Evenings in my household are busy. We have a kitchen to clean, toys to pick up, books to read, pajamas to put on, teeth to brush, prayers to say, milk to warm up, and boys to put to bed who don’t always go quietly into the night. So it’s no doubt that my wife and our savor the time between when the house is finally settled and we fall asleep. And how to we savor it? By sitting in bed with both of us staring at our smartphones. And then we complain that there just isn’t any time to relax and talk.
Evidently we’re not the only ones substituting conversation for screen time. I came across this article, 5 reasons why Americans are unhappy, that really hit a nerve. Americans live in the most prosperous country in what is probably the easiest time in the history of the world. And yet many of us find ourselves constantly unhappy. Here is what some financial experts have to say are the causes.
- We are zoning out with gadgets — This lowers our emotional cognition and our ability to relate with one another.
- 50% of people feel stressed — We stress about the wrong things — missing a green light, less than ideal weather, or someone’s post on Facebook.
- Lifestyles of the rich and famous — We get a constant stream through TV and social networks of others living glamorous lives making us depressed and jealous.
- There are no siestas in the U.S. — We just work long hours without many vacations.
- Many Americans are unhealthy — This is almost a result of the previously mentioned unhappiness causes. We just aren’t eating healthy because we are tired, stressed, and depressed.
Looking at the list above one thing becomes quite clear to me. This unhappiness is something we bring upon ourselves. It is a self-inflicted wound that we make worse either by trying to ignore it or by inflicting more wounds in different ways. Fortunately, there are ways to counter these habits which lead to unhappiness. And yes, this is where the rosary comes into play.
- Don’t zone out on gadgets. Smartphones are great tools, but they aren’t everything. It’s fine to watch a movie or read an article when you’re waiting alone for a train. But the movie can wait when you have an opportunity to actually talk to a human being like a parent, spouse, sibling, or friend. Or better yet, squeeze in a rosary decade or two to center yourself.
- Feeling stressed? Try prayer and rosary meditation. There are so many studies showing the benefits of rest and meditation on the brain. And as I’ve said many times, praying the rosary helps keeps life’s challenges in perspective. Pray regularly and you’ll start to see some of the triggers of unhappiness as being rather silly.
- Acknowledge that what you mostly see on TV and social media is a heavily edited highlight reel of people’s lives. While you may see a new vacation picture from a friend every day, keep in mind that most of your friends are just doing “normal” things like you — work, kids, laundry, cooking, cleaning, etc. You just aren’t seeing that. Does your Facebook feed still get you down? Turn it off. Trust me, the world won’t come to a crashing halt because you didn’t like someone’s posted picture.
- Need a break? You may not have the luxury of going on vacation or reducing your work hours. You may not get much of a break from family and household chores. But that just means you need to make the most of the down time you do have. Again, try spending some of that time praying and meditating. It does help put your life and priorities in perspective. And maybe this is the software engineer in me, but also look to optimize, automate, and schedule. Auto pay bills, set up email filters, and try to minimize the time needed on routine chores (visit Lifehacker as they have great ideas). One thing that makes people stressed is that they focus on the work that is yet to be done. Guess what? THERE IS ALWAYS WORK TO BE DONE! Don’t try to aim your happiness metric at a life free of work. Instead, plan and schedule your work and spread it out.
- Eating healthier is a matter of education and self control. But it’s also a result of working on other aspects of your health like sleep, workload, and stress. I don’t think you can achieve a healthy diet if you don’t address these other aspects. But also approach eating like you approach exercise. The goal of exercise is to push yourself — one more push up, just another quarter mile, an extra rep. Food can be treated the same way — another hour without a snack, an apple instead of a cookie, going for a walk outside instead of walking to the breakroom. One way I combat unhealthy eating choices is to say a small prayer when I’m hungry and see an unhealthy snack. I tell God that instead of satisfying my hunger with a guilty pleasure, I’m going to satisfy my soul with His grace.
Happiness and unhappiness are conscious choices we make dozens of times every day. Since they are choices, we have to educate and condition ourselves to make the ones that lead to happiness. When we incorporate the rosary into our lives we do gain that insight on putting all of life’s challenges into perspective. We also ask and receive help from our Mother Mary, the Holy Spirit, the dearly departed, the saints, and angels to find ways to increase happiness regardless of what the world throws our way.