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What's Taken Me Almost 80 Years to Figure Out

How to enjoy a richer life by stopping to smell the roses.

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Woman's arm with a green watch and roses popping out of the frame
Margeaux Walters
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Many years ago, I was in the supermarket when a woman stopped me in my tracks. “I am going to give you the best advice you will ever have,” she said.

She pointed to my very pregnant belly. “You will always have laundry to do, dishes to wash and floors to mop,” she said, “But you won’t always have a baby. Enjoy that baby when it comes. Everything else can wait. Be mindful of the moment.”

I realize now that her words were applicable in every aspect of life. It has taken me almost 80 years but I can now say I’ve learned how to stop being busy for the sake of being busy. I have learned how to be mindful in the moment.

And I love it.

I had been so wired to fill my days, that even after I retired in my mid-60s, I continued to stay busy: hurrying from one lecture to another, one activity to another, and shopping. I found it difficult to slow down when I’d been running for so many years — until the fateful day I tripped. This mishap, a broken leg and wrist, woke me up.

Frustrated, I had to lay on the couch, while thinking of the projects I’d left undone. Suddenly, the words of that wise woman in the supermarket all those years ago came back to me. “Everything else can wait. Be mindful of the moment.” I looked at my casted leg and arm and put my head back on the pillow. I had no choice but to pause.

I know that for some people, staying busy is a way to avoid painful feelings and situations. If you're super busy, you are unable to focus on what may be bothering you, or causing you discomfort. For working women, economics may be the key to their hectic lives. Feeling the need to increase their finances, they try to fit more and more work into their hours.

For those of us who’ve retired, however, it may not be income that drives us, but a connection between keeping busy and feelings of self-worth and status. However, I don’t think that was my driving force. For me, it was the high energy I felt after completing all of the things I’d set out to do.

Yes, we can become addicted to being busy. Addiction occurs when our brain's reward system is activated by a rewarding experience. When we complete tasks, we get a burst of the pleasure hormone dopamine. Therefore, we can get hooked on the rush of achievement and then crave the pleasure again and again.

My time on my couch was the perfect chance to re-evaluate my life. Before my mishap, I’d never stopped long enough to question my activities. I’d just run from one to another. Fully present in the moment, I examined all of the things I was doing. I tried to understand the significance of each and why I was doing it.

Writing and painting gave me great pleasure but shopping? My closets were full. And I got little pleasure from the lectures I attended. So why did I go? I realized it was because my friends were attending. I decided that I would forgo the next lecture series and spend the afternoons painting or writing.

I also began to put together jigsaw puzzles. Each time I finished one, it gave me an almost euphoric feeling. I realized that completing a simple task also triggers the release of dopamine — the pleasure hormone — in our brains.

Spending more time at home, I discovered everyday pleasures like playing games with my family, who stopped by more often because I wasn’t so busy running around. On rainy days, I sat on my porch watching and enjoying the sounds of the drops on our roof. On sunny days, I savored the sun glistening off the blades of grass.

One morning, I turned on the television to catch the news and instead found a movie I’d been eager to watch. I made myself a cup of coffee, turned off the ringer on my phone and indulged in what I’d once considered a decadent morning activity.

To build back my strength after my mishap, I made walking a priority. I began with a route I’d previously only driven before. It was like a whole new world opened up to me. I discovered quaint shops that I’d missed while driving and a bakery where the aroma of freshly baked bread lured me in. The pastry I tasted made me a regular customer.

I’d never said no when someone asked for a favor before. But, now, I realize that taking on more and more commitments, and over-scheduling, had led to anxiety and stress and it has been affecting me both emotionally and physically. Since I’ve slowed down, both my stress level and my blood pressure have dropped. And I’ve learned to pay more attention to my body.

When I feel irritated, fatigued or depressed, I know that something is out of balance. Instead of working faster as I once did when I had so many things I believed I had to do, I now slow down and avoid excessive activities. As I lay on the couch with my cast 15 years earlier, singer Mac Davis’ song, Stop and Smell the Roses, came on the radio.

These lyrics still ring true, more than ever:

Where you going in such a hurry

Don't you think it's time you realized

There's a whole lot more to life than work and worry

The sweetest things in life are free

And they're right before your eyes

You got to Stop and Smell the roses.

Do any of you over-schedule yourself? Have you tried to stop? Let us know in the comments below.

Follow Article Topics: Fulfillment
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