When I first reached the conclusion that my children were inheriting a threatened planet, I felt powerless. What could one woman do to avert climate change, resource scarcity and mass species extinction? Not much. But then I acknowledged that I could take responsibility for my own contribution to these calamities. And so I became a mother on a mission, scrutinizing every area of my family’s life. I tracked our gas, water and electricity consumption, monitored how much waste we produced and what went in our recycling bins. I agonized over food choices, transportation strategies, how we did our laundry and what we used to clean our house. It paid off—as the months passed, our environmental footprint shrank significantly.

I like a good challenge, and for the first year or so that was half my motivation. But eventually all the reducing and saving and cutting back started to give me a diet mentality. As I reduced my impact on the planet, I began to feel like my life might be getting smaller, too. Which raises the question: does living green have to equate with a life of self-denial and deprivation? I hope not, because I didn’t sign up for a small, stingy life. I want a great big spilling-over one!

Lately I’ve been reflecting on my choices from a new perspective. I’m still maintaining the environmental practices that work in my life—most of them are habitual now anyway. But I’ve also been cataloguing all the things that make life bigger, that make me feel more connected to the wide world around me. The examples that follow are personal ones, but I hope they’ll inspire you to come up with your own list.

Like most mothers I know, I often have too many balls in the air. The constant busyness can interfere with my ability to parent consciously. But when I stop and watch my children, when I really see them instead of simply react to them, my heart expands a few sizes. What a privilege it is to be a parent—and what a responsibility! If I do nothing else but deliver five happy, well-adjusted young people into the world, I will have accomplished a great thing.

Researchers have concluded what many of us knew instinctively: good friends can extend our lives. When I nurture my relationships with the people I care about, the world becomes a much lovelier place. We laugh, we cry, we learn not to take ourselves too seriously. I could spend the rest of my life on a desert island—if the right people were rowing out to visit regularly.

Being on the giving or receiving end of kindness always makes the world seem a little bigger. Generosity, whether it’s of time, money or spirit, is a great antidote to a small life. As my youngest children get older and I have more of myself to spare, I’ve been looking for ways to contribute to my community. It’s amazing how what I give seems to come back multiplied.

It’s impossible to describe how nature feeds my soul in only a few lines. Let me just say that I will be forever grateful to my parents for moving to Vancouver Island when I was a child. How could the world ever seem small to those of us surrounded by trees, mountains and breaking waves? When the walls start to come in, I know it’s time to visit the forest or the beach.

If I’ve learned anything recently, it’s that life doesn’t shrink if I keep taking risks. Five years ago I was petrified of public speaking. I joined Toastmasters to face this fear head-on (this alone took some serious screwing up of courage), and now I regularly give author presentations at schools and tell stories to adult audiences. It can be scary, but my world opens a little wider every time I challenge myself.

Nothing takes me outside of myself like good music. It may be a coincidence, but I compiled a lengthy playlist to accompany my son’s birth, and it was hands-down my easiest delivery. The digital age makes finding and collecting new music a breeze, but nothing can match the experience of a live performance. There will definitely be more festivals and concerts in my future.

I find it almost impossible to feel deprived when I’m engaged in any form of creativity. My whole family enjoys turning “trash into treasure,” and our home is full of the evidence. Old clothes get refashioned, and old furniture gets reupholstered or refinished. Unwanted crafts are disassembled, and the materials salvaged for new projects. These continual transformations guarantee that our surroundings never get boring.

I simply can’t imagine a life without books. Turn the right pages, and anything is possible. I’ve been to Mars, lived in an underwater colony, and time-travelled through history. I’ve journeyed with explorers, shared the hardships of pioneers, and peeked inside the minds of geniuses. I’ve learned how stars are formed, how salmon navigate, and how to make the perfect quiche. What could be more world-expanding?

And then there’s my bicycle. I’m not an uber-athlete and I don’t like speed, so it takes me twice as long as most other cyclists to get to my destination. But I love my bike. I love the air on my face, and the feeling of power in my legs. I love being part of the landscape, of seeing and smelling and hearing things I wouldn’t in a car. It’s counter-intuitive, but my world feels bigger when I’m pedaling down the road.

The more I pay attention, the more I realize my life has actually expanded since I became environmentally conscious. My footprint may be narrower, but it’s deeper too. I’m more politically and spiritually engaged. I have a new appreciation for what’s important: food, water, shelter and security. Creativity and mobility. Laughter and music, conversation and community. Kindness, reverence, and access to knowledge. These are the things I want for my children, and for children around the globe. What other ingredients could anyone need for a big life?

Rachel Dunstan Muller is the mother of five, and a children’s author. Her previous articles can be found at web link.