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  • Writer's pictureElise Marquam-Jahns

A Powerful Exercise to Help You Bring More Happiness Into Your Life

Margaret Manning on recently focused on a topic that deeply resonated with many of us: “Are You Living Where Your Soul Feels at Home.”

As she and blogger Elizabeth Dunkel pointed out, many of us have lived in a place for career or family reasons. Or perhaps we lived in a place we once loved but which no longer speaks to us. Perhaps we now yearn to be near mountains or oceans or forests or farmland. What we crave is not only different for each of us—it can be different at different points along our life journey.

As I thought about this topic, a memory flooded back to me of an exercise I often included in a stress management class I taught for many years. Since the process of exploring and completing this exercise often resulted in some powerful insights and “aha” moments for many in the room, I thought you might find it interesting—and fun—to do. It’s from a wonderful book called Wishcraft: How To Get What You Really Want written by Barbara Sher. Barbara is a career/lifestyle coach and author whose books have sold millions of copies. (By the way, another one of her really wonderful books—with a great title—is I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was).

For this exercise, give yourself some time—and a location—where you can sit undisturbed for 20-30 minutes with either a pen and piece of paper or “screen” in front of you . . . whatever you want to use to make it easiest for you to write out your thoughts.

Your Ideal Day

The title of this exercise is “My Ideal Day.” Barbara suggests we write out in present tense and in exquisite detail a description of our ideal day. This isn’t a vacation day, but a picture of a day—from the time you get up in the morning to the time you go to bed--that would exactly fit who you are—your wants, desires, temperament and personality. Don’t limit yourself to what you think is possible. . . unleash your imagination and describe this day as if you had absolutely no limitations of any kind: all the time, money or other resources and talents you might desire. I realize this is difficult for most of us to do, but please give yourself total permission and freedom to create this perfect day just for you.

What’s the first thing you’ll do when you get up? Where, how and what will you have for breakfast? Are you alone or with someone? What are you doing between breakfast and lunch? Again this is your fantasy and no one else is going to see it . . . so curb in that tendency to censor yourself! Where are you for lunch and what do you have? (And by the way, you may want to have breakfast in Paris and lunch in Morocco. That’s fine . . . remember you have unlimited power and resources!)

As you think through the hours of your ideal/fantasy day, keep three helpful things in mind: Where are you? What are you doing? Who are you with?

Your Next Step

Hopefully you felt more and more relaxed as you wrote out the elements of your day. Often as I watched people work on this exercise in my class I’d also see lots of smiles on people’s faces. And I hope this happened to you as well. Give yourself some time to fully relax and enjoy all the parts of your ideal day.

What’s Absolutely Essential For You?

Next, look over what you’ve written and highlight or underline those things which are absolutely essential to your happiness. . . .What things are absolutely indispensable for your happiness as you move forward? Then note what things are optional, but desirable and finally what things are just frills.

One woman who completed this exercise found—much to her surprise—that the first thing she’d wanted to do in the morning was to go horseback riding. As she told us about this, she had tears streaming down her cheeks. She hadn’t ridden a horse since she was a young child and realized how much she missed it. Even though her circumstances didn’t allow her to own a horse, she vowed to figure out a way to find a way to go riding on a regular basis.

Another student realized that no matter where she went during her ideal day—whether indoors or outdoors—she found herself surrounded by flowers. She realized what a difference it would make for her to have at least one flower on her desk each day.

Someone else realized that she’d been attracted to travel locations and activities where she enjoyed bright, joyful colors: an outdoor bazaar, a fabric store and a jewelry shop. But her house and clothing were primarily composed of dark or neutral colors. She decided to go shopping for some bright throw pillows for her couch!

What’s Your Goal?

What’s the one thing from your ideal day exercise that really seems indispensable to your happiness and well-being? It can be anything . . . big or small. What else is important to your happiness? Can you do some brainstorming and plan some steps to eventually get these things into your life? If you’re not sure how you can do it, get together with a friend to brainstorm together. You may even want to get together with a group of friends to do this exercise and then brainstorm about how you might each reach one of your ideal day goals.

How did you feel as you worked through this exercise? Did anything pop up that surprised you? Is there one thing you know you will do—as a result of this exercise—to bring more happiness into your life?

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