Perspective

With our late-October freak snowstorm, four-day power outage, and the start of National Novel Writing Month all hitting at about the same time, the degree to which I’ve over-scheduled and overcommitted myself and my kids became alarmingly clear. The chaos began with my husband’s lay-off in March and has just continued long after its needed to. Here we are, months after moving into our house, and I’m still in something like survival mode. I’m not happy. The kids aren’t happy. My husband’s happy but that’s because nothing ruffles his feathers. But even he admits things are more complicated than they seem like they ought to be.

As Janet Luhrs points out in The Simple Living Guide, we often keep ourselves busy to avoid intimacy with others and with ourselves. Whether or not that was my intention as I added so many responsibilities, it’s certainly had that effect. I feel so rushed, I rarely take the time any more to just be with my kids. I have no time for their emotional bumps and bruises because we’ve got somewhere to be in twenty minutes and the drive takes thirty-five. When my daughter was two years old, she had very few tantrums, in part because when she started to feel overwhelmed or upset, I had plenty of time and energy to empathize with her and talk her through our options. If push came to shove, we’d just scrap our plans for the day.

I don’t know exactly when I stopped doing that, but I’m sure the best my son’s gotten is the emotional equivalent to an emotional band-aid, so it has to have been at least two years. As a result, all three of us have more tantrums.

I repeat to myself over and over, “I don’t have time for this. I don’t have time for this.”

Why don’t I have time?

It’s because I’m prioritizing other things over being there for my kids. Or my husband. Or myself. And by “being there” I mean not only physically in their presence, but present in the moment, with them, where they are right then.

I’m not going to solve this with creative scheduling or some magic combination of activities. I have to solve it from the inside out, and that means giving myself the space to think, reflect, connect, and just be. It means deciding what activities will feed us and help us connect and bring us joy, and it means saying a polite but decisive “no” to those activities that don’t do these things. It means accepting that being at home together, playing, and connecting as a family is enough.

It means letting go of my reliance on things outside myself when I estimate my self-worth. I am not my blog stats, my Goodreads list, my Twitter feed, my Facebook status (no matter how witty), my deliberate wardrobe, my intentionally messy up-do, or the numbers on my caller ID.

I don’t know yet what I’m going to cut and what I’m going to keep. I don’t want to make any abrupt changes, so I hope that I’ll be able to take this slow.

I have no immediate plans for the blog (just for the blog stats, which I plan to ignore as much as possible). Just know that if you don’t read something from me for a while, it’s likely because I’m making space for something else.

Happiness is…

…the rest of my family (cats included) curled up asleep on the big hotel bed, even though that means there’s no room for me and I need to sleep on the pull-out sofa bed.

I’m a Little Storm Cloud

I’m not shining brightly today. Not remotely.

I’m not going to list all of the things that are bringing me down because even in my stormy state, I recognize that that’s neither helpful for my mood nor is it amusing to blog readers.

So, I’m taking a break. I’m not trying to smile. I’m not feeling grateful about the little things. I’m not hugging people. And I’m okay with that for now. The most I’m trying to do right now is not dwell on the long, long days (of one-room living stranded in a foreign place whose roads are practically unnavigable by foot, bike, or car) that are stretched out before me indefinitely.

I’m focusing on the “imperfect” part rather than on the “happiness” part.

Happiness is…

…a farewell party hosted by a dear friend and attended by so many other dear friends, green grass for the kids to run around in while the parents chatted, big boys who let my little son chase after them and gaze at them adoringly, and rain that held off until we were packing everything up.

Introverted me is absolutely worn out by all the socializing, but it was worth it.

Happiness is…

Usually my “Happiness is…” posts include one thing I’m happy about along with a picture. But I’ve noticed (yet again) that I’ve really been focusing on the dark, not-so-pleasant things again lately.

As an antidote for that, I’ve decided to blog tonight about all of the things that I’ve felt happy about in the past few days.

  • The spring-like weather, and my daughter’s exclamation this morning: “Mommy! It’s sunny! It’s real spring, not fake spring!”
  • My son’s delight at holding worms in his hand. Part of the ritual is him taking me by the hand and leading me to the garden, where he signs “more,” points at the garden, then says “no,” shakes his head, and signs “eat,” indicating that he’s not going to eat the worms that he wants me to put in his hand.
  • The pleasure my daughter takes in sounding out three- and four-syllable words.
  • The way my son asks where something is: he signs, “where?” then shrugs his shoulders and says, “Go?” About half the time he actually indicates what he’s looking for, as in, “Mommy go?” or “Turtle go?”
  • The smell of the white and pink blossoms on the trees. I imagine them to be apple and cherry blossoms, but I’d be surprised if there were that many apple and cherry trees in the parking strips in town.
  • The sudden green-ness of the whole valley, all the more sweet because I know it’s going to be short-lived. Once hot weather hits, we’ll go back to looking more like the desert that we are.
  • Cuddling and reading with my daughter while the white noise from my bedroom purrs through baby monitor, reassuring me that the baby is asleep (for now).
  • Homemade bread, even though I can’t eat it because it’s wheat.
  • The smell of freshly cut grass and the presence of the babysitter so I can mow relatively undisturbed by my children.
  • The enthusiastic cry of “Cod!” from my children in answer to my query, “Which would you like for dinner tonight, pizza or cod?”

It’s always surprising to me how hard I have to work to remind myself to see the pleasant things in my life. There are so many, and yet some days, I can’t see any of them.

I wonder, do I feel happier because I notice these things, or do I notice them because I feel happier?

Smiling: Does it Count if You Fake It?

Baseball uniform(s) in the 1870's

How long did these ball players live? Judging by their smiles, not long. (Image via Wikipedia)

Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project (and inspiration for my happiness project and this blog) tweeted this post by Ron Gutman from the Forbes blog: The Untapped Power Of Smiling.

In this post, Gutman reports on research that shows that smiling makes us feel better and look more competent and attractive. In addition, the size of one’s smile can also predict the length of that person’s life (large smiles = long life, apparently, at least among Major League baseball players in 1952).

I’ve mentioned on this blog before that one of the things about introverts is that we’re not terribly emotive. Often, our faces don’t reflect what we’re feeling inside. In fact, we are frequently accused of “scowling” or otherwise looking angry when we’re thinking. Does this lack of huge smiles mean we’re not going to live as long as the smiling guy next to us?

Gutman concludes:

So now, whenever you want to look great and competent, improve your marriage, or reduce your stress…or whenever you want to feel as good as when you’ve enjoyed a stack of high quality chocolate without incurring the caloric cost, or as if you randomly found 25 grand in the pocket of a jacket you hadn’t worn for ages…or when you want to tap into a superpower and help yourself and others live longer, healthier happier lives…SMILE :-) [the emoticon is emphatically his]

But I remember reading somewhere (I think it was David Rakoff’s Half Empty. Here’s the trouble with only checking books out from the library and not buying them; I want to reference them in my blog and they’re not right here at my fingertips. Probably a reason to get a Kindle) that in Thailand (I think), people can tell when a smile is fake. I suppose we can all tell when a smile is fake or forced, but apparently in Thailand they know this consciously and comment on it when they see fake smiles in advertising and such.

So here’s my question: If you’re not a natural smiler but you make a point of forcing yourself to smile, will you still reap the purported benefits of smiling (a long, happy life filled with successful business endeavors and blissful interpersonal interactions)? Because if, as Gutman suggests, the smiles need to be “big, and genuine,” my fellow introverts and I might just be screwed.

What Brings a Smile to My Face

My kids bring a smile to my face.

Well, not always. Sometimes they make me gnash my teeth. But a lot of the time they make me smile.

Today, my son painted at the easel for the first time. He and his sister, protected by their matching “Happiness is Making Messes” aprons, stood side by side, brushes in hand. (I had them sequestered in the tiled kitchen while the carpet cleaner did his work in the rest of the house.) My daughter painted a large, two-colored “54” at the top of the paper, then a picture of the carpet cleaner’s dog in the middle of the paper. My son painted the same corner of the paper over and over again, signing that he was painting an elephant, then a dog, then a sheep, then a fish.

That was a smiley time for me.

It was even worth the amount of pre-treater I had to use on their clothes, in spite of the aprons.

Happiness: “see what treasures you can pluck from your own brand of unhappiness.”

Robertson Davies, Canadian author

Robertson Davies. Image via Wikipedia

Thank you to Tucker for this quote.

Happiness is always a by-product. It is probably a matter of temperament, and for anything I know it may be glandular. But it is not something that can be demanded from life, and if you are not happy you had better stop worrying about it and see what treasures you can pluck from your own brand of unhappiness.

– Robertson Davies

December is Fun Month!

Finally, time for a little fun! Not only is December all about parties and celebrations, but it’s also my birth month. All of my life, I’ve looked forward to December only to have it pass by before I’d even had a chance to notice it. As part of my Happiness Project, I decided to try to remedy that by focusing the entire month around “fun.” Of course, this is Me-Style Fun, which is pretty low-key and introverted, but how much fun would I actually have if I tried to have someone else’s fun? I remember reading a cousin’s list of holiday parties on her Facebook profile a couple of years ago. It was party after party after party. She was clearly having a blast and loving all of the socializing, but I thought at the time (and still think) that that many parties would be my idea of hell. No exaggeration. Hell. She’d likely think something similar about my comparatively hermit-like lifestyle. That’s totally cool, and good to know as I plan my Fun Month. So, my first criterion: Fun Month will involve a minimum of parties.

Here’s what it will involve:

December 2010 – Fun

Focus: Let myself have a ball.

Set the stage for enjoyment. Back in college, fun involved staying up late and coming home feeling sick and smelling like cigarette smoke, getting two hours of sleep and then heading to class in the same clothes I’d partied in, barely held vertical by large amounts of caffeine. In the intervening years, my definition of fun has changed significantly. I look back nostaligcally at my baccanalian days, but I realize that as I approach my mid-thirties nothing’s fun if I’m sleep-deprived or know I’m going to feel crappy as a result of my frivolities. So I basically want to re-commit myself to the resolutions I’ve already introduced, especially the Mindfulness and Self Care resolutions from August and September, and explore these resolutions as they relate to fun. I’m hoping this gives me the best odds of being able to enjoy whatever it is I’m doing. I’m also hoping it helps me feel less self-conscious about the things that I find enjoyable. Who cares if other people think the things I’m doing are boring as long as I find them fun?

Make time for fun. Each day, I would like to know that I’ve got time earmarked for me to have fun. I spend most of the day doing things that simply need to be done, like feeding my family and overseeing their hygiene. Like it or not, I’m in charge of everyone’s underpants. I will try my best to enjoy underpants management through mindfulness. But I think it will also help if I know that I’ve got 30 minutes (or so) set aside just for what I want to do. If this is reading a novel instead of a nonfiction book about happiness, so be it. If it’s watching the John Adams miniseries I have out from the library while crocheting a scarf and sipping non-alcoholic wine, great. So long as it’s for me and I know it’s coming, I think I will be better able to enjoy those moments that aren’t so universally viewed as “fun,” as the John Adams miniseries is.

And that’s it. Broad strokes, not so measurable, but I think it’s the best approach for me in relation to my quest for fun. If you’d like to review my full Happiness Project schedule, please click the link to the left.

Let the FUN begin!

Poetry Break

Original Winnie the Pooh stuffed toys. Clockwi...

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been having fun spending a lot of time on my posts every night, but tonight, I decided to give myself—and you—a little break.

I happened upon this poem tonight in my daughter’s The Complete Tales and Poems of Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne. I love how Milne captures a moment of happiness for this youngster.

Happiness, by A. A. Milne (from When We Were Very Young)

John had

Great Big

Waterproof

Boots on;

John had a

Great Big

Waterproof

Hat;

John had a

Great Big

Waterproof

Mackintosh—

And that

(Said John)

Is

That.