Sometimes, when we’re making the choice to choose happiness in our lives, we have to take a look at what we’re doing on a daily basis. If we find that what used to bring us joy no longer does, or if we spend most of our days suffering from boredom or ennui, we might be in a rut. And it’s hard to be happy when we’re stuck in a rut, doing the same things day after day.
If this is the case, how do we get ourselves out of the rut that we’re currently stuck in? I have a few ideas:
One thing that always helps me is I go somewhere new. It doesn’t have to be far away, but it does have to be someplace I’ve never been before. An easy way to try this is to shop at a different grocery store. This may sound oversimplified, but it really works! Recently I went shopping at a new store a few towns over from where I live, and it was so much fun, along with a bit challenging, to get the things I needed. Because I didn’t know where anything was, I had to cruise along the entire store, going up and down just about every aisle, instead of doing my usual darting around quickly, from this section to that section, almost automatically. While that is definitely efficient, I have to say that this shopping trip brought me so much more pleasure because I got to experience things like stopping to smell the pretty handmade soaps at the artisanal display by the pharmacy. And examining the meats and cheeses at the fancy charcuterie table by the deli. And gazing in awe at the gorgeously decorated cakes in the cases by the bakery. By taking myself out of my usual routine I got to have a really delightful and sensory experience, which brought a palpable lift to my whole day.
Not to mention that going somewhere completely new was great for my brain synapses! Much like when I (attempt to) do the NYT crossword puzzle, as I searched for the items on my list I felt my brain muscles working and being flexed, which is so important to keep our aging cerebellums strong and agile. We do so many things on autopilot in our lives, sometimes it’s great to switch to manual control for a while.
Another great way to get out of a rut is to take a different route to someplace that you usually go. Even just the act of doing something different during your normal routine can help so much with our outlook on things. Even if it might take a little bit longer to get where we’re going, if we’re not in a hurry we can take back roads through tree-lined streets rather than just the usual concrete blandness of the highway. This is also really good for strengthening our brains, and can be very easy to do with GPS at hand.
I recently heard about a game that I really want to try that illustrates this concept perfectly. You and another person get into a car. You start to drive and the passenger closes his or her eyes. Every time the car stops - at a stop sign or a traffic light - the passenger says “Turn Left or Turn Right” and driver obliges. After a designated time, say 30 minutes or so, the passenger opens his or her eyes and then the very first restaurant that you both see is where you go for lunch or dinner. Isn’t this a great idea? You can arrange between yourselves if you want one or both of you to have veto power based on what the restaurant serves, but I would encourage you NOT to do that, since the point of the game is to try something completely new and foreign to you. Then you can try the game again at another time with you as the passenger and your companion as the driver. So much fun, and a great, easy, and inexpensive way to practice getting yourself out of a rut.
Trying a new activity is also a fantastic way to change up your routine, as long as you can be kind to yourself about the outcome. For example, I am not skilled at any kind of visual art, nor do I understand a lot about fine art like paintings and sculpture. (I know what I like to look at but I don’t know much about how these pieces are created.) So for my birthday one year, a friend of mine took me on an “Exploring Art Day.” We started off the morning at a museum, then had lunch, then we went to a bead working class followed by a painting class. It was the coolest day, and even though my painting left a lot to be desired, I put my self-doubt away for the few hours and was able to enjoy expressing myself in a completely different way, while hearkening back in my mind to the masterpieces we had seen earlier in the day. This kind of exposure to something that I knew very little about was educational, edifying, got my brain spinning, and was a ton of fun.
I would also suggest leaving yourself open for new things to come. Some of that is setting your intention and having that mindset, but it also entails leaving time and space while you’re doing something else. For example, this past weekend my husband and I went on our yearly “leaf drive.” We did them regularly when we lived in New England and now we do them at least once a year to see the aspens turn gold up in the mountains. At one point in the later afternoon we came to a spot where we could turn left to go further up into the mountains or turn right to go back home. It was going to be getting dark soon but we decide to turn left and go a little further. (I believe my exact words were “Why go home now? Home is always there, we’ve never been this way before!”) Within less than 5 minutes we noticed that a bunch of cars had stopped along the side of the road and the person in front of us stuck their hand out the window and pointed excitedly toward the field on the left. We looked, and there were 3 majestic deer calmly standing there, looking out at us as if to say, “Welcome to my home, please feel free to take pictures.” We pulled over, took our requisite photos and moved on. Less then 2 minutes after that we noticed more cars pulled over and we glanced to our left and saw 2 enormous elk standing by the side of the road, looking out at all of us, and again, I could swear they were posing for our cameras.
Now this elk sighting was especially exciting for us because when we had been up this way with some relatives 5 years prior, we searched and searched for even a glimpse of an elk but alas, the only ones we saw were way off in the distance. Here they were about 10 feet away from our car and we were astonished by their size and beauty. A few feet further and there were 3 more enormous elk, 2 of them with their antlers locked, the larger of the two showing the smaller one who was clearly in charge. As we drove on we were giggling with delight and ended our evening with a stroll down main street, a fantastic dinner at a random restaurant, and ice cream filled chocolate dipped Danish waffle cones for dessert. All of that, because we decided to turn left instead of right, and fill our evening with new things instead of heading back home as usual.
One more quick story - some years ago we were in New York to see some Broadway shows and after the one on Saturday night was over instead of heading straight back to the hotel we decided to take a longer way back, enjoying the sights and sounds of Times Square and Broadway at night. Almost immediately we came upon someone handing out flyers for a nearby concert taking place in a few minutes. We looked, and it was being given by one of our favorite show composers right around the corner. We ran, hand in hand to the concert venue, got seats right up front, and enjoyed an absolutely spectacular show, because we made the choice to be open to whatever came our way next, instead of rushing back to our microscopic hotel room.
If you’re in a rut, GET YOURSELF OUT OF IT! It’s so easy to get stuck doing the same thing day after day. And while that may keep you fine and content and satisfied, every now and then it’s good to switch things up a bit and try something completely new. Whether it ends up being good or bad, the fact that it’s different will get you on the road to trying more new things and making the most out of every day.
Make the choice to get out of your rut and don’t settle for idle contentment - choose happiness!