It’s 5:15 p.m. on a weekday and my husband has just finished his day of work (from the little corner in our bedroom that he’s claimed as his permanent office). I’m juggling the tasks of prepping dinner while keeping an eye on our older two kids playing in the backyard as I bounce our toddler son on my hip.
Mike enters the kitchen, gives me a gentle hug, and I proceed to ask him the same question that typically ensues.
“How was your day today?”
Oftentimes, he’ll answer with a response such as this: “Pretty good, I had a few meetings, worked on a couple lingering projects, and checked most things off my to-do list.”
Typically, our answer to this question is weighted with regard to how much we accomplished, while often neglecting to highlight the simple joys, moments of rest, or relational endeavors.
It’s almost as if we see our days as one giant to-do list, checking off items at a rigorous speed, moving on quickly so as to not waste much time in between.
Of course, working hard isn’t in the least bit wrong. After all, we were created to work, to support ourselves and our families, to love, to design, to take care of our Earth, and to experience the goodness that life brings—all of which takes great effort to do well.
However, when our busyness keeps us from engaging with those around us, from cherishing the simple pleasures of each day, or celebrating healthy leisure, that’s when it robs us of a priceless gift.
Making Time for What Matters
I recently came across a 2012 New York Times article that was eye-opening for me, and became the motivation for writing this article. The premise of the piece was a look into the lives of a group of people who view life in a different light.
Their days were measured not just by productivity in a business sense, but by drastically different standards than sitting at a desk, checking items off their list, or working 50-hour weeks.
What they valued most in their days was making time for relationships with loved ones, enjoying time outside, taking moments to breathe in the fresh air, pursuing work that gave them meaning, connecting with their faith, and living life with gratitude for the time they’ve been given.
And the most interesting part about this group from the Greek island of Ikaria, is that they’re among some of the longest-living humans on earth, exceeding the longevity of Americans by about a decade.
So what’s their secret to living long, bountiful lives?
Their wake-time is natural, rising whenever their bodies have had enough rest. And afternoon nap-time is universal, as the town comes to a stop to honor this practice.
They strive to earn just enough to keep going. If they make more, they give it away.
Dinners are typically enjoyed in the company of friends or family, followed by dancing afterward, gathering at homes for many hours.
Their diets consist of the common Mediterranean foods. Meals are typically high in olive oil, beans, and greens and low in meats, dairy, and processed sugars—and always enjoyed with conversation.
Each Sunday, they attend the local church service with extended family and place a high priority on making it a meaningful experience.
And one of the biggest differences is that they’re never in a hurry.
“We may not have money for luxuries, but we will have food on the table and still have fun with family and friends. We may not be in a hurry to get work done during the day, so we work into the night. At the end of the day, we don’t go home to sit on the couch.”
Even a week after reading this article, I still find myself evaluating how I spend my days. Am I more focused on productivity or connections? Did I measure my time by how much I accomplished or by the amount of time I invested in my children’s lives? Did I make room for rest, the pursuit of my hobbies, and work that’s life-giving?
Choosing to Be Unhurried
I have to teach myself habits and routines that allow me to focus on what truly matters—such as quality time with my husband and kids, instilling good values and virtues into their lives, doing activities that support my mental health and well-being, and serving others around me well.
As my friend Julia Ubbenga emphasizes in her blog, live your life so that you’re “rich in what matters” and make time for what’s most meaningful.
Although I make a 3-item to-do list most days, I’ve also learned to create new routines that allow me to enjoy each day at an unhurried pace. Here are a few ways that I strive to live in such a way.
Ask myself the “magic question.” I learned this from “The Lazy Genius Way,” by Kendra Adachi. What can I do now to make my life easier later? Each evening, I do simple tasks that allow me to create a more peaceful environment to wake up to, such as having a clean sink, clearing off the countertops, prepping my coffee, having the table ready for breakfast, and laying out our clothes. Doing these easy tasks allows me to be more present when my kids wake up and helps to create a more relaxing start to our day.
Get outside every day. Our afternoons consist of quiet time for the kids and work time for me. Before I sit down to do some blogging, I take time to get outside to exercise. While doing this, I breathe in the fresh air, pray, and reflect on what I’m most grateful for. This routine allows me to move my body and prepare myself for a more enjoyable afternoon where my mind is refreshed.
Own less stuff. My husband Mike and I believe that owning less and living a minimalist lifestyle is a mindset where you remove the excess in your life to create more freedom to live intentionally. This mindset has given us back more time for what matters, more money for greater causes, and more gratitude for what we already have.
Be present in conversations. Meaningful conversations with those we care about create feelings of love and warmth. I always admire my husband’s ability to be present in conversations and ask good questions. This shows the person he’s speaking with that he cares about them and is curious to hear what they have to say.
Enjoy a good book. This past year, I’ve carved out intentional times of the day when I sit and read. I’ve probably read more books this past year than in the previous decade. It’s become one of the most enjoyable parts of my day and a way to keep my mind learning and stimulated.
Spend time with family and friends. Ever since we got married, we’ve kept the tradition of Sunday dinner at my parent’s house as well as a weekly dinner with some good friends from college. For the past 10 years, these dinners have served as a chance to keep meaningful relationships alive and thriving and add joy to our week.
Socializing, as the people of Ikaria know, is one of the key factors toward living a healthy, cherished life. Whether it’s through a regular dinner with family, an occasional meet-up with friends, or an impromptu adventure, look for ways that you can create meaningful connections that encourage laughter and delight.