Do What Gives You Light

Jessica Mathis
6 min readJan 15, 2020

The Simplified Guide to Being A Little Bit Happier

Photo by S&B Vonlanthen on Unsplash

I consider myself a self-improver. I’ve always been in pursuit of ways to be better, do better, or feel better. I wouldn’t consider myself a happy person though. I’ve always got to be pursuing a goal or chasing something to feel satisfied or content. Sounds counter-productive, doesn’t it?

I’ve pursued a lot of things in search of the elusive happiness. People, jobs, places. I want to run away from it all and finally be free. I want to meet the right person and finally be fulfilled. I want to finally land in the right career and be happy.

None of that’s worked. I’m 31 and I’m tired of chasing happiness like it’s some material thing I can find.

I decided to distill my pursuit into a simple, easy-to-follow method. I knew there must be a better way to approach self-enlightenment. Filling my day with things and people and checklists marked complete felt disingenuous and unsatisfying.

So I decided to do what gives me light. It sounds reductive, but it’s a better way to prioritize my time. More importantly, it helps me feel good about where and how I focus my time.

What Does It Mean?

Something that gives you light fills you with joy and warm, fuzzy feelings (note: perceptible warm and fuzzy feelings not actually required). It can be other people, it can be a thing, it can be a hobby or activity, something you do for someone else, or something you do for yourself.

But didn’t I just say in the opening few paragraphs that I was searching for this happiness in people, places, and things? Yes. But they were the wrong people, places, and things.

It’s your escape from the world. Your comfort. It’s what makes you, you. It can be a mixture of your passions, interests, and values. You’ll know it when you feel the impact it has on you.

For example, things that give me light:

  1. Connecting with others. This can be through collaborative efforts, such as working on a creative project together, or simply sharing an interest/common ground (like going to a support group, joining an interest group, or taking a class). It can be as simple hanging out with friends or spending time with family.
  2. Creating something of my own. File under: writing, videography, and photography. Anything like that fills with me with great pleasure and joy because it’s something I made myself, and usually, I have something important I want to say with it.
  3. Doing things for others, primarily through volunteering, but also acting on opportunities to show kindness in daily life. I like feeling like I matter, making a difference, doing good. I think most of us identify with that. I recognize it as something really near and dear to my heart.

When I look at this short list of things that give me light, I can easily surmise that rote performance of activities, such as reading a book, or trying to perfect a skill, just because they’re things that I’m interested in, are not essential to my well-being. They have value, and I may still want to do them, but they will not satisfy these deep, inner cravings I have for real meaning and happiness.

What Gives You Light?

It’s your escape from the world. Your comfort. It’s what makes you, you. It can be a mixture of your passions, interests, and values. You’ll know it when you feel the impact it has on you.

You might easily be able to identify the things that give you the most joy, or you might struggle to make such list. The great thing about coming up with your list is that it doesn’t have to follow a set formula or consist of specific elements. It can be something you’re passionate about, or specific activities or events that make you feel that rush of joy. Whatever it is, it’s something that can’t be replicated through other means. This is all about your personal experience, and no one can tell you what that is.

Here’s another thing that might trip you up: what gives you light may not be what makes you money, though you can certainly see potential crossover with the two. That’s not the goal. Doing something satisfying — when it deeply invigorates your soul — is gratifying all on its own. It doesn’t need to make you money to fulfill you; the point is for it to inspire you and nourish your soul, without other complications.

You will find that when you come up with the right list, it removes other things you thought were important. I still want to work on my vocabulary, read more books, and gain a better understanding of math — but those are not things I’m passionate about, nor do they fill me with joy the way the things on my list do. This doesn’t mean I should abandon them forever; it just means they are lower on the priority list now.

What doesn’t give you light will take it from you — and I’ve found that my time is the most valuable currency I have. If something drains too much mental or physical energy, I don’t want to prioritize it. I want to spend the majority of my time on things I love and that love me back.

If you’re still unsure, start doing something. Anything. Practice with different hobbies or ideas that catch your interest. Start with the all-encompassing list where you write down any possible interest you might have. Then think of all the ways you might pursue that interest. Do you need to take a class? Can you learn online? Do you have everything you need to start now? Should you do some research? The best way to find out is by doing.

It could be experiences, too. Something intangible. Maybe you love to travel and experience other cultures. Maybe you love to spend time with friends and family, like me. Maybe you enjoy solitude and the comforts of home more than anything else and it reinvigorates you the same way that creating something does for me.

The things that will be on your list will excite you when you think about it. It still may take work and effort, but it will truly give meaning to a the phrase “labor of love”.

It may take something else, like time or money. Committing to time with friends can sometimes feel like you’re taking valuable time away from other things, but when you think about what you get from it, how it nourishes your soul, it’s a worthy trade-off, if it gives you light. Traveling, as another example, can be quite expensive and may seem unattainable, if that’s an obstacle. But you can start in your own backyard, so to speak. For me, that means wanting to explore Nasvhille, TN more. There’s plenty to still see and do there.

The Results

Would I say I’m “happy” now because I do what gives me light? I’m not going to say that. In fact, I’ve stopped thinking of happy as some destination I have to reach. I can feel joy and love and light from all these activities and experiences. I am fulfilled and content in ways I wasn’t before. I can be happy, as a passing state of enjoyment, instead of a default state that I have to be in all the time.

Illuminating what matters the most to me allows the rest to fade away. It’s so simple, but so liberating. I have just a few things that I can focus on if I want to do better, feel better, be better. If I have time or energy for other things that interest me, they’re still there. But I know where my priorities are because these are the things that make me feel the best, in a way that nothing else can match.

I encourage you to do more of what gives you light — and less of what doesn’t. Framing happiness, or at least moments of happiness, in this light allows our priorities to fall into place more easily. It gives time and attention to things that matter the most, while putting other things toward the bottom.

In your pursuit of self-improvement and happiness, go toward the light.



Jessica Mathis

Writer at The Unplug Initiative. Mental health advocate. Doing my best in the pursuit of self-improvement.