Life is all about the little things. Practicing gratitude everyday for those little things will allow you to bring more happiness into your life. Living with intention will bring the purpose and meaning into your life that we are all searching for. Stop searching and realize that the true joys of life aren’t buried in the future, but rather are all around us in the present.
“Ok thanks Paolo for stating a bunch of cliches.”
Yes, they’re cliche, but these are all things I notice that I need to remind myself of more often. In the past couple months, I’ve been so caught up with my corporate job that I forget who I am. I would forget that there is more to me than fiddling with numbers in spreadsheets. I would forget that I had passions and hobbies, and that I used to live every single day with immense gratitude and joy for this one life I’ve been given.
So, I came up with a list of things I like to do to pause, breathe, open my eyes to the little things, and remind myself there’s more to life than the stressors of my day-to-day work obligations.
Like all the things I write, this isn’t meant to be a be-all end-all solution, nor should it be a step-by-step guide you should meticulously follow. That’s not how this stuff works. Happiness isn’t a to-do list. Plus, I don’t have all the answers – I’m still figuring things out. Regardless, I have collected things I found have helped me find joy in the past, and that I want to continue to do moving forward to keep feeling like myself. So with that said, here’s a list of 14 ways I romanticize my life.
1. Get outside — especially during sunset/sunrise
With this pandemic, it’s been hard to go outside. I know it’s definitely hit me pretty hard. We’re told to stay at home and this leaves a lot of people feeling locked in their homes with no connection to the world outside of social media and the news cycle. However, as a lot of people are realizing, that connection is not entirely authentic and rarely does it bring us true connectivity. It’s an illusion. This is where going outside and actually experiencing the real world comes in.
It may be hard, especially in the winter months, to get the courage up to face the cold air, but I found that even during a snowfall I rarely regret going outside for some fresh air. By going outside specifically during sunset or sunrise, the experience becomes so much more magical. The soft warm light hitting your face, reflecting off the river or the dew droplets on the leaves and branches of every tree. Even if you miss the sunrise or sunset, getting the fresh air and your body moving will re-energize you for whatever else comes in the day.
2. Find your favourite songs and compile them into a playlist
I am a music kid — no doubt about it. Good music gets me going like nothing else. It has this power that I can’t understand, even after studying it for years. Now everyone has their own tastes and preferences based on the media influences throughout their life, but for me, I find that moderately upbeat songs with some 80’s vibes always gets me in a good mood. It also sometimes depends on my vibe. Sometimes I’m feeling more urban and am about to go for a city walk, and so I put on some feel good r&b / hip hop. If I’m feeling more of a nature vibe, there’s some really great indie / alternative rock playlists.
A good start is this playlist I made to feel like I’m in a teen coming of age movie. If you grew up anywhere in the 90’s or early 2000’s, I hope this one hits for you.
3. Explore your own city
Back in 2013, I decided to go to a high-school particularly for their music program, but this school was on the opposite side of the city from where I lived, so this meant I had to commute all the way over every day. Part of this commute was getting a ride with my dad to downtown (since he worked in downtown), and then I’d take a bus from downtown to my school. Since my dad would start working earlier than school would start, and also end work later than school ended, I’d always have this extra time before and after school to just roam around the city by myself.
This was a totally new feeling, especially having always previously lived within 2 blocks of the school I went to and also being expected to come straight home after school. This feeling of freedom was invigorating for me. Looking back, sure maybe it wasn’t the safest idea for me to be walking around downtown by myself at that age (I think I was like 14?), but I just wanted to take every opportunity I could to experience this whole new world that I’d only been exposed to in pictures online.
This habit continued later throughout high-school, and also into university. Honestly, I still do this all the time. As much as I think I’ve seen a lot of this city, there’s always new places I haven’t been to before. This is why I can proudly say I love my city. I hear too many people get jaded and say this city is “boring” and that they want to “get out” as soon as possible — I think they just haven’t seen enough of this city. If you seek adventure, it might just come at the times you least expect.
4. Take yourself out to dinner, by yourself
Alongside exploring the city streets, I also had the chance to pop into some cafe’s and restaurants here and there (once I got my first job and started making a bit of money). Mind you, these places weren’t anything too fancy as I was not making very much at the time, but I would just walk past these spots that I always thought looked cool from the outside and one day I’d decide “why not go in?”
This “why not?” is going to be a common theme here.
I remember going into this Italian restaurant one time and not having any idea what the menu looked like or what I should expect, but it ended up being a really fun time to just enjoy a nice meal in peace. I remember not having any headphones on, putting my phone in my pocket, and just taking in that experience. I swear the food tasted even better this way.
If you don’t feel comfortable going out to restaurants alone, cook for yourself. Try a new recipe you haven’t tried before. Put on that favourite playlist (refer to #2) and enjoy this meal you crafted with your own energy. In a way, you are putting in energy to give yourself energy, and that’s pretty cool.
5. Take pictures, make videos, create voice memos, and write everything down
This one is all about documenting. Documenting so that one day you can look back and actually recall what you found important during various points in your life. Now there’s a balance with this because sometimes getting too caught up in documenting can distract us from being fully present in the moment, but I’ll focus on the pros of documenting here. I think self awareness is the biggest pro. When you spend time documenting your life, you’re actively choosing to look at what’s happening around you and potentially reflect on sights/sounds/feelings/thoughts that you wouldn’t have noticed otherwise.
On the bit about taking photos or videos, I’ve personally caught myself many times taking out my camera and peeking through the lens, only to notice something literally right in front of me that I didn’t notice with my own eyes. This doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does I scream internally because it’s such a great feeling. I snap the photo, and then proceed to enjoy this new sight I’ve just discovered.
Regarding writing things down, a new friend of mine has really redefined what it means to write. Apparently, the average rate of human speech is about 125 words per minute, while the average words per minute that your brain can process while reading is about double that. You can only imagine how many words per minute your thoughts can be — it’s quite a lot more. The problem with that is, sometimes you can think too many thoughts at once and not really have enough time to really thoroughly process them — like a storm of thoughts in your head. The point is that sometimes we just need to slow down and really give ourselves ample time to process our thoughts and feelings. By writing things down, it forces your brain to slow down the pace of all the rushing thoughts and really be clear about what you think / feel in that moment. On top of slowing down your thoughts and being really clear about what you think, you can also visually see what you have written and ask yourself “does this make sense?” and really approach your own thoughts from a different angle than when you’re just in your own head.
6. Put your phone/camera down
As mentioned in #5, there’s a balance with documenting life and being present. One time when I was in Italy for a school trip, I had my camera batteries die on me in the middle of the morning. I remember being pretty upset at first because what would I do without my camera? I thought, “How will I remember today if I don’t have the pictures to show for it?”
I realized that thinking was all wrong. I sat on the edge of this fountain in a square which overlooked a whole valley. I closed my eyes and listened to the water rushing behind me, the people talking, the birds singing, the rustling of the tree leaves, the bicycle bells ringing in the road nearby. I opened my eyes and took it all in. I won’t forget that scene. It’s still engraved in my head, just as if I took a mental photograph. That day was probably one of my favourite days of life so far.
Yes, it would be really cool if I had at least one photo to show you what I’m describing, but I think it makes it even more special that it’s just in my head, and that experience is not going anywhere anytime soon.
Bonus: To create the balance that I’ve mentioned a couple times, maybe try taking only one photo, and make it as quick as possible. Trust in your ability to take the photo, and if it doesn’t come out as you like, that’s ok! Make sure you enjoy the moment so that when you do look back at the photo, it will still spark as many feelings (if not more) as a photo you spent extra time “perfecting.”
7. Smile at strangers
This one is super simple. Every time you go outside and walk past a stranger, make an effort to smile at them. Even if they look like they just had their name misspelt on their Starbucks cup and are ready to unleash their fury onto the entire world, sending a smile over their way may just make their day. Even if it doesn’t (because unless they smile back, usually you won’t really know how it impacts them), it’ll definitely make you feel good.
Bonus points to this one is just doing anything nice for strangers. If you see a family trying to take a group photo, but the dad is left out because he’s the one taking the photo — offer to take the photo for them! This always always always makes everyone feel better.
8. When you’re hanging out with your friends, be present
Personally, I feel like my life has so many distractions — from what’s going on at work, to whatever’s blowing up on social media. This is generally just not good to have too much of in your day to day, but I think that turning these distractions off is especially crucial when you’re with the people you love and enjoy being with.
Back in early 2020, my friend Max and I went to a restaurant and he mentioned how he’s trying this new thing where he will take a photo of the food (I mean who’s not into taking good food pics?) but then put the phone away and post later. I thought this was super fascinating because it allowed us to still create the content we like creating, but also remind ourselves that we were there to talk and enjoy each others’ company. Only after we departed did we post our respective food pics, and that felt nice to have this picture and be reminded of the great conversation we had over dinner.
Now I’m not perfect and I sometimes forget and just go straight to the ‘gram to post that fire burger pic, but by making an effort to just get the photo and post later, it will allow you to get so much more out of the experience of being with the people you’re with.
9. Find friends who challenge you to be better
I am so immensely pleased with the group of people I now get to call my friends. It’s been a long journey of being around all sorts of people who may or may not share the same ideals or values as me. It doesn’t come easy — at least it definitely didn’t for me. I’ve had periods of my life where I question my entire network and consider what would happen if I just removed myself from an environment and put myself in a new one.
For example, when choosing to go to that high school on the opposite side of the city, I was the only one from my area to to there. This meant leaving everyone I previously knew behind. They would all go to the closer high school that we were designated to because we lived nearby, while I would meet people from all over the city who, like me, were actively choosing to go to this school not just out of convenience. The point of this story is that I had this clean slate of people to choose who I could spend my time with. In my first year, I bounced between a couple different groups just to experiment with the types of people I thought I clicked with. Once I found my group though, life became so much more fun.
This similar situation happened again when going into university. First year university was a really interesting time trying to meet new people and find the group I would click with. At the end of my first year, I was studying with a group member of mine and a stranger approached me asking about my camera which I had out on the table. Little did I know that this stranger would introduce me to the a club that would change my life. I say that because through this club, I met my closest friends, met my roommate, and was pushed to grow in ways I never had before.
Moral of the story is that every time I shifted my goals or vision for where I wanted my life to go, I ended up also shifting the people who were around me.
10. Look through old photos, read old journals, or listen to an old favourite song
The purpose of this one is really just to inspire nostalgia. Sometimes we don’t need to change, but instead just get reminded of we already are. If you’ve already done any of those things I mentioned in step 5, you’ll have at least some things to look back on. If not, ask your parents for old photos and videos. Old family videos always seem to hit different.
For me its the first couple albums by The Strokes. I remember asking my dad to go to the library just to put myself on the waitlist to borrow these albums. Weeks later when I finally got them, I’d go home and burn them onto my mp3 player so I could replay them even once I returned the CDs to the library.
This was during a time when I had little to no worries. Not many things to stress about. My life mostly consisted of going to school, going to music lessons, and practicing. Life was simple. In listening to these songs, I’m reminded of those times when life was simpler, and allows me to reevaluate where I’m at when life gets a bit more complicated.
11. Go people watching
Now don’t be creepy, but going to a park bench and just sitting there to watch other people is actually really soothing. I like to make up stories about people, wondering what it would be like to be in their shoes. I ponder what complex things make them who they are, who they’ve loved, what their favourite song is, what sparks a light in their eyes.
This is all just to remind myself that we are all human. Every person around us has their own story, and their story is no more or less complex / interesting than our own story that we are making for ourselves. In reminding myself this, I can realize that I am not alone in my experience of this world.
12. Find your favourite warm drink and learn how to make it
That Starbucks order that you keep paying $5 for? Make it yourself. You already know you love it. Why don’t you learn how to make it for cheaper and probably better?
I used to be a coffee addict, and I do still love me a good cup of coffee, but lately I find it just makes me too shaky and gives me more unnecessary anxiety. As an alternative, I’ve come to love my oat mylk chai tea lattes. The chai tea part isn’t too much of a hassle, but I don’t have an expensive espresso machine to make that nice frothy milk. Instead I opted to use a coffee press to create some foam with my store bought oat milk. Honestly, this gets me good.
Learning to enjoy something as simple as a warm drink you’ve made is probably one of the simplest ways to enjoy the little things in life, but also one of the most effective, especially if you can be consistent with it. The more you train your mind to do this with one thing like a warm drink, the more you can train your mind to do it with other things on a day to day.
13. Find a movie character you admire
Think about your favourite book/movie/tv character and ask yourself what qualities they have. How do they dress, act, and show up in the world? What are their goals and dreams, and how did they come to be the type of person they are? Who makes up the group of friends they have and how do their personalities compliment each other?
Now think about which of those qualities would you like to bring into your own life. Ask yourself, “is this how I would also like to show up in the world?” Once you figure out the kind of person you want to be, you can start to imagine the life you could lead, and the kinds of people you want to have by your side as you live out your story. Then the next step is going out an actually making that story happen by living it out.
14. Redecorate your space
This last one is just a simple way to feel good really. I know some people like their organized chaos, but I personally really enjoy a tidy space. Not having too much clutter around allows my head to not worry too much about all the things around me and focus on what’s important. Now I don’t mean get rid of everything, because as much as I’d like to call myself a “minimalist” sometimes, there’s stuff even I like to keep around. It’s ultimately all about keeping the stuff around you that makes you happy.
For example, I’ve been really vibing with my funky old school playlists lately, and so I bought a disco ball. On paper, it may not be the most wise purchase. However, it gives me immense joy every time I see this thing reflect light while Grover Washington Jr’s Just the Two of Us is playing.
So really I think it’s about keeping whatever makes you happy, and letting go of what doesn’t. If keeping the entire Star Wars Lego set makes you happy, then by all means go for it.
Bonus: Bringing in plants into your space is a great way to bring more life and energy into the room. Yes, they’re a commitment to take care of, but so is taking care of yourself. Let this other living being be representative of the areas of your life that you want to tend to. Let this plant be a reminder that every time you are taking care of it, you are taking care of yourself.
That’s my list of things I like to do to romanticize my life and allow myself to bring in more joy into my day to day. I can’t guarantee that every one will work every time, but it’s about finding what works for you and these are what have worked for me, and what I hope continue to work for me.
I hope that one of these resonates with you, and that you may allow into your life all the joy you deserve. If you have any other ways to romanticize life, shoot me a message and I’d love to hear how you live your best life. Otherwise, thanks for reading and I hope you have a great day!