Our 4 Steps on the Pursuit of Happiness

Years ago, we sat down together as a family and composed our family mission statement:

We are committed to being happy and enjoying a more simplified life; and agree to hold ourselves and each other accountable to attitudes and behaviors that support those outcomes.

We revisit our mission statement periodically during our family meetings and are continually striving to live a more balanced, joyful lifestyle. One of the topics that has come up often is our desire as a family to return home to Oregon.

Our 4 Steps on the Pursuit of Happiness @EvaVarga.netOur parents are aging and are in need of our help. We want to be there for them. Though we make trips home regularly – it just isn’t enough. The kids long to have a stronger bond with their grandparents. My husband had thereby been actively seeking work in Oregon over the past year. As a hospital administrator, the opportunities were rare.

In early May, we talked about the possibility of looking at pharmacy positions and stepping away from hospital administration. This would be a huge change for him professionally and a decision he would have to make on his own. I assured him we would stand behind him no matter the path he chose to follow.

A few weeks later, he came home from work one evening and stated, “I’m ready to look at alternatives. I am open to the possibility of returning to pharmacy.” No sooner did he make this decision and he received a phone call from a former colleague who shared that he would be retiring. “Would you like your Pharmacy Director position again?

Coincidentally, we had plans to be in Oregon that weekend and thus he made arrangements to interview. They offered him the job that afternoon and our world was sent spinning.

We debated if this was the right decision for us as a family. My daughter spoke eloquently, “I want the dad I have when we are on vacation. I want you to be present. I think we should try this, Dad. If this doesn’t work, we can try something else.

Stepping down from a career path he had worked so hard for was the bravest thing he could have done. It wasn’t an easy decision yet we have been working towards a more joyful life for years.

Our 4 Steps on the Pursuit of Happiness

Based on our personal journey, our conversations, and our observations, here is a list of the 4 most important things we have done to simplify our life:

1. Eliminate Possessions

Keep Only What Brings You Joy – Too many material possessions complicate our lives to a greater degree than we ever give them credit. They drain our bank account, our energy, and our attention. They keep us from the ones we love and from living a life based on our values.

My son seems to have learned this lesson early in life. His only “toys” are Lego and HO trains. Though they have taken over his room – two tables take up the entire floor space for his Lego city – there is little else other than a book shelf (one shelf is dedicated to Lego – books, catalogs, magazines, and instruction manuals) and his dresser.

Invest the time to remove non-essential possessions from your life. For inspiration, consider reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing On the same note, stop buying things that you don’t need.

Downsize – All the while we have lived in Redding, we have rented our home rather than buying. The repairs, lawn care, and maintenance are someone else’s problem, not ours. As a result, we have had more time to travel and enjoy quality time with one another.

While a rental is not as readily available where we are moving, as we have toured homes and considered purchasing a home again, we have considered only what we need. There are some magnificent homes on the market. As a family of four, we really don’t need a 4 or 5K square foot home.

We selected a home that reminds us a lot of the home we once owned in Bend. It has a slightly smaller footprint but it is enough. Presently it has a lawn, but we’ve decided to move forward with a xeriscaping plan to reduce the need for supplemental water from irrigation and maintenence.

2. Get Organized

A Place for Everything – Assigning a place for each object simplifies life dramatically. As described in The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, it is a key component in making a space less frustrating and more beautiful.

Streamline your Finances – If debt is holding you captive, reduce it. Do what you need to do to get out from under its weight.

We’ve had just one credit card these past 10 years. We use it for most all our expenses and thereby capitalize on the rewards structure. Most importantly, we pay it off each month.

Relatedly, our vehicles are paid for and we are not encumbered by monthly payments. Our only expenses are our monthly living expenses. We set aside a significant portion of our earnings to a college savings plan, our retirement fund, and of course our vacation savings.

We have only recently discovered Dave Ramsey’s “Baby Steps” and I highly recommend his podcast. I look forward to using his Smart Money Smart Kids: Raising the Next Generation to Win with Money with the kids as we jump into the “Baby Steps” ourselves.

3. Simplify Relationships

Reduce Negative Thoughts – Resentment, bitterness, hate, and jealousy have never improved the quality of life for anyone. Forgive past hurts and replace negative thoughts with positive ones. Keep your speech plain and honest. Mean what you say and avoid gossip.

Without going into detail – there have been multiple occasions when others have said hurtful things to me or my husband. On occasion, when I catch myself thinking poorly of that person, I’ll stop and remind myself that it really doesn’t matter. What is important is how I feel about myself.

Strengthen Relationships or Let Them Go – Make the effort to spend time with people you like. Do not waste time keeping up with friends who bring you down or bore you. This applies to work as well. Don’t be afraid to seek out new career options if you are not happy or you don’t feel valued in your present job.

Surround yourself with people who bring you joy. Life is too short to get caught up in the drama.

Our 4 Steps on the Pursuit of Happiness @EvaVarga.net4. Slow Down

Screen Time – Television, movies, video games, and technology can rearrange your values. It can dominate your life and have a profound impact on your attitude. When we moved to Redding four years ago, we made the decision to eliminate television from our home. We thereby haven’t had cable for four years and haven’t missed it.

Technology is still a major component of our life, however. It is critical for the kids’ Mandarin lessons and for my work as a blogger.  We try to minimize our screen time and though we can still make improvements in this area, we are getting better at recognizing when it begins to affect our attitude.

Time Commitments – Most of us have filled our days full from beginning to end with time commitments: work, home, kid’s activities, community events, religious endeavors, hobbies… the list goes on. When possible, release yourself from the time commitments that are not in line with your greatest values.

We have had to reevaluate this on a few occasions to avoid burnout (see my earlier post, I Am Not a Soccer Mom: How to Avoid Child Burnout). We try our best to create a balance between extracurricular activities and family life.

Sometimes it requires us to make tough decisions when conflicts arise – Do you want to go to the Junior Olympics (swim meet) or Sons of Norway heritage camp? We allow the kids to make this decision for themselves. We discuss our goals and values openly as a family.

I do my best to create a healthy balance; often setting aside personal goals (marathon training) and choosing to work on only one or two at a time. I want my children to be lifelong readers and to develop their music and language skills daily. I thereby try to model this as often as possible – setting aside 30 minutes each day to work on my own language skills, conversing with those who are fluent, and reading for leisurely and self-improvement regularly.

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We are excited to return to Oregon, to return to the community in which my husband and I grew up and began our professional careers. We will be surrounded by family and childhood friends. Yet our move will be bittersweet.

It is always difficult to say good-bye. We will miss the friends we have made here in California. We will cherish the memories we have made.

Our move back to the Oregon coast will come with its own challenges. The population is significantly smaller, and likewise the homeschool community. It will take some getting used to – as with most things. Yet, we welcome the change.