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The Happiness Plan – A vision quest

An extract from The Happiness Plan By Dr Elise Bialylew

As a child, some of my favourite books were from the Choose Your Own Adventure series. In these books, you were able to make choices on behalf of the protagonist that changed the course of the story. There were multiple endings – some happy, some scary – and you never knew exactly where your decisions would take you. I remember the delight of seeing the direction of the story shift according to my decisions. It gave me a sense of empowerment and agency.

Feeling empowered is such a crucial ingredient of happiness. One of the most depleting feelings we can have is a sense that we are stuck and unable to direct our own story. Whether we’re feeling unsatisfied in our relationships or our careers, if we want to change our future we need to first get clearer about what we want that future to look like.

Through actively taking time to tune in to what we want our lives to look like, we can make decisions that move us closer to that vision. Mindfulness meditation offers us the space to inquire into what we really want for ourselves, and it helps us tune in to our inner guide as we map out where we want our lives to go.

TODAY’S PRACTICE: Mindful Visioning

Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, had an unexpected wake-up call late in his life – one that profoundly changed his sense of purpose and contribution to the world. Nobel was for many years an unpopular public gure, shunned for an invention that led to the destruction and loss of so many lives. In 1888, his older brother Ludvig, a famous engineer and successful businessman, fell ill and died. As the news spread, journalists mistakenly believed it was Alfred who had died. The story goes that Alfred woke up one day to see his own obituary in the papers, and it was a damming account of his life. The journalists re ected on the destruction and death that resulted from his invention. Shocked, Alfred began to re ect on what kind of human being he wanted to be. He decided to set up the Nobel Peace Prize and donated most of his fortune to the award.

Today, as a way of reflecting on the vision you have for yourself, take time to imagine that you’ve reached the end of your life, and write your own obituary as you would like it to be. How do you want to be remembered? Although reflecting on our own mortality may seem morbid, taking a moment to consider our own death can wake us up to the preciousness of our life and to how we want to live it. As the poet Mary Oliver asked, ‘Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?’

In this obituary, you can paint a picture of the life you have lived, reflecting upon all its different aspects:

  • Family.
  • Career.
  • Your biggest accomplishments.
  • Your greatest contributions.
  • What you stood for as a person.
  • What most mattered to you.

This retrospective reflection on your life is one way to use mindfulness, the practice of being fully present in the here and now, to give you a clearer perspective on what really matters and how you really want to be living.

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