As we enter the pointy end of the year my trusty, hard copy 2017 diary is filling up. There are end of year everythings to go to. There are kids’ concerts. There are art shows and celebrations of learning. There are special assemblies and swimming carnivals. There is keeping a spotless house…WHAT THE? Oops I seem to have slipped into someone else’s list because that one never makes it onto mine. But it’s an easy mistake to make – the straying into someone else’s list of ‘Shoulds’. There are extra work shifts, and continuing education seminars. There are more invitations for catch ups with friends, family, acquaintances, work colleagues. There is of course Christmas – no longer quietly creeping up, but everywhere we look, reminding us to worship. At the altar of consumerism. Impending Christmas shouts that we should put reindeer antlers on our cars and see people we might not otherwise choose to spend time with.
I am not suggesting any of these things are necessarily bad. But I have learnt my family and I are healthier and happier if I don’t do all of them. When it comes to kids end of year things. I like going to some, but if I go to everything, I wind up with the equivalent of ‘kids-end-of-year-activities’ compassion fatigue. By the last one I am so over it, I teeter on the edge of resentment. These days I take on extra work, and I enjoy it, but not at the expense of leaving some white space in my diary. Same with catch ups. Love them. But I’m selective.
As for the spotless house, if the process of keeping one makes you happy, or at least less miserable than having a messy house, then do it. It just doesn’t make me happy, so I don’t. I happen to really love having our (slightly) extended family around for dinner on Christmas Eve. Depending on who can make it, there are between 6 and 22 of us. I genuinely enjoy planning and preparing for it, and because no one is there out of obligation it is always a wonderful evening. For someone else, doing this might leave them utterly drained of joy. Like me with the spotless house. To each their own!
Problems occur when ‘Should’ enters the picture. ‘Should’ implies unwelcome obligation. It implies a sulky lower lip, being dragged off to do stuff you really don’t want to do as you roll your eyes. And it’s important to remember that shirking the ‘Should’ is not about being irresponsible, disrespectful to others, or lazy. It’s about truthfully differentiating between the important things and people in your life and dead weight.
How much energy are you expending on things, activities, or people that (if you stop and think about it) don’t mean much to you?
It has taken me years (and a hefty dose of Bipolar 1 Disorder) to work out that I can control a lot more of the stress in my life than I previously thought I could. And a huge part of the process was letting go of all the things I thought I SHOULD be doing. I believe we all have control over some aspects of our mental health. But it means choosing to regularly clean up our mental hard drive. And much of this process is about identifying your core values ie what is genuinely important to you. Doing things that go against your core values for extended periods of time, will clutter up that mental hard drive, and your mental health will suffer. You may not come down with Bipolar Disorder or Clinical Depression, if you are not genetically predisposed to it, but you won’t feel right about yourself or the world you inhabit.
And really, when we dissect it out, there are very few things we should do. In order to stay alive we have to breathe in and out. We have to eat and drink. Having shelter, clothes, and a source of income to provide all these basics (plus private health insurance in case you need treatment for a mental illness) are also good. For me – some form of exercise on most days is a must for my mental health maintenance. But that’s just me.
So, beyond the very basics (and for the sake of your mental health) it’s up to you to decide:
What matters to you?
And the answer might be quite different to what you or anyone else thinks you SHOULD do…