Why We Grow Happier After Experiencing a Change in Routine

To my dearest friend, JM, on the start of his new adventure!

When J.R.R. Tolkien was just beginning his work on what would end up being a series of the most beloved books and movies about quests and valor (The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy), he wasn’t sure in which direction to proceed with his newly created characters. He feared that the story was shaping up to be too boring, predictable and mild. When he shared his predicament with an authors’ circle of which he was a part, his friend and fellow great C.S. Lewis offered some writer-to-writer advice.  Hobbits, he said, are only interesting when they are put in un-hobbit-like situations.

And so the hobbits had to leave the Shire – and in doing so, managed to change the landscape of adventure literature forever.

We need routine in our lives, of that there is no doubt. We like structure and order because it offers a feeling of control which in turn creates a perception of safety, something we began experiencing in childhood and tend to chase after most of our adult lives.  Routines offer solace when life takes chaotic turns and a space in which to recover and regroup.  They are also shortcuts that simplify many daily tasks for us and those around us.  We create routines around meals, activities, work processes – virtually everything, it seems like.  Routines are strong structures because of the way we repeat them and reinforce the habits.  We become so attached to our routines sometimes that we view a change to them as a traumatic event – however, it need not always be that way.

If you are feeling that your life has taken a turn towards the completely predictable or perhaps as if you are missing out on what it has to offer, or questioning the meaning of yours, it may be possible that the time has come for you to leave your Shire and allow yourself to experience new environments and new situations. You can decide what that looks like for you – whether you literally leave and go on an unexpected journey, or simply add a new step to your day, or learn a new skill, or speak with a new person to hear a new perspective – a change to your routine will allow you to grow and learn.

It is also completely up to you how often you decide to break your routines. Remember that we do need them in order to be able to lessen the anxiety of the havoc that life can some wreak on our minds and world.  We have to have a safe retreat to look toward when the world’s battles start getting the better of us – our Shire.  So if we continuously break them, we run the risk of losing that structure of support and predictability that helps with our blueprint of life’s events.

It could also be difficult to decide when it would be a good time to break the routine. We tend to take in a lot of “social noise” such as advice from disengaged well-wishers, pressure from friends and family who think they know us best, things we see in the media such as messages from the TV, the movies and other pop culture oracles, self-talk that sticks with us for years, self-limiting beliefs and much more that may muddle the message that change is needed and that the time is now.  So it may be helpful to know how we can tell that the time is now.

First and foremost, there is no better way than to just ask yourself how you feel. If that seems too simple, it’s because the best approaches usually are.  Trust yourself; you already possess built-in survival and happiness triggers that will alert you when you are moving down the right path and the wrong path.  If you feel like your own inner voice cannot be heard for whatever reason at the present time, consider a truly trusted source, someone who has your best interest at heart consistently.  They may be able to help you make the decision one way or another. Remember that both the routine and the breaking of it are a part of a cycle and that both must happen at periodic intervals to help you maintain that balance between control and creativity; predictability and growth; repeating and learning.

You will know that you’ve initiated change and growth by how scared you will feel. Even with supportive friends and loved ones by our side, the journey into something new and unknown is a lonely venture.  So why then in the title of this article do we mention happiness?  How can something that’s frightening and anxiety-riddled make us happier?  The answer lies in the long-term view.  The routine keeps us in the here and now. The change opens up future vistas and helps us look ahead.

In the midst of change and its initial stages we are prone to feeling anxious and powerless. As things are unfolding around us on our new journey, they are strange and unfamiliar.  But the beautiful phenomenon here is that the more we learn how to exist in the ambiguity of breaking the routine and how to teach ourselves to look for the comfort in the discomfort, the more contentment we will report experiencing in the long run.  Remembering that life is cyclical and that routine will follow change and vice versa will enable you to become better and better at riding the wave of transitions.

Whether we exist in the cycle of routine or cycle of transition at this present time, we know that the tide will change very shortly, the cycle will shift and know that you can choose to change and shift it yourself as well. Introducing new experiences into our routines builds up our resilience muscles and helps us believe in our abilities.  And when we decide that indeed it is time for us to leave the Shire, we may find that this decision may just help us save our entire inner Middlearth.


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