I packed myself in my Prius, dropped the dog at the kennel, and told Siri to take me to Indiana. It was my first mostly-cross-country solo road trip. Starting point-South Orange County. Destination-Wherever my heart took me but probably Indianapolis. Pretty things and points of interest took priority over getting there. I caught the sunrise over the mountains on my way out of Flagstaff, Arizona, snapped photos at the famed Cadillac Ranch along historic Route 66, and visited friends and family back in the Midwest. The trip was my two-week, grown-up version of play.
Feeling stuck in a rut? Following are a few steps you can take to create change and add joy to your life.
Incorporate play into your day.
Play has healing and growth properties not just for children but for adults as well. Among other benefits, play reduces stress, increases life satisfaction, and improves coping skills. Whether coloring, playing Frisbee with your kids or joking around with friends, you will enjoy a generally improved sense of well-being.
Don’t wait for that big cross-country road trip. Add small amounts of play into your regular daily routine.
Step outside your comfort zone and help others at the same time. Buy a friend coffee, hold a door for a stranger, or leave an encouraging note on someone’s Facebook wall. Kindness is a low-cost, simple way to increase happiness, both for you and the recipient of the act. Get creative by brainstorming your own ideas or find an Acts of Kindness journal to help you along.
Dream a little.
Ask yourself, “If I had eighteen minutes on a stage with a captive audience, what bit of knowledge would I share?” Make a list. Would you talk about your life journey? Would you educate on a passion?
You don’t have to actually stand on a stage in front of a group of people with a microphone strapped to your head, PowerPoint clicker in hand, and witty banter at the ready (unless you enjoy that). You might simply share with a friend. You might just revel in the imagining. Try journaling your thoughts and following through on a few.
Follow someone else’s bucket list.
About seven years ago, I read a book titled The Next Thing on My List by Jill Smolinski.
The book begins with two women – one in her early twenties, the other middle-aged – sitting at a Weight Watchers meeting. The younger woman needs a ride home. The middle-aged woman offers. There is an accident involving a truck. The younger woman does not survive the crash. While lying in the street, waiting for first responders, the older woman sees a paper that has fallen out of the younger woman’s bag. She grabs it and later discovers it to be a bucket list, something along the lines of “20 Things to Try before My 22nd Birthday.”
Struggling with an immense amount of guilt and sense of responsibility, the older woman feels compelled to complete the younger woman’s list. She finds tackling the bucket list of a stranger, especially one so much younger, an unexpectedly exhilarating and enriching experience.
I was intrigued. Since then, I have swapped lists each year with a friend. I’ve come to call this my “Twenty Things to Try” project and have found that it’s not so much the item itself that enriches my life as it is what happens as a result of completing that item.
This year, one of the challenges was to “Do something outside the box.” While strolling the bookstore, I came across My Ultimate Bucket List, a little journal with 300 items plus room to add my own. I accepted the challenge.
Beginning June 12 of this year, my fifty-fifth birthday, to June 12 of next year, I plan to complete as many of the 300 items as I can. The goal is to make at least 200 to 250. I am documenting my journey on Instagram (to complete one of the items!) and encouraging everyone to follow along.
Stretch beyond what you think you are capable of, try new things, or try old things in new ways. Grab this little journal and your favorite pen. Join me!
(And, yes, that cross-country road trip was to complete one of the challenges.)
Tammie Ortlieb is an expert at bringing play and kindness into life. A long-time vegan with a master’s degree in educational psychology, she is the co-founder of VegOut Los Angeles and author of Outside the Lines: Essays on Poverty, Possibilities, and the Power of Love as well as Freeing My Inner Blonde.