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How to Make Better Life Decisions… in One Question

By August 17, 2017 April 12th, 2019 No Comments

For hundreds of years, philosophers, scientists, religious leaders, and psychologists have studied the topic of happiness.

And yet it’s still a remarkably elusive concept, with significant areas of disagreement among experts.

My favorite advice columnist, Carolyn Hax of the Washington Post, offers this as a litmus test for readers grappling with whether to preserve or sever a relationship:

“Does it restore you or drain you?”

This simple question brings remarkable clarity. Read it again.

Its usefulness isn’t limited to romantic relationships.

It’s helpful in many domains.

  • Should I keep this friendship?
  • Should I keep this job?
  • This exercise routine?
  • This news station?
  • The school my kid is going to?

Or is it time for a change?

Like any heuristic, it has its limits – the friendship might just be going through a rough patch, or there may be “growing pains” as you adjust to a new situation, but for its simplicity, it’s remarkably useful, especially for neurotic, overly-analytical, Type-A folks like me whose decisions often get stymied by “oughts” and “shoulds.” (I’m definitely more the ant than the grasshopper).

Here are some places I’m applying the “Does it Restore Me or Drain Me” rubric to get more joy from my life:

The books I read – When my friend was struggling with Postpartum Depression, I told her to find her “cozy book.” You know, those books that make you feel hopeful and restored. For me, these are books that give me permission to surrender – surrender to the chaos of new parenthood, surrender to change, surrender to the things I can’t control. Maybe for you it’s celebrity gossip or an escapist novel. Find your cozy book, and don’t waste another moment with that book you’re trying to love but don’t.

The news I consume – Wellness guru Andrew Weil recommends a temporary “news fast” until one determines the appropriate balance between being informed of world events and feeling upset by the pervasive negativity in the news. Is the news you consume enriching you or depleting you? Are there certain kinds of stories you need to screen out?

The people I confide in – I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older to choose confidantes carefully. I need a particular kind of support when I’m struggling with emotions – typically, this takes the form of validation of my feelings and empathy. Notice patterns about who you’ve confided in and how you felt afterward.

It is likely, that some people are restorative to you and some are depleting.

Try it. Turn the question toward your own life and commit to embracing the people and things that bring you joy!