Let’s be clear on a few things before we get to today’s little listicle:
Vitality is defined as a positive sense of aliveness and energy. Some call it our health of spirit which just sounds cool, right? This subjective feeling of aliveness is a big deal for our personal well-being, because the polar opposite sure ain’t good (i.e.: that subjective feeling of deadness).
I commit every crime on this list, and often. I say this because I don’t want to sound all preachy, like I’ve got this vitality thing NAILED and the rest of you are the walking dead. I suffer from vitality snuffing, and so I research this stuff to help myself first (selfish bitch!), and then come bearing gifts for you to liven things up in your life, too.
This list might irritate you, and if it does that’s good, because it just means we’ve hit a nerve. You can ignore it and limp along (like trying to ignore sciatica: good luck!), or you can pick one small thing to do about widening your life with vitality.
Obviously you want to stop murdering your life — you want to live with that positive sense of aliveness — so listen up. Here they are, the six things that are killing your health of spirit and energy:
TV + Social Media. How many hours a day are you in front of a screen, not including the screen you’re in front of all day at work? If you watch 4 or more hours of TV per day, you’re nearly 50% more likely to die from any cause than those who limited TV watching to under 2 hours. Each additional hour of TV watched means you’re 11% more likely to die from any cause. (By my latest calculations, I will be dead by Thursday.) And don’t even get me started on excessive social media time… we’re spending 2 hours and 3 minutes per day (on average in the U.S.) using social media — which means that we’re not only sedentary for that time, but we’re also eroding our sense of well-being with every scroll and like. I have yet to find a well-being researcher who is a social media enthusiast. Do you need to dial down the screen time, even by one 30-minute show, or one movie a week — replacing that time with a walk, or making a call to a friend, or playing a game with the kids, or writing a paragraph at a time of your novel?
Not taking your vacation. Some things in life make me crazy, and this is one. Did you know that 52 percent of us are leaving unused vacation days on the table each year? Like total suckers? I get it, I get it — you’re busy at work, and your boss might think you’re not so committed if you take all your time, and you’ve been grounded for like 14 months straight. I know it’s not always easy. But you know what else isn’t easy? Lying on your deathbed, regretting that you spent so much time at work, and not enough time living the life you wanted to be living. Research tells us that if you’re taking less than 3 weeks of vacation each year, you’re 37% more likely to die compared to those enjoying three weeks or more of time off. Don’t let vacation become a casualty of your work martyrdom. The best way to resolve the fact that you might not be taking enough time off is to plan your time off so it doesn’t get to be November, with you wondering how you let the year slip by, forfeiting 9 more days. I work with clients in some really oppressive work cultures (like law firms that frown upon time off) who have identified that time off with family, or time off to road trip, or time off to do whatever they wanted — JUST NOT LEGAL BRIEFS FOR 10 DAYS — was a crucial way to restore balance in their lives. They committed to being more well-rounded humans and set personal boundaries to take every single vacation day they earned. Their lives noticeably changed, and they felt more alive with each day off work to engage in something special/ different/ fun/ restorative/ you fill in the blanks for what days off do for you. No one gets to the end with a sense of pride for their bank of unused vacation days. What days off do you have planned for the rest of the year? Exactly?
The belief that more money = more fun. If you live under the poverty line, money will radically change your lifestyle and your subjective well-being, bigtime. If you live over that line, you might still be striving, like a hamster on its little wheel, to earn more money as a way to buy happiness. Here’s a positive psychology interlude to help explain why you’re striving in vain, Hammy! The Hedonic Treadmill is a thing you might want to know about… it’s a theory that as humans we reliably adapt to the good and the bad things that happen to us in our lives. You’re going to adapt to the things you thought would bring you everlasting happiness… the promotion at work, the totally marryable boyfriend, the car, the boob job, you name it. These things will make you happy — initially — and then your unrealistic expectations that these things will keep you happy basically becomes a recipe for having the life snuffed out of you. Check out the top 4 ways spending money CAN make you happy, if you’re stubbornly attached to $.
Leading a dead lifestyle. Shocker! If you’re sleep deprived, you might not be feeling all that alive. Fun fact: If you sleep less than 5 hours a night, you’re asking for a 65% higher death rate compared to those who regularly sleep 6 – 7 hours per night. We all know that people who exercise have energy stores that keep them running around like coke heads, so if you’re more of that couch potato profile, it’s not a surprise that you’re feeling a little zestless. Exercise buys you time on earth: your risk of premature death may decrease by 4% for each additional 15 minutes of daily physical activity. Same with your nutrition — the difference between eating nourishing foods vs. all the shit we want to eat — well, it matters. Poor diets lead to one in five deaths. That’s a lot of information right there, so maybe pick just one health-related dead zone in your life to clean up at a time.
Deadening people. Hanging around with Debbie Downers and wondering why you lack zest in your life? Debbie Downers are more contagious than coronavirus. (This is true: social contagion is a thing. Emotions spread interpersonally, even through multiple degrees of separation.) If your partner, family, or friends aren’t exactly models of aliveness, my gentle response to that is to DITCH THEM ALL. Just kidding! Less harshly, I believe that you are responsible for your life and aliveness, which includes being your own well-being and entertainment director. If you know you need a jolt of vitality, it’s up to you to find it… you can invite people in your life to join you if you want, and then you commit to going solo if they aren’t up for it. One pre-COVID client with was frustrated that her husband never wanted to try new cuisines. She invited him to join her at an Ethiopian restaurant, and then when he said no, she said I love you, I hope you order a pizza or something tonight, because I’m going on a date with myself to eat Ethiopian food. (She loved it, just as she did the book she brought to read while she pleasantly ate alone.) Another client traveled solo on a sanitizer-filled road trip this past summer when her inner circle wasn’t interested in going, and had a blast. Oh! I just remembered a client from a few years ago who wanted to take a pottery class. His wife wasn’t interested, and he was torn about whether to stay home with her or to go alone. He signed up by himself. He committed — he bought the wheel and started spinning bowls and stuff in their basement, and gradually she expressed interest in what he was doing, and then she gave it a try. Funny enough, he abandoned pottery for something different, and she stuck with it. You don’t need to eliminate the deadening people from your life (or maybe you do, which is a whole other conversation), but you do need to live your life around them. Who do you need to spend less time with, so as not to catch the negativity virus from them? What activities do you need to commit to doing on your own?
Routines + Habits. Oh, these are deceptive little things. These are so sneaky and insidious that I’ve already drawn lots of doodles about the 9 ways we are boring ourselves to death. Be careful not to confuse a healthy habit like flossing –> brushing –> rinsing with the entirely of your Monday to Friday routine, which will deaden you in a hurry. That autopilot trance is comforting at first (especially for us efficient folks who like the beauty of time-saving processes), but it slowly suffocates us until life feels dull, mundane, and blah. You deserve to feel vitally alive, friend. What habits do you need to jostle, just to break out of the trance a bit and be able to discern Monday from Wednesday? What routine do you need to throw a wrench into? Try something new this week and see if it adds more oomph to your life.
So there you have it… six things to stop doing to curb the slow but steady siphoning of your vitality. If one thing grabbed you in that list above, do something about it today. Not tomorrow, not next Monday, not the first day of the next month. Life’s too short to put off living for later. All you have is today. Now go book a vacation day!