Insert Cheesy Title About ‘3 Small Things I Do to Get More Out of Life’ Here

IMG_0331 copyI know you’re thinking “wait, I thought this blog is supposed to be about Caitlin’s travels”. Well, yes it is, but it’s also a vehicle for me to sneakily slip in some life thoughts that happen to be floating around in my head whilst traveling or awaiting travel. (In this case, it’s the latter, since we head to Mexico in T minus 5 days!)

It’s a super fine line to walk, dishing out life advice when I don’t know who is reading or who it will be relevant to, whether or not my ideas hold any value, and how to not sound like I have life all figured out. I don’t. I’ve hemmed and hawed and I’ve finally decided, meh, if there’s a slim chance that anyone could benefit from my ideas, then it’s worth it to post them. So without further ado, here is a list of three things I do that definitely make my life more enjoyable. Skip to the bottom for my book recommendations. 🙂

1. Wake up early on the weekends

I am not a morning person. I’ve always struggled to wake up in the morning. So this year I put “wake up early more often” on my list of New Year’s resolutions (yes, I actually believe in resolutions and following through with them). The more I do it, the more rewarding it is, especially on the weekend and especially when it’s in time for sunrise.

When I wake up early on the weekend, the whole day stretches out. By 9 am I’ve already been so productive and gotten so many ‘tasks’ out of the way that I can enjoy all the free time remaining in my weekend. Maybe I’ve already gotten in some exercise or reading or alone time before anyone even knows I’m up. The day becomes long and slow, the weekend becomes unhurried.

If I wake up in time for a sunrise, the feeling is unbeatable. It means starting off the day with a masterpiece from nature; a beautiful secret that only you are privy to while the rest of the world still dreams. It’s a gift that I seldom appreciate, but am so grateful for when I do. It puts all of my problems in perspective.

Of course I don’t do this every morning, and I know that most people already have to wake up very early for work, which is a pain. But there is something incredibly satisfying every once in a while doing something that you’d rather not do. It’s not necessarily about sunrise, it can be anything you that you might put off for another time despite the fact that it holds an immediate reward. Like cutting your toenails reaching out to a friend you’ve lost touch with.

So next time you wake up to pee at 6 am and blearily stagger back to your bed, try to stop yourself, look out the window, and step outside.

2.Walk places when possible

I really enjoy driving and am oddly attracted to the aesthetics of cars, despite having very little mechanical knowledge. However, I’ve been carless since January, so I’ve learned to live life without one. It helps that I live in a small city with decent public transportation, in a prime location with grocery stores and a downtown all within a mile walk or less. But the thing is, when I had a car I would still drive to the grocery store instead of biking or walking even though it was only half a mile away.

One of my fondest memories from childhood is walking to the Dairy Queen that was around the corner from my dad’s house. On Friday nights we would sometimes walk there after dinner and wait on line for soft serve and eat it as we walked home. Black and white twist with rainbow sprinkles, anyone? I still get the same joy from doing that now, even though my favorite ice cream shop is now about a mile away.

These days, Ben and I walk to the grocery store, to cafes, to the library, and to work. Some nights after dinner we walk around the neighborhood, spotting fruit trees, touching plants that look soft, peeking in at the chicken coop down the street, discovering new parks, people watching, or just aimlessly circling to clear our heads and talk. It is relaxing and it’s easy. What I’m saying is, if you are fortunate enough to be able to walk, go do it. During your lunch break, in the early morning before work, or if you can, walk to your errands.

Similar to waking up early, it slows time down. When you drive, the natural impulse is to rush, to make that yellow light, to pass that driver going 5 mph under the speed limit. When you’re walking, the rush evaporates. You can only go as fast as your own two legs, so you may as well go slowly. I think slowness is seriously undervalued our modern society.

3.Read paper books

Reading is a game changer. I know most people are fried from work and looking at screens all day, so squinting at tiny words and focusing can seem like a chore. I have been there too, and honestly post-college, it was a long time before I picked up a book for fun.

But this year I made it a point to read 1 book a month. Instead, I’ve read 18 books since January. It’s gotten to the point where as soon as I’m done with one, I feel like I’m missing something until I start a new one. The upshot is I’ve gotten better at reading, my focus has improved, and I definitely feel less addicted to screens. I’m all about the kindle or tablet reader, but I have to say there is something wonderful and timeless about holding a physical book in my hands, turning actual pages, and passing it on to someone else when I’m done. And if you find the kind of books you like, then it can truly be as mindless and fully absorbing as Netflix.

Here are some my favorite books I’ve read this year, which I highly recommend:

Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman: This is one of the best books I’ve ever read. It is short, succinct, and as you might expect from the title, completely brilliant. The idea is that each short chapter explores an idea of time as a young Einstein dreamed it during the period in which he was working on his theory of relativity in Austria.   What if time went slower the faster you move, so people built houses on wheels to slow time down. Or time is faster closer to earth and slower at altitude, so people build houses way up in the sky. Or what if time was circular? I highly recommend it!

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri: This is an engaging and fascinating collection of nine short stories set in India or the United States, centering around the daily lives of Indians or Indian-Americans. The stories are invariably poignant but will also make you laugh out loud.

Cure: A Journey into the Science of Mind over Body by Jo Marchant: Extremely interesting book written by a doctor with above-average story telling abilities, about the relative merits of alternative medicine and how Western medicine could harness the power of the mind to more effectively treat chronic pain and autoimmune diseases, ADHD, depression, burn patients, Parkinsons etc. It covers controversial topics like the placebo effect, the nocebo affect, meditation, prayer, and even hypnosis. If you or anyone you know is dealing with something that Western medicine has not provided the perfect cure for, I highly recommend reading this book!

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