I was feeling really stressed the other day. But I wasn't sure how stressed until I was walking to the car and noticed the lemon tree and herb garden in the corner of our backyard. The leaves on the tree and plants were withering up and nearly browning on the edges, with weeds of grass sitcking up through the dirt. And that's when I knew: I was buried under. And I needed to readjust the balance of my life—fast. So I did. And I have that lemon tree to thank for it. Why? Because I've come to see our garden as the measuring stick of my happiness. See, I've worked out a system where I can actually tell when I'm happy by a measuring stick outside of myself. And when my life isn't in balance, I fix it. Want to know the secret?
I think we all have a pair of jeans that help us know when we're gaining weight, losing weight, or exactly where we want to be, right? So, what's your pair of jeans when it comes to your happiness? Rather than trying to put a label on a vague feeling inside of us, it helps to find something outside of ourselves we can look to and measure just how balanced, calm and happy we really are.
So I ask you this: What's your measuring stick? How do you know when you're exactly where you want to be?
Try this: Pick something in your life that thrives when you're happy and keep tabs on it. Maybe, like me, it's your houseplants or garden that look healthy when you have time to tend to them. Maybe it's a lunch date on the calendar with a friend you always make time to see when life is good. Maybe it's a clean closet. Or a fresh pedicure. Or maybe you know you're doing okay when you've fit in a good run twice in one week. Your measuring stick for happiness can be whatever you want. Just choose something like that pair of jeans that you can physically measure outside of yourself and keep tabs on it.
Check your iCal to see how long it's been since you've had lunch with Kim. Glance at your pedicure. Feel your muscles. Check your plants. If all signs point to stressed, it's time to take action! Do what you need to do—and stop doing what you need to stop doing. Say "no," reschedule, do over, take a break, take a nap, take a bath and reassess. Make time to do the thing that makes you happy again. Because otherwise, what's the point?
What's the point of building a great life if you're too stressed out to enjoy any of it? Try it. Your measuring stick will be your happy life's new best friend.
For more tips on being happier, look for Amy's upcoming book Bright Side Up: 100 Ways to Be Happier Right Now (Perigee, February 2012)