"Vital Activities" Enliven You-What are Yours?

by Nancy Zwiers | 07 Jun 2022

The Bloom Report

“Vital Activities” Enliven You—What are Yours?

By Nancy Zwiers

Back in 2011, when I was suffering from panic attacks in the face of a breast cancer diagnosis, my psychiatrist recommended I attend one of his workshops for cancer survivors called “Beat the Odds.”  The 10-week workshop included about a dozen cancer survivors, some of whom were in Stage 4 with little time left. 

 

None of us know the quantity of time we really have on this earth, but we all can improve the quality of our life, no matter what the circumstances.  So, how does one talk about quality of life with a Stage 4 cancer patient?

 

The two most important things I took away from the workshop are 1) do nothing for a portion of every day; and 2) engage in “vital activities” as much as possible.” 

 

The way I put the first point into practice is that I would stay in bed sipping coffee first thing in the morning while I pet my two cats for a half hour…I found it wonderful!!

 

As for the second point:  Vital activities are those that give you energy, bring you joy, and enliven you.  What better way to think about elevating your quality of life than maximizing vital activities?

 

We each made a list of our own vital activities.  Interestingly enough, the activities I listed all revolved around simple pleasures, like sipping coffee in bed and petting my cats.  The exercise helped me focus on what brings me joy.  (Quick side note:  joy is different from pleasure.  Pleasure is fleeting, while joy has depth and a long tail of well-being).

Just last month, I found a journal that I had been keeping as part of a journaling class in 2013.  This particular session was about time, and we were given many prompts, including the most thought provoking one for me: “Is time friend or foe?”  That led to thoughts about my next-door neighbor Naomi, who was just diagnosed with advanced Stage 4 lung cancer.  At age 52, she had probably never felt time to be as precious as she did then, I conjectured.  That prompted me to imagine, “If I only had two years to live, how would I spend my time?”

This was two years after my introduction to the concept of vital activities, but apparently, that exercise shaped my list of things I would do with the imagined last two years of my life.  Here was my list:

  • I would visit my dad (in Illinois)
  • I would spend more time with my siblings
  • I would visit (my daughter) Nikki at Georgetown
  • I would travel to Southeast Asia with Nikki this summer, as planned
  • I would quickly write my book (about play)
  • I would sit in my back yard
  • I would pet the cats
  • I would never set the alarm; I would wake up when I would wake up
  • I would continue my new favorite practice of sipping coffee in bed
  • I would create a detailed will and disseminate my estate very broadly, surprising many people.
  • I would throw parties for my loved ones

When I stumbled upon the journal last month, I was astounded!  Three years after my retirement from full time work, I realized that I was (on a subconscious level) crafting my life to reflect the very same set of priorities I had articulated in 2013. 

  • I have prioritized family, visiting my 89-year-old dad six times in the past year; getting together much more frequently with all my siblings, and continuing the priority I place on my daughter
  • I travel extensively throughout the world
  • I write a bi-weekly column that is prep for a book that maybe I will in fact write someday-TBD
  • I sit in the backyard…and now I dance too!
  • I wake up with out an alarm, sip coffee in bed and pet the cats
  • I have created a detailed will with many beneficiaries
  • I regularly entertain in my home with friends and family and have become known as “the hostess with the mostest.”
  • Finally, while not on my 2013 list, but reflecting a deeply held passion over a lifetime, I am helping people learn and grow through paid coaching, volunteer mentoring, and writing. This is the nature of my work today and I do it joyously, with great fulfillment.

What this says to me is that when we stop to take the time to explicitly articulate the vital activities that energize us, bring us joy, and enliven us, our subconscious finds a way to manifest these activities that are key to improving the quality of our lives.  A sense of vitality and well-being is our reward.

What are YOUR vital activities?

 

#well-being #mental health