have had it happen before when all my problems (and the entirety of my life experiences!) were blatantly dismissed as trivial, delusional, not experienced enough and like I’m living in my own bubble. And I do live in my own bubble, admittedly, so is it that I just can’t handle the truth? And now I just overtook this comment with my own situation, which just goes RIGHT back to how I handle the things I was talking about earlier!

      And now you probably think I’m pathetic haha. A billion words from half a sentence. Was food for thought, obviously.

      1. Claire says:

        Hi Vivien, i think this is a thoughtful attempt at unpacking a complicated topic. Some articles came to mind as I was reading that might help?…


        But also, I’m sorry you have had the entirety of your life experienced dismissed. That is not cool. You have valid problems and life concerns just like everybody else. They matter to you, and you matter. You might find that the articles on anxiety help you with what to say (and not to say) to be able to support and care for yourself, too 🙂

    2. Vivien says:

      Or: How can I allow a loved one in trouble express their emotions in a safe contained way?

      I feel even more pathetic for asking that, especially on the internet.

      1. SharonW says:

        Hi Vivien. Your comments speak volumes about the kind of person you are x The fact that you care so deeply about being there for people in their hour of need (even though you beat yourself up over your delivery!). Never be afraid of enquiring about a persons health, a simple “how are you’ with a hug or stroke on the arm can lift the spirits enormously. Also don’t be afraid of admitting you’re struggling to understand aspects of your friend/loved ones condition as they will know it is overwhelming. The person or their carer can become quite expert with the medical terminology and procedures and they can find it difficult to break it down for people when providing updatess. I often relayed details to family and friends in the manner of a physician delivering a speech at a seminar! My point is you’re not meant to be an expert and you don’t have to fix them. You just need to be there and help lift their spirits by being kind or joining them in a little dark humor. Regarding saying the wrong thing, Im not immune to that, I was having a self pity fest moaning about how unfair life was having two incurable chronic conditions and my husband joked ‘there’s nothing worse – well apart from dying of cancer’. My husband & I do use dark humor to deflect from the seriousness and often joke about playing the cancer card much to the horror of people who don’t get it! Never feel guilty for your good fortune or successes, personally speaking I love hearing about others success but I am also to happy to listen to their troubles. As I said in my previous comment everybody’s problems are relative.

      2. SharonW says:

        The safe & contained way I referred to is easy to explain and wouldn’t involve you so don’t worry! It’s easier to talk to a sympathetic stranger who isn’t personally involved in your life. You are free to discuss your pain/ terror without having to worry about the effect on their emotions. For example if I mentioned to my sister how frightened or overwhelmed I was feeling she would ring around rallying the troops and I would be bombarded with phone calls from worried family members when I just needed to blow off steam. Ive never had counseling Im a Brit we don’t do emotion but I expect its similar to the safe enviroment this would provide.

      3. Debbie Roes says:

        I’m very happy that you all feel safe to open up the way you are here. I really identify with a lot of what has been written in this thread. Sharon, thank you for the input you offered to both Jeri and Vivien. I relate to what you wrote about finding it easier to open up to strangers than to family and others who have been in your life for a long time. I’m exactly the same way and I rarely open up to others besides strangers or people online (here and in the one Facebook group that I still visit regularly and enjoy) anymore. I have health conditions that people either minimize or don’t understand, so I don’t feel safe talking about them most of the time anymore and most people rarely even ask. I think they prefer to think I’m “fine” because I look “normal.” I’m very happy that I provided a lifeline for you – it warmed my heart to read that. What you wrote to Vivien was right on and I don’t have much to add except to share my experience from when I was younger. My mom worked as a nurse, so she was around extreme illness and death all the time. She didn’t allow me to have my feelings because she would always use the “it could be worse – you could have cancer (or whatever)” line. I was young and much healthier then, like Vivien, but my problems and challenges were still very valid, just as Vivien’s are. I’m sure my mom wasn’t trying to be cruel, but it came across that way.

        Vivien, in regards to your worry about saying the wrong thing, I think that most people just want to feel that others care. I think that it’s better to say something like, “I don’t know what to say or how to react, but I want you to know I love you (or I care)” than to avoid the person or act like everything is fine. You can also ask them what they want or need from you. Sometimes a sick person just wants someone to spend time with them and they don’t want or need to discuss how they’re feeling all the time. I agree with Sharon that the fact that you are worried about what to say shows that your heart is in the right place.

      4. Claire says:

        Oh Debbie those were awful messages from your mom. So damaging and neglectful/abusive of your emotional and psychological health as a developing child. I had similar experiences of being told I was too sensitive and ended up left mostly on my own to deal with my debilitating health issues. Also i can relate to “passing” as “healthy”, such that you and your illnesses are invisible (although it’s become way more outwardly visible at times in the past few years). It really is hard to find “safe” spaces and people to explore these issues, both online and off. These harmful ways of thinking are deeply embedded in our culture and socialization, and it takes a lot of continual work and learning to see past them.

  10. Vivien says:

    Hey Debbie.

    Do something that makes you smile.
    Do something you’re good at.
    Do something that helps another person or makes them smile.

    That causes a pit of dread to form in the bottom of my stomach. In my mind, it’s, “You must do ALL these things ALL the time otherwise you’re a failure”. In my mind, that registers as, “Happy, happy, happy only happy no sad”. Maybe it’s how “Do” is placed and that makes it sound like an obligatory to-do list, which I know is exactly the opposite of the true intention of those words.

    I wish I didn’t feel this way. I shouldn’t feel this way and that’s what makes it even worse. How I’m seeing it is such black-and-white, emotionally-driven thinking.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      I can see how you would feel that way, Vivien. Of course, that’s the last way I wanted anyone to feel by writing this post, but I get it. I kind of regret the fact that I was biased toward “The Full Life” out of the four happy lives presented in the referenced article, but that is basically the viewpoint given by the author, too. I think that all of those types of happy lives are valid and I think that many of us will bounce back and forth among them over the course of our lives. And even thought the 3-part “prescription” for The Full Life mentions doing those things every day, I don’t know that it will actually look like that in practice. For me, I think if I can do each of those things a few times per week, that might be enough. I also don’t look at it as “no sad” and didn’t mean to give that impression at all. I think that we should allow whatever emotions we have to express themselves and that there is a danger in holding things back too much. I struggle a lot with feeling like a failure, too. If this framework doesn’t fit for you, by all means you don’t have to adopt it! Also, if The Pleasant Life, The Good Life, or The Meaningful Life are more your speed at present than The Full Life (which, I admit, IS a tall order), then there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking those paths. I don’t think there is a right or wrong here. They are many different paths toward happiness and we all have to find what works best for us at any given point in time.

      1. Claire says:

        Ha! This is funny because I was also mostly identifying with the pleasant life too, and I think personally I derive a lot of my goodness and meaning from it so in that way it can feel pretty full, if that makes sense. I think you’re right about the bias of the author, and we have to be careful of weighing prescriptive advice that doesn’t necessarily work out exactly like that for each individual. These are signposts, not directives.

      2. Vivien says:

        Hey Debbie, I know you didn’t intend to cause any harm at all. That’s why I was criticising myself by saying that how I was seeing it (especially based on my first impression) was very black-and-white. You make a good point on how we can go back and forth across all three types; that actually makes me feel better because it’s not like these are set in stone. I can definitely see how it would work for a lot of people, but for me personally it’s not something I’m actively looking to achieve. Regardless, it was an interesting post to read.

  11. Leah says:

    Lovely article Debbie; thank you. Sometimes I forget to simply allow myself the pleasure of having completed a task. Even a mundane, or everyday task is a task that needs to be done. and then once done, its easy to move on to the next task and the next. But sometimes its good to stop and remind myself; hey you got that done! good job Leah! Just allow yourself a moment of pleasure of having accomplished something, before moving on to the next task. We all have the right to be proud of our actions; even the small ones.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      Very good points, Leah! I wholeheartedly agree. I have been trying to acknowledge what I DO accomplish more often lately, rather than berating myself for all of those things that didn’t get done. I feel much more happy and peaceful this way. It feels good to be proud of ourselves!

  12. Terry says:

    Such an interesting essay. I am grateful that you enjoy blogging about this particular journey and that I can follow in your footsteps. I’d say I currently live the Pleasant Life, which is enjoyable but narrow. I like the mantra “Do something that makes you smile. Do something you’re good at. Do something that helps another person or makes them smile.” However, living in my personal bubble may have impeded my imagination, because I have trouble with the “somethings.” I was hoping others would describe their somethings so that I could garner ideas. For example, doing things doesn’t usually make me smile; in fact, the more in the flow I am, the less aware I am of my own emotion and the grimmer I look. (It’s just my face. 🙂 Something I’m good at? I do a lot of personal research on health issues. It’s useful and I’m good at it, but it’s a necessity rather than an activity to which I would ordinarily aspire. The same thing applies to housework. I can write an outstanding Motion for Summary Judgment, but I don’t want to. And although I do things daily to help and/or amuse my family members, being home alone most of the day makes it challenging to apply outside the family. I need ideas, people!

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      I could really relate to your comment, Terry. What you described is very much like my current life, actually. I love the simplicity of the mantra, but I need to gather more ideas about how to make it all work in practice, too. I need more than one or two things for each area and I don’t have all that much yet. I’m making a start with what I have. I’m doing the best with the first part, the things that make me smile, which is tantamount to The Pleasant Life. I try to get outside for at least a short walk every day, I like to read and watch certain things, I like to make and eat particular foods. I don’t currently do all that many things I’m good at, but starting this blog has made a difference because at least it’s one thing that’s tangible and also lends itself to the third part of the equation. I’m trying to get better at reaching out to other people, even if it’s just to send a short email or a simple card. I do need more ideas, too, as I tend to spend a lot of time alone in the same sort of “personal bubble” you described. I think this is probably a topic I need to explore more in future posts, but I hope others will chime in with ideas. Like you, usually the best I can say about my life is that it’s enjoyable but narrow, but I am grateful when I can even say that because I struggle a lot with both health issues and depression. I think we all have to just begin where we are and do the best we can. I do believe that small but meaningful steps/actions can make a big difference. I think I will start to make a list for all three areas and hope to build upon it in time. Thanks for being open and asking the important questions!

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