I live in Calgary, and we have long winters. This past winter was an exceptionally long one, cold and dark, but Mother Nature is making up for it with the most incredible spring days, one after the other. We spent this weekend in the garden. Tidying up, sanding and staining the deck, planting new annuals and tending the lawn as it turns from gray to lush green (at least, that's where I hope it is heading). It was hard work, but the satisfaction of seeing a winter garden come together into a little sanctuary was incredibly rewarding. You can say that we've had a great quality of life over the last few days.
But quality of life is an elusive thing.
We're bombarded every day with messages that tell us we need this gadget or that car or that smart watch to be with the "in" crowd, get the admiration of our peers and be somehow better off.
The messages we see every day encourage us to buy more stuff. These things are supposed to make us feel better about ourselves and our lives. They have replaced our ability to spend time with ourselves, and we suffer from instant boredom when we're not on social media, checking our emails or Medium stats or blog page views.
We've outsourced our quality of life.
But just what is "quality of life"?
Wikipedia defines quality of life as follows:
Quality of life (QOL) is the general well-being of individuals and societies, outlining negative and positive features of life. It observes life satisfaction, including everything from physical health, family, education, employment, wealth, religious beliefs, finance and the environment.
These are all good aspects of quality of life. But I believe there's one bit missing, and it is dangerously close to being a cliche:
Quality of life is ultimately measured by contentment.
When we're content, we don't need more. We have enough, we're happy and we're not trying to fill voids in our life. Contentment does not mean that we've given up and we're not striving - quite the contrary. Contentment means we've taken the time to smell the roses, enjoy what we've created and taken time to appreciate everything around us.
I'm sure this feeling of contentment is not new to you. You've sat back at the end of a long day of hard work to relax and enjoy what you've done. Or you're on holiday and just enjoying lazy days. Or you've gone to a movie, settled in with a popcorn and drink and ready to enjoy the moment.
And there it is: quality of life is measured in the small moments of contentment when we sit back and appreciate what we have.
Quality of life is measured in the small moments of contentment when we sit back and appreciate what we have
It's not always the big things that raise our quality of life. It's not always having more or achieving more. It's those small moments when we sit back and appreciate what we have.
Here are three hacks that will help you appreciate what you have - and in the process have a better quality of life.
Hack #1: Learn to switch off
Spending two days in the garden over this weekend meant that I wasn't looking at email or text messages or social media for the full two days. By Saturday evening I was missing it; by Sunday evening I didn't want to go back to it.
For two whole days I had to switch off. And in the beginning that was scary.
We all know that we're constantly connected to the world around us. We have email, social networks, colleagues at work, news coming at us all the time. We have so much coming at us from the outside that we don't think much about spending time with our own thoughts.
I usually don't have problems disconnecting from the world and spending time with my family and my thoughts. But this weekend brought a new realisation:
We can easily drift into a world of being connected to everything but being disconnected from ourselves.
When we do disconnect, we start seeing ourselves and the world around us with new eyes. In the beginning this can be scary because we feel we're missing out. FOMO (the Fear Of Missing Out) rears its head and we're tempted to go dive back in.
But it's not difficult getting over that fear. And when we do get over it, we start appreciating ourselves and the things around us. We see the little things that we didn't notice before. We become mindful and present in the moment. We see and care about the things around us.
And that brings contentment.
Hack #2: Adopt a minimalist mindset
The second hack to improving your quality of life is to adopt a minimalist mindset.
You're probably familiar with the growing minimalist movement. Marie Kondo is famous for organising - getting rid of stuff that you truly don't need any more and "tidying up" around us so that we have fewer distractions and appreciate the things we have more.
The Minimalists define minimalism as "a tool that can assist you in finding freedom". There's nothing wrong with owning material things, but when we assign too much meaning to the things we own we tend to define ourselves by our possessions. They sum minimalism up as follows:
Minimalism is a tool to rid yourself of life's excess in favour of focusing on what's important - so you can find happiness, fulfilment, and freedom.
For me, minimalism is a journey. I didn't decide one day to become a minimalist, and I may never be a true minimalist. But I have become very conscious of just how much stuff we gather around ourselves, filling our lives with things that seemed useful or needed at some point but have no meaning any more. But we still hang on to them.
So rather than go hard-core minimalist from a specific day, I've gradually moved into a mindset of minimalism. Whenever I see stuff lying around, or something that's just been in a corner forever, I can take a serious look at it and more easily get rid of it if I need to.
And having less stuff is amazing. I travel lighter, appreciate the things I have more, live a tidier life and as a result I am calmer. And that calm translates into contentment.
Hack #3: Appreciate beauty
There is so much beauty around us. In people, in things, in nature. If we were able to see and appreciate more of it we would be happier.
But we're busy, man - busy! We run from one meeting to the next; we rush home to get dinner ready; we work longer hours so we can afford more stuff. And in the process we forget to see the beauty around us.
Next time you're out and about, look for beauty around you. You will find it in people, in things we made and in things nature made. It can be big or small, in places we expect to see it or in places we never noticed before.
Then take note of your mindset. Notice how you've begun to smile, to see things in a positive light, to seek out the good and the beauty rather than focus on the negative. And notice how people respond to you. Because you're coming at them with a different attitude, they respond differently. They are more likely to smile, say please or thank you and leave the world a happier place behind them.
When you learn to appreciate beauty, you start spreading goodwill and happiness. And that can't be a bad thing.
One more hack to bring it all together
It's easy to find examples of people who don't have a great quality of life. From friends to homeless people to nations embroiled in war and suffering famine. People whose road has been so much more difficult than our own.
We can help some of them. But not all of them.
Which is so much more reason to be grateful. I keep a weekly journal where I review my week, list my wins and learnings, and note what I'm grateful for. Every time I write down what I'm grateful for I walk away with a new appreciation for what I have.
So be grateful. Write it down - all the things you're grateful for. Once a week or once a day - but write it down. That will help you realise what you have, help you have a moment of contentment, and have a better quality of life.