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With not long to go until I find myself celebrating the ‘big’ 40, here’s my list of 40 things that have made the first 40 years of my life just that little bit sweeter.
They’re also nearly all great ways of practising self-care with, or without, the company of others.
I’ll bust a little myth for you here – there is no jiggery-pokery to meditation. If you can breathe, you can meditate. Your mind may, make that WILL, wonder and that’s ok – it’s all part of meditating. My favourite book on mediation is Unplug – A Simple Guide to Meditation for Busy Sceptics and Modern Soul Seekers’ by Suze Yalof Schwartz. Just as you would expect from the title, it’s really accessible and totally non-jiggery-pokery.
The greatest way for mind, body and soul to meet is on the yoga mat. I discovered Yoga in Thailand and Bali, but you don’t need to travel any further than your local class to invite it to do its thing. In fact, you don’t even need to leave your house as there are some fantastic yogis doing their own thing on YouTube. My current favourite is Yoga with Adrienne head on over and check her out!
3. Visit Bali
Without a doubt, Bali will have changed since our last visit in 2010/11, however, I’m willing to bet that it’s as mesmerising as it was during our first visit in 2007. From the surf to the yoga, the Canang sari offerings to the food, the frenetic streets to the padi fields, Bali is Bali and if you haven’t visited, you really should.
4. Travel on Chinese trains
As a westerner, it’s an experience. Especially if you don’t know a word of Chinese and forget to take a phrase book. Second only to crossing the Chinese/Vietnamese border – not for the faint-hearted!
5. Climb Mount Fuji
I climbed Mt. Fuji in my early 20’s with a friend. The official climbing season is early July to mid-September and climbing overnight, in order to watch the sun-rise as the clouds tumble down the mountainside, is nothing short of spectacular. Here’s the official scoop on the when and the how to do it.
6. Fall in love…and have your heart broken
Whether, or not, you believe in finding ‘The One’ falling in love, having your heart broken and learning how to pick yourself up, brush yourself down and keep on keeping on, teaches you volumes about yourself. Spending a few single years in my 20s taught me two big lessons: I am enough; and that I will always be OK if I ever find myself single again – tho I very much hope that I won’t.
7. Practice gratitude
Spending a minute at the end of a day listing three things for which you are grateful sets you up for the following day. It’s particularly great if, like me, inertia often gets in the way of progress.
A dose of daily self-care in well under 5 minutes, I call that a win.
8. Work hard for a career
There are many benefits to working hard. Whilst, easy to come by results yield nothing more than momentary gratification, those successes that have been hard fought are building blocks for life. Hard work builds confidence, allows us to experience the feeling of gratitude, develops our skills and motivates us to do and achieve more. Easy pickings don’t stand a chance against that.
9. Leave your career behind
If you have been doing the same job since you left school or university and you love what you do, that’s absolutely amazing. For many of us, however, doing something that no longer inspires is a fact of 30’s life.
We make big decisions that will potentially map out the rest of our lives, usually before we are 21. We make these decisions when we know little about the ‘real’ world and ‘real’ life yet, conventionally, we are bound to stick by those decisions until retirement finally knocks on the door. So, why should we stick with decisions that we made so many years ago if those decisions no longer work for us in the here and now? Walking away from the law almost three years ago is the most liberating (but terrifying) thing that I have ever done and I don’t regret it for a moment.
10. Paint walls
Or give yourself the gift of spending time doing any repetitive, yet necessary task. It’s during these times that our minds can often be at their creative best. Repetitive tasks have meditative qualities giving the mind a chance to rest whilst the body set to.
11. Buy a house
Practically, it’s an investment sure, but buying your first home is so much more than that. It’s setting down roots and creating a space that fits your style. Better than all of that, it’s your retreat, a haven, a safe place and a door to close on the rest of the world whenever you want, or need to.
12. Put your life on hold and go travelling
We did just that in 2010-11. Packed our lives into storage, rented out our house, sold our cars and headed off with nothing more than a backpack. It was, without out a doubt, the most liberating, life-affirming and mind-blowing thing that I have ever done. Checking out on ‘real’ life and setting out with only the vaguest of plans is my number 1 ‘must do’ of the first 22 years of adulthood.
13. Love food
Hands up, this doesn’t describe me now. Since son2, the relationship has been a complex one. However, those five or so years of living a ‘foodie’ life, without needless or excessive reliance on either sugar or consumption are somewhere that I really would love to get back to. Quality food, world food, non-crap food. That’s where it’s at and, if it’s laced with garlic, so much the better.
14. Stop worrying about what anyone else thinks
Oh, how I wish I had worked this particular life-hack 25 years ago! This is your life, this is your one chance, so don’t live it for anyone other than yourself.
15. Be yourself
Ever feel like a square peg in a round hole? Me too. Or, at least, I used to feel that way. What changed? I took myself out of the round hole (in my case the law) and began to find my way without that label to define me. Now that I am not trying to be the person that I ‘think’ others expect me to be, I’m happy and no longer a slave to my worries. The only thing that I’ve ever missed is the writing – and now, that’s covered with this blog.
There are many reasons that I love to crochet but I think that the reason that I got hooked is because of the meditative qualities. It takes me to a calm place that few things can reach – a place where inconvenient thoughts don’t exist. Recently, knitting has been hitting the news as a way to lower blood pressure, reduce depression and slow down the progress of dementia and crochet isn’t that far removed from knitting at all.
17. Make heirloom seasonal decorations
They are full of memories of the time that you made them and the years that they were used. My youngest son’s advent calendar, in particular, is a fantastic reminder of the fact that it took me until his 5th Christmas to complete it…and, thankfully, that was the first year that he noticed that anything was amiss!
18. Ride a cable car
No two cable cars are quite the same! the Vinpearl Cable Car in Nha Trang, Vietnam is a particular fave of mine and The Panorama Langkawi the most nerve-wracking. My award for the most atmospheric has to go to Victoria Peak Tram, Hong Kong even if it’s not quite a cable car.
19. Face a fear
You might just discover something that you love, build yourself a future or more. As I discovered when I climbed the Canopy Walkway to the top of the Rainforest biome at The Eden Project yesterday, alone, the feeling of achievement that comes from a facing a fear builds self-belief. The more we believe in ourselves, the more we can achieve.
20. Plan a wedding
Or a similar big event – it’s a crash course in project management and reminding yourself exactly what you are capable of. And, just like facing a fear, planning and executing something big gives us faith in our own abilities.
21. Walk on a deserted beach by the light of the moon
I’m an absolute romantic and whether it’s a cold, clear night on the Cornish coast or barefoot in a tropical paradise, feeling the sand beneath your feet and hearing the breaking waves with the moon shining down on you is nothing short of magical.
22. Go skinny dipping
I don’t categorise myself as someone that lives on the edge, but I’ve ticked this one off the bucket list…again, by the light of the moon, dutch courage on board.
23. Travel New Zealand in a camper van
I’d go back and do it again, and again. We kept a travel blog during our 2010-11 trip and I’ve just had a look back at some of the NZ blogs. One sentence stands out amongst all the rest:
“I have a feeling that when we wake up tomorrow it will feel as if this storm never happened …”
And New Zealand was the place where, one day, we woke up and the storm of the previous year of our lives had passed. I just didn’t know it at the time that I wrote that sentence.
24. Let sunset and sunrise rule your body clock
Again, I’ve got NZ to thank for learning the beauty of living this way. For many of us, living this way long term isn’t realistic, but everyone should experience it even if only for a couple of weeks. To me, that’s simple living.
25. Write a blog
Well, I would say that, wouldn’t I? There’s nothing quite like having your own little corner of the internet to create, curate and call your own. I’m so keen on it that, travel blog included, this is number 5 for me!
26. Binge watch a box set
But don’t make it too much of a habit – unless you have bucket-fulls of free time, that is!
27. Eat in a Michelin star restaurant
For most of us, dining Michelin Star style is nothing more than a rare occurrence. The first time for me was on my 30th birthday and there have been a few more since – a definite one for the foodies!
28. Travel on a south-east Asian boat
As a health & safety conscious Brit, this is an education in the best possible way. The first time, for me, was from Bali to the smaller island of Nusa-Lembongan on a brightly coloured, wooden catamaran style boat. We spent our short crossing on the roof which, just about, tells you everything that you need to know about travelling indo-style.
29. Fall asleep in the early hours whilst trying to finish an amazing novel
The best books are the ‘just one more chapter’ kind, even better enjoyed in the quiet of the early hours whilst the rest of your household sleeps.
30. Never stop learning
Formal education is only the beginning of our educational adventure. It certainly has its place – in enabling us to finance our lives, but my Oxford degree didn’t teach me as much about life, myself or the world as the friends that I made whilst I was there and the books that I’ve read, places I’ve visited and the hard times that I’ve lived through since. If we see life as an education from start to finish, it becomes second nature to see the beauty and miracles in everything.
31. Bake, and decorate a birthday cake
My 8-year-old niece is quite confident that I love baking.
I absolutely don’t.
With that record set straight, here’s the truth of it: I absolutely adore spending creative time pushing myself outside of my comfort zone. I’m a magpie for any 3D project, and decorating birthday cakes is one of those ways (twice a year) when I get to spend a day lost in creating something entirely unique. Even ‘tho it stings a little to make the first cut, the best thing about cake decorating, is that you never have to find a place to store the object your creativity. These little babies are not in it for the long term. Find something creative that you’re not brilliant at but that you can enjoy all-in a couple of times a year and enjoy a great sense of accomplishment.
32. Completely re-invent yourself, at least once.
This one’s a bit of an expense and doesn’t fall into the category of ‘quick and easy acts of self-care’ but it’s utterly liberating. When I was 17, I cut my hair from bum length to pixie crop, cried rivers and swore I’d never go to school looking like that. All that teen-aged drama over and done with, I eventually owned that haircut and transformed myself into the person that I wanted to be – at that time. I have a feeling that that’s a thing that might just happen again in the next decade as I transform from sleep deprived ‘Mum bun Mum’.
33. Run a 1/2 marathon
A half is an achievable distance for most of us but definitely pushes you out of your comfort zone. The big win in doing one is that you’ll realise just what you’re capable of and bolster your self-belief even if, like me, you end up finishing with heat stroke!
34. Donate blood
35. Turn into a festival chick for a weekend
No need to pick a biggie. Go for one that suits your style, pocket and your location. My first was Glastonbury 2010, just before we went travelling – mud free! Since, we’ve done it, and a more local festival, with the boys, which is totally doable. BUT, there is nothing like making a festival an adults-only affair, allowing you to check out on real-life for a weekend and to whittle down your priorities to which stage or food stall to check out next. It really is an experience worth joining the great unwashed for.
36. Learn to be completely comfortable in your own company.
You are enough. Spending time alone and sitting with whatever is happening in life good, bad or indifferent and working through it is, for me, one of the key building blocks of happiness.
37. Visit Verona, Florence, Rome. Basically Italy.
Culture, pizza, pasta, wine. I can’t do it justice in a few words, but if you haven’t already read it, Elizabeth Gilbert’s perfectly expresses it in her book Eat, Pray, Love.
Never give up hope. 2009 and 2010 were, to date, the hardest two years of my life. In short, I had a very complicated miscarriage (Molar Pregnancy) necessitating chemo and, what at that time felt like, an interminable wait to try for a baby again. It was hell. Then, just as chemo finished my Dad had a stroke and a lengthy rehabilitation. The one word that I kept coming back to during all of that time was ‘hope’. I had no control over any of it, but I did have hope that, one day, everything would get better and that the family that I dreamed of would become a reality. They very much are! There is always hope.
Everything that we have, and do, in life begins as a dream. Not every dream will come true, but the marvellous thing about dreams is that they can be utterly extravagant, beautifully simple or somewhere in between and they can all set us on a path to living our best, most authentic life.
Believe in yourself, believe that life can be whatever you want it to be. That’s the first step in a future that you dreamed of.
If you think I’ve missed something out or were nodding your head in agreement to something in particular, I’d love to hear your thoughts below.