I tend to err on the side of serious. I think I came out of the womb with a serious look on my face, impatient about when I would get on to the next step of my life. My baby brain was probably already wondering, “Can’t we just get to the walking and talking part already? I have important things to do!”

For much of my life, I’ve treated my journey as a series of goals, mostly related to academic success. Valedictorian? Check. Scholarships? Check. PhD? Check. Harvard? Check.

Despite the fact that I always managed to keep an active social life, I took my goals very seriously.

I wouldn’t let anything stand in my way.

When bad things happened, I put my head down and continued to plow through my work. I suppressed my feelings. I went on antidepressants so that I wouldn’t have to process my emotions.

I was so, so serious.

Sometimes I still am.

Having recently moved from a quiet suburb to a busy city, I’ve noticed that many people around me are serious, too. A short trip on the subway reveals countless commuters, heads down or eyes staring blankly out the window, brows furrowed, no doubt in deep thought about very serious issues like:

  • “Should I cook chicken or beef tonight? I’m so sick of chicken, but the kids won’t eat beef. Wait! I don’t think we have any chicken left in the freezer! What am I going to do? What a disaster.”
  • “I don’t know how I’m going to finish this report on time. My boss is being totally unreasonable. Doesn’t she have a life?”
  • “I wish he would just call me. Or should I call him? It’s been three days since our date. He probably thinks I’m a total nutcase. I’m going to be alone for the rest of my life.”

It’s often said that the people around us serve as mirrors to reflect our own behavior back to us, so that we can become more aware of the things we need to work on.

My recent experience with “seriousness in the city” has inspired me to take on the following mantra:

“Stop taking life so seriously.”

A few weeks ago as I was meditating, I asked for guidance with implementing this mantra in my own life. You see, starting a new job at one of the top academic institutions in the world has given me the urge to put my seriousness into full swing. After my meditation, I was walking to the subway, head down, deep in thought about a very serious matter—the all-important question of when the checks that I ordered were going to arrive from the bank. As I stepped onto the subway, the driver smiled at me and said:

“Hello, very serious person!”

I couldn’t help but laugh. I’d been busted. And the guidance that I’d asked for had arrived. For the rest of the day, every time I felt myself slipping back into serious, I would remember the subway driver’s comment, and I’d smile.

My new job has given me a perfect opportunity to approach my goals in a new way. Instead of focusing on achieving academic success to prove (to myself and others) that I’m a worthy human being, I can choose to accept the fact that I’m already worthy. I can focus on the difference that my work is going to make in the world regardless of whether I achieve personal success or not. Maybe none of my projects will work out or get published, but perhaps these studies will serve as stepping stones for future work that will eventually revolutionize patient care.

I encourage you to adopt my new mantra. Every time you find yourself worrying about something that’s actually completely trivial, stop. Because here’s the truth: When you’re on your deathbed, you won’t care whether you cooked chicken or beef. You won’t be thinking about your boss or the ex-lover who never called you back. You’ll be thinking about the people you love and the relationships you had. You’ll be thinking about the moments of beauty you missed because you were taking life too seriously.

There are people all around the world who are experiencing things that are far more serious than your everyday problems. These people are facing things like starvation, genocide, a disease, a diagnosis, or a death sentence. These people are allowed to take things seriously (if they choose).

You aren’t.

Be grateful for every breathtakingly gorgeous moment that life offers. Notice simple things like a ray of sunlight or the twinkle in your child’s eyes. The next time you’re out and about, smile at someone who looks very serious. Resist the urge to honk your horn.

Relax into the moment. Release serious. Embrace joy.

Your life will thank you for it.

Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. is an author, speaker, researcher, and yoga teacher who helps people create a life they love. Check out her book, The Antidepressant Antidote, follow her on Facebook and Twitter, and join her whole-self health revolution.

If you’d like tips on the topic of manifesting your dream job, plus some personal instruction from Bethany, check out her online course, Creating A Life You Love: Find Your Passion, Live Your Purpose and Create Financial Freedom.

*Photo Credit: globetrottermamma.com