Double Vision: June Review/July Kickoff

Today I misjudged how long it would take me to get lost and then get back to meet up with a group of moms I was meeting for the first time. I ended up being more than an hour late getting together with them. I mentioned my concerns about time out loud while driving the kids back west from Needham.

“We’re going to be really, really late meeting these moms,” I told my daughter, who was riding in the backseat with her brother. “I hope they aren’t upset with me for being so late.”

My daughter was quiet a few moments before saying, “If I were a grown-up and I had kids and you were supposed to meet me at the park, I wouldn’t be mad at you for being late, Mommy.”

Why the reassurance of a six-year-old would help, I’m not sure, but it really did. It helped me pause and reflect on all of the things I was saying to myself about myself because I was late, that I was over-scheduling myself, that I was going to seem flakey, that it was going to seem like I didn’t care about meeting with them, that they would dismiss me as a possible friend because I wasn’t reliable.

My daughter’s comment helped me realize that she loves me unconditionally, and that that’s the kind of friendship I’m looking for. If a group of moms refuses to even consider me as a friend because I’m late getting to the park, that just narrows the field for me. I don’t want that many friends anyway.

As it turns out, the reception I received when I arrived at the park—one of the moms walking over to my car when I’d barely gotten out of my seat, giving me a big smile and introducing herself with a handshake—was more in line with my daughter’s reassurances than they were with my worries.

In Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier, Inman fears his experiences in the war have made it impossible for him to mix back into society. During his long travels back towards his home in western North Carolina, he happens upon a woman who’s lived alone with her herd of goats for nearly three decades.

The image that comes to mind when I think of these two characters is of that test they give at the optometrist where they give you double vision and then gradually make an adjustment and you’re supposed to tell them when the two images match up. I imagine Inman and the hermit woman are one image and the other image is the place they’d fit in the rest of the world. But instead of matching up seamlessly, these two images never quite fit. The edges always overlap slightly. They look like they ought to fit, but they don’t.

I frequently feel this way myself. Mostly it’s confusing, and kind of lonely. I try to suss out what I could be doing differently to fit better into my world, and no matter what I do, I never quite line up with the space available for me.

I realized this month that part of my reason for undertaking this Happiness Project is to try to fit better in the world. I’d just like to feel less disoriented in social situations. The Friendship focus in April and June’s Sharing Happiness focus are particularly oriented towards this goal. Neither has really shaved off my edges enough for me to fit comfortably, but this month I have sensed something of a letting go.

I still feel nervous getting together with people, but for the first time, I don’t feel particularly embarrassed letting people know that I’m trying to connect with them and build a friendship with them. I’ve begun voicing the things that feel uncomfortable in a conversation (mostly things that I do but would rather not, like responding readily to questions about myself but not easily coming up with questions about the other person), and thanking people with a smile for things they’ve done that have helped me feel happier or more welcome.

In a way, I’m allowing myself to feel more open and vulnerable. This is either wonderful timing for making new friends in a new part of the country, or it’s horrible timing because these are tough-skinned New Englanders who are going to see my exposed underbelly as an opportunity to wound. I tend to think it’s the former, and so far my experiences have borne that out.

When I expect people to be kind and helpful, they generally are.

The plan for July, the last month of my year-long happiness project, is to take what’s worked for the other eleven months and apply those resoutions with renewed vigor. An earlier bedtime is something that worked well for me, as was eating no sugar and drinking no alcohol. Noticing judgmental thoughts has become a habit with me, but breathing several times a day could use a little more attention. I’d like to get back to taking a picture of the kids each day and making a point of acting silly with them. Decluttering is sure to accompany unpacking our possessions at the end of this month. I’m guessing other resolutions will rise to the surface as the month wears on.

By the end of the month, if all goes according to plan, we should be moving into our new home. This is exciting, but it also means that much of the month will be spent living in a hotel. In such close quarters for so long, I might find myself longing for the goat-herding and cheese-making life of the hermit woman in Cold Mountain (who am I kidding? I already do), but what better time to focus on happiness and what works to increase my happiness and bring me closer to my family?

June is “Sharing Happiness” Month!

G.-B. Duchanne de Boulogne, Synoptic plate 4 f...
Image via Wikipedia

I’m not a terribly emotive person. It goes along with introversion to be understated about my emotional expressions, and it’s okay. It does, however, sometimes hinder connection with others who perhaps aren’t as tuned in to my subtle expressions (and who maybe read my “I’m concentrating” facial expression as “I’m really angry with you.”).

The thing I want to work on for June is expressing happiness to others.

Although I set up my monthly areas of focus back in July 2010, I don’t know that I could have timed this one any better had I tried. Now that we’re moving and starting over in a new location, smiling when I’m happy might just help me in making connections with people I meet in our new home town.

June 2011 – Sharing Happiness
Focus: Find and utilize ways in which to express my happiness in order to share it with others.

Resolutions:

-Smile when I feel happy. This seems like a simple one, and I do smile. But I realized years ago after looking at myself in pictures and in the mirror that often what feels like a smile to me doesn’t look like much of anything from the outside. I’m going to make a point of smiling bigger, and perhaps even showing some teeth.

-Tell people when I feel happy. This one could get really corny, really fast, if I let it. I picture that strange smiling kid from A Christmas Story. You know, the one in line to see Santa behind Ralphie who’s wearing the aviator helmet and goggles and speaks in monotone about how he loves The Wizard of Oz? Yeah, I don’t plan on doing that. I can see smiling people and telling them, “That tickles me!” or “That delights me!” or something to that effect. My purpose is just to let people in on my happiness. Not only do I think that will help me make a connection with them, but I think getting used to telling someone when I’m happy might help make it easier for me to ask for help or support when I’m feeling down.

-Use hugs as a greeting and a goodbye. I’m not really a hugger. I’m notorious for the awkward hug: stepping on the other person’s foot, deciding at the last moment to put my face on a different side of them than I’d started to, or just not knowing how to initiate a hug so I announce it (“I’m going to hug you now,” which is very spontaneous and inviting). But I like hugs, and I think they’re a great way to make a physical and emotional connection with a friend. I’m thinking I might get better at administering them (and receiving them) with practice. Once again, with a whole new set of people to meet, I can try out my new persona as a “hugger.” Although I might start with a hand on their arm or shoulder before I go straight for the embrace.

-Laugh out loud. I tend to be noncommittal when it comes to laughing. My husband says I end up many times just sounding nervous when I give my lackluster, “Heh, heh!” Sometimes, though, I break out with a huge guffaw and then I feel self-conscious, mostly because my guffaws are generally met by silent stares from those I’m speaking with. I was at dinner with two friends a few years ago, and one friend was talking about how her husband had been out of work and he was beginning to get on her nerves. She was speaking in a lighthearted, funny way, and one comment struck me as particularly amusing and I guffawed. Rather than laughing or even smiling with me, both of my friends stared at me blankly and in silence. I was immediately struck with terror that I’d misinterpreted the situation and was laughing inappropriately at a painful story my friend was sharing. I actually couldn’t sleep that night for fear that I had made an enormous social faux pas and wondering if I should call my friend the next day and apologize for laughing so loudly. I finally got back to sleep after some deep breathing and some EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique, which with I was toying at the time. It was helpful, but just as helpful for me are brief mental body scans which don’t have all of the tapping of acupressure points and so are easier to do in public without looking even more socially odd than I already do). At any rate, I just want to feel confident committing to a laugh and just laughing when something strikes me as funny. Even as I type this, I realize I’m unlikely to follow this resolution because I would be too worried I was misinterpreting the situation, but I like the idea of it anyway so I’m going to leave it on here.

So, that’s what’s on tap for June! With any luck, all of my happiness techniques will come together and help me enjoy a week of six hours in the car each day with my husband, my kids, and my cats. And with any luck, I can find a balance between my introversion and sharing my emotions with others in a way they can understand.

May is Service Month!

For April, I considered ramping back on my resolutions because of our family situation, but decided to just leave the resolutions as-is and see what all I could accomplish amid all of the chaos.

I’ve discovered (again) that there’s a delicate balance between challenge and putting too much on one’s plate. I think it was Geoff Colvin in his book Talent is Overrated who talked about how the best learning and progress and growth takes place when you’re just a little bit outside of your comfort zone. Too far outside, and you feel like giving up because you can’t possibly accomplish what you have before you. Too far inside and you’re bored because there’s no challenge. I’m going to adapt my May resolutions to try and stay closer to that “just outside my comfort zone” zone than I was in April.

The idea behind service month is that giving to others helps increase one’s own happiness. As one of our ministers at our old church used to say, “Give until it feels good.” This really appeals to me right now because right now, I’m more in a place to ask for help. Asking for help isn’t east for me, and it helps to balance it with some giving of help. Helping someone else helps me feel more competent and better able to handle the challenges in my own life. But I also recognize that there’s a fair amount that isn’t practical for me right now.

For example, I was going to use this month to research organizations and to decide on a schedule so we could donate money to one place each month. With no income coming in, I’m not sure this is the best idea right now. Also, I wanted to plan a large service project and volunteer my time in an ongoing sort of way with a local organization. With the prospect of my husband going out of town for interview, those option seem less practical.

With these things in mind, here are my modified May resolutions:

May 2011 – Service
Focus: Experience the pleasure of giving to the wider community.

-Participate in two one-time volunteer activities this month. I already volunteer helping moms nurse their babies by offering emotional and informational support. I want the two projects for this month to be outside of my regular volunteer tasks. I’ve already got the March of Dimes March for Babies on May 14th (if you’d like to donate to my walk, please visit my personal profile page. From there, you can donate directly to March of Dimes but the donation amount counts towards my individual goal). For my second project, I’m trying to get a group together to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity one weekend. If that doesn’t work out, I have a friend who’s on the board of a local community garden, and I’ll just spend a day or two out there using a pickax to dig rocks out of future garden beds. I wanted to volunteer at the humane society with the kitties and doggies, but they ask for at least 8 hours a month. Given our erratic schedule, I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to commit to that. *sigh*

-Help a friend. I want to keep on the lookout for impromptu ways I can help out my friends this month, whether this means watching their kiddos for a couple of hours or bringing them a meal or giving them something I have that I no longer need or helping them move furniture. I don’t know what it might be, but when someone says, “I have to do this but I’m afraid it’s going to be a pain,” I’d like to say, “Hey! How about I lend a hand?” and then do it.

-Determine one worthy cause to which to donate money each month. Back before we had kids when we were quite active in our church, we did a so-called “modern tithe.” This was 5% of our income to the church and 5% to other worthy causes. I’m not sure we ever reached 10% total, but that was the goal. And it felt good to give that amount. Now that neither of us is in grad school, 10% would be a much larger number than it was back then. I still want to do this but for this month, it would involve just deciding where to donate each month and postponing the actual donating part. Then when we have an income and are settled in our new community, we can jump right in with the charitable giving. And who knows…maybe my husband’s next company will even have a matching gifts program and we can double our money!

So, these are my resolutions adapted for our jobless circumstances. I think they seem doable but challenging, and I look forward to stretching myself a bit, helping others more, and seeing how that feels.

Friendship Month in Review

This month, I found it challenging to focus on my resolutions. I did okay at the beginning of the month, and my friends helped me out a lot, calling me, arranging to get together, and just treating me with care and gentleness. By the end of the month, I’d lost steam.

A rundown of the resolutions:

Acknowledge birthdays. I did this. I sent a birthday card to one friend, went to a surprise 30th birthday party for another (although I got there too late to yell “surprise!”), and sent online greetings to everyone else. I think I only forgot one person. And I put on an early birthday party for my daughter, just in case our May is more hectic than our April. (One can only hope.)

Call one friend a week. I think I did this for the first two weeks. It was nice to catch up with a couple of friends with whom I’ve not spoken for more than a year. This week I talked with a friend I’ve not spoken with in even longer, but she called here and was actually calling to talk with my husband about a job, I just got to chat with her while my husband finished his shower. I enjoyed that, but I’m not sure I can count it.

Make three new friends. This was my big stretch resolution. I got closer than I expected with this one. Last week I struck up a conversation with a woman in my yoga class. We exchanged names and then this week she saved me a spot next to her in the weight lifting class we both attended. Watching her with others, I think she’s a quite gregarious person. I doubt the meeting was as big a deal for her as it was for me, and it’s certainly not a close friendship (I don’t think she’ll be bringing me dinner or watching my kids any time soon) but I’m counting it.

Have a mommy-date once a week. I did this once. It was much harder to arrange mommy-dates than I expected, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the person I met up with for tea was a friend whose only child is away at college.

I do feel myself pulling away from friendships here a little bit, which I expect based on my long history of moving away from friends but which is very premature. I get the sense that some of my friends here might be pulling away from me a bit, too, but I can’t tell how much is originating with them and how much is just a response to my pulling away.

Of course, I could be making it all up in my head, too. When I’m feeling anxious, my default response is to feel very much alone and to see everything as a proof that I am alone. With as anxious as I’ve been this month, I think I might be doing a lot of this. As a result, it’s difficult to tell if what I’m feeling is based on people really pulling away from me or if it’s just a result of the lens through which I’m viewing the world right now. If I walk backwards and you stand still, you appear to be moving away from me.

My mood also makes it more difficult to work up the energy to make the efforts necessary to connect with my friends. I didn’t go to a “moms’ night out” this month (that involved a hot tub at a Park City penthouse), and I decided not to attend a workshop today. I had good reasons for missing both of these, but not showing up certainly doesn’t help to build friendships.

I told my husband that if we didn’t have kids (and I wasn’t working), I would spend his job search time lying on the couch watching “The Price is Right” and eating kettle chips and coconut popcorn (with nutritional yeast on it…mmm…), ignoring reality until he had a job and we knew where we were going.

But we do have kids, and they don’t respond well to Sofa Mom. So I need to work to keep myself idling for a little longer until it’s time to hit the accelerator and move forward again, packing up, selling the house, making contacts on the other end, wherever that might be.

In that light, I suppose it’s best to keep on chugging along. So chug I will…

Check in tomorrow for the kickoff post for May – Service Month!

April is Friendship Month!

All through March, I kept calling April “Social Month.” Which is strange, because I actually find “Friendship Month” a lot less intimidating. I suspect I could have avoided a lot of stress if I’d looked at my own Happiness Project Schedule sooner than five minutes ago.

At any rate, here we are at the beginning of another month. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, things look a fair amount different today than they did on March 1st. People keep telling me how happy I sound. I’ve also heard that I’m upbeat, optimistic, and excited. It’s interesting to watch how I take in these comments, turn them around, and see if they actually seem true to me.

It’s even more interesting that they do, in fact, seem to be true.

Of course, I’m not all happy and upbeat. I always like a change, so I am excited. But I’m also anxious, overwhelmed, confused, worried, and sad. The challenge for me is to let myself feel these negative things, too, not instead of, but in addition to the positive emotions.

I like moving. I like living new places. I’ve done it all of my life. I’m good at it. But the last couple of times I’ve moved, I’ve made an effort to change my usual pattern of leaving a place. Usually, I focus only on the positive parts, I shut out all of my friends, and I’m practically living in my new city before the first box is packed. Then when I actually get to my new city, I feel like I’ve missed out on spending quality time with all of those people I won’t get to see every day anymore.

I had thought about postponing Friendship Month until May or June when we will (hopefully) be settled into a new job and home somewhere (if, of course, we move. It is still possible my husband will find another job in Utah, but it’s a fairly remote possibility). But with encouragement from friends, both online and in real life, I’ve decided that Friendship Month is just what I need right now. I need to deepen my connections and my relationships, have fun with my Utah friends while I’m here, whether I actually end up leaving or not, and build that wider support network that will help sustain me wherever I go.

Things are different for me today than they were for my mom when she was a stay-at-home mom and we used to move every three years. I don’t have the built-in support of the squadron Wives’ Club the way she did, but she didn’t have the online community I have. It’s so much easier to feel supported now, even by people you’ve never met in person. I never really got what people were talking about when they said you could build community by writing a blog. Now I think I’m starting to understand.

There are people out there who keep up with my life as I present it here every day. They agree or disagree with what I write, but they connect with me and engage with me regardless. And this is something that will follow me wherever I go (provided I have an internet connection).

All this to say that I’m actually excited about Friendship Month. Let’s get started!

April 2011 – Friendship
Focus: Build and strengthen relationships with my friends and extended family.

Resolutions:

Acknowledge birthdays. I have many of my friends’ birthdays memorized. Of course, the ones I have memorized are largely those friends with whom I attended middle school or high school. I have a tougher time remembering the birthdays of the friends I’ve made since then, perhaps because we don’t make as big a deal about our birthdays as we did back when we were kids. I want to get better about acknowledging my friends’ birthdays. I plan to take a gander every month at Facebook and my various calendars and figure out whose birthdays are coming up that month. If possible, I want to send them an actual card or a letter. In a way I think this is a waste of resources. But in another way, I think there’s something special about getting an actual, physical item sent from one person to another. And I think the power of this connection might be even more important than environmental considerations. But if I wait too long, a call or e-mail is totally acceptable for this resolution.

Call one friend a week. One of my aunts told me once she has a prayer schedule. She puts a loved one on her calendar to remind her to pray for them that day. She called me once out of the blue and told me that she had me on her prayer schedule and decided to call me, too. I remember feeling so special and loved. I wondered how often she thought of me and prayed for me that she hadn’t called me up. This weekly call thing is kind of my version of my aunt’s prayer schedule. I usually call up one friend about once a week. But often this is a logistical call, trying to figure out when we’re meeting and where. Not that there isn’t value to this, but this “call a friend” resolution is more about the connection of just letting a friend know I’m thinking about her. And for this month, I’m going to make a point to make it a different friend each week.

Make three new friends. I hesitated about this one, and I’m still not sure about it. But I want the challenge. I’m ready for it. I’m going to try to ignore the voice that says, “You might not be here in a month. Why bother making new friends?” Because I think I already established how a connection can follow anywhere. I want to squeeze out of my comfort zone a bit. This will certainly do the trick, I think.

Have a mommy-date once a week. I spend a fair amount of time with my friends, but it’s almost always when our kids are with us having their own play dates. I went thrift store shopping with a friend last week, and we realized it was the first time we had ever hung out together without our kids. It was fun, and very nice to chat without being interrupted by a kid-related crisis. I want more of this. Once a week, I’m going to hang out with a mom friend without our kids. (And if you’re one of my local friends, please feel free to help me initiate this one. I worry I’ve bitten off more than I can chew this month, and I would love to have some help!)

So, there you have it. Friendship Month. I’m optimistic that April will be full of connections and love and happiness, and I look forward to seeing what May 1st looks like.

Hermithood is Looking Better and Better

The habitation of a hermit
Instead of an RV, maybe I need a hermit hovel. (Image via Wikipedia)

I’m fretting about Friendship/Social Life Month in April more intensely and much earlier than I’ve fretted about the other months so far. I fret about all of them because I’ve inherited the fretting chromosome and it’s just what I do. But this one has me positively vexed.

My experiences Sunday didn’t help.

First, I took the kids to church. That worked out fine. My son wanted to get up and sit down and flirt with the people behind us and then vigorously sign and shout, “Poo-poo!” in the middle of the service. Luckily, we were at the Buddhist Temple. Those Buddhists are really tolerant. So even though I started to get all uptight about my toddler’s shenanigans, I stayed cool, and we had a great time. My daughter said she “LOVED it!” and can’t wait to lead The Golden Chain and The Promise with the rest of her Dharma School class in two weeks.

After a quick lunch at home, I left the kids with my husband and went to yoga. It was super crowded. The practice was nice. Fun. Challenging. But I was left wanting somehow.

Back at home, I quickly changed clothes, nursed the baby and changed his smelly diaper before hopping back in the car and going with a friend to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 at the dollar theater. The theater was packed, which I found quite surprising. I mean, the movie’s been out since November. Were there that many other people who hadn’t seen it before, or did the others there simply have nothing better to do than to sit through a movie they a) have already seen, and b) can’t pause when they need to pee?

After the movie, I felt out of sorts. I couldn’t pinpoint what was wrong. I liked the movie. I liked the conversation with my friend in the car there and back. But something was just missing.

I got home and my husband had made dinner and the baby kissed me and kissed me when I picked him up and my daughter asked us what “judgmental” meant, which pleased me. But I was in a really crappy mood nonetheless. Surly, on-edge, short-tempered, snapping at people. A real joy to be around, I’m sure. I remember my mom complaining that I was like this after spending too much time away with my friends when I was a kid.

My best guess is that my crummy mood was because I was out in public so much today. I didn’t have any quiet time in which to recharge, and then the day was done and I was spent and had nothing left to give to the family.

On the one hand, it’s nice to recognize this. As GI Joe used to say, “Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.”

On the other hand, what the heck does this mean for Social Life Month? My goal is to deepen friendships and to increase happiness in social relationships. How do I do this and still maintain a balance between those interactions and my alone time?

I’m tired of reading books about how important it is to have a number of close relationships outside of your immediate family, but that don’t offer any help for those who most times prefer to be alone. What does this mean for people like me who seem to have a different definition of “close friend,” one that would limit this designation to one or two people? Are we just destined to have high blood pressure and shorter life spans because we’re not social butterflies? I suspect that the research supporting these claims is being done by extroverts.

In the past I operated under the assumption that if I met enough people and became friends with enough people, I would eventually get down to the one or two with whom I really clicked, and they’d be the people I spent most of my time with. It hasn’t really worked out that way, and I’m looking for a paradigm shift.

How do you make friends? Do you just have the same friends you’ve had since your bassinets were next to each other in the hospital nursery, or are your friends those you’ve acquired as an adult? Do you have lots of people you consider close friends or just one or two especially close friends? How did you end up with your circle of friends? And, if you’re introverted, how do you balance time with friends with your alone time?

Is it really necessary to have friends outside of my marriage to be happy?

February is Marriage Month!

Marriage
Image by jcoterhals via Flickr

Mawage. Mawage is wot bwings us togevah today. Mawage, that bwessed awangment, that dweam wifin a dweam…

Up to now, my Happiness Project focus areas have been mostly internal. This month I begin turning that focus outward, starting with the person who’s, you know, flesh of my flesh and all that. Or maybe I’m flesh of his flesh. Either way, we’re pretty close.

At any rate, without further ado:

February 2011 – Marriage
Focus: Increase happiness in my bond with my husband.

Resolutions:

Make eye contact. This seems simple, but I realize I actually don’t do it as often as I might. So many times when my husband and I are together, one or both of us are engaged in another task. This month, I’ll make a point of looking him in the eye more, especially when we’re talking to one another.

Criticize with love (or not at all). I have a tendency to nitpick and to deliver my criticisms with sarcasm rather than gentleness and love. When my daughter yells at her brother to startle him into dropping the thing she wants to play with, I tell her to think about the long-term goal of harmony and a loving relationship with her brother rather than the short-term goal of just getting what she wants at that moment. I would probably do well to take my own advice. This month, I’ll try to slow down and think about how important the thing is I want to complain about, whether right then is the right time or if it should wait, or if perhaps this is something I just want to drop. If I decide to bring it up, I will do my best to do so while making eye contact and speaking in a gentle voice.

Verbalize the positives. This is the flip-side of the last resolution. Some days it seems like the only things I say to my husband are criticisms. But even on the worst day, he really does a lot of things that are sweet and helpful. This month, I’ll make a point of mentioning those things he’s done that are “good” things. Then maybe that will cancel out some of the effect of the critical comments I make to him and get me into a frame of mind to notice the sweet things he does at least as much as I do the annoying things.

Touch. The kids demand a lot of physical contact—holding, hugging, snuggling, nursing. With all of that touching, I tend to forget about (or some days actively avoid) physical contact with my husband. We both can go until bedtime before we realize we’ve not hugged each other at all during that day. This month, I’m going to try to add little touches when we’re together. A hug, a pat on his leg, resting my hand on his arm or his back, a little kiss.

There are so many other things I’ve considered making a part of this month, but I’m going to leave it at these four things.

Today we’re traveling to Florida to visit family (both his and mine) for just over a week. Traveling is usually very stressful for me, and I have a habit of lashing out at my mate during stressful times. This will be an interesting challenge. Or being that I’ve scheduled this to post while we’re in the air, I suppose this is an interesting challenge.

As always, I will continue to practice those resolutions I’ve put in place in previous months. For my complete Happines Project Schedule, click the link to the left.

Explore Month in Review

Ah, January.

It’s been a month of surprises and a fair amount of shifting of perspectives.

I skiied. And liked it OK. I’m not sure I like it well enough to get over the energy barriers of getting childcare, acquiring stuff (either purchased or rented), and making my way to a skiing location, which may or may not have a small hill I’d have to navigate before getting to the groomed cross-country trail with its comforting parallel grooves.

I started taking Aikido. At first I wasn’t sure if I liked it or not, and then I loved it. I’m going to continue doing it. It doesn’t require the preparation that skiing does.

I didn’t dance in public. But I did order food and I called a local pizza place and asked questions about their gluten-free crust and I chatted with a man with long hair, a full beard, and coveralls about chocolate bars that were on sale at the supermarket. These are rather tiny things, but they’re things that I generally avoid if at all possible. The fact that I did them and did them without feeling incredibly anxious and without going over in my mind again and again every single word I said afterwards is the impressive part.

So, I think Explore month had a positive effect on me.

Let’s see what “Marriage” Month holds for me in February…

January is “Explore” Month!

Skiing at Merrits
This is not the kind of skiing I'll be trying out. (Image via Wikipedia)

If I’m an Eeyore when it comes to fun, I’m something of a Piglet when it comes to trying new things. While it really is hard to be brave when you’re such a very small creature (I’m 5’2″ tall), I recognize that a lot of my fears are rather overblown. It’s about time that I try to face some of them.

In some people’s estimation, I’m fairly brave. I don’t hesitate to pull up stakes and relocate every few years. I’ll give birth at home any day of the week. But these things aren’t scary to me, so they don’t really require bravery. Some things that require bravery for me:

  • asking an employee at a store where the bathroom is
  • walking into a hospital (even if I’m not the patient)
  • sending food back in a restaurant
  • driving in the mountains in the wintertime
  • flying on planes
  • attending baby showers
  • planning my children’s birthday parties
  • dancing in front of other people
  • speaking in front of groups
  • visiting new religious congregations

See what I mean? A total Piglet.

So “Explore” month isn’t going to involve skydiving or ski jumps or eating undercooked eggs (at least I don’t think it will). But it will involve me pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone just a tad so I can see if I can expand the limits of what I find fun and what brings me joy.

With that in mind, here’s the plan:

January 2011 – Explore
Focus: Go out on a bit of a limb and try some things I haven’t done before.

-Go cross-country skiing. I’ve never been skiing, but I’m terrified of it. My friend shared a quote by Erma Bombeck with me the other day that captures my sentiments fairly well: “I do not participate in any sport with ambulances at the bottom of the hill.” I found another quote that fits well, too:

There are really only three things to learn in skiing:  how to put on your skis, how to slide downhill, and how to walk along the hospital corridor.  ~Lord Mancroft, A Chinaman in my Bath, 1974

So although I’m going to face my fear of skiing, it will not involve any downhill skiing. I’ve got it all planned out. A friend is going to drive me out to Mountain Dell next Saturday after my son’s Music Together class (because I’m afraid of even driving to skiing). There are free lessons that day and a chance to try out new gear. We’re going to get there late and the lessons are first-come, first-served, so it’s possible I’ll not get to try out skis that day. There are also snowshoe lessons that involve a guided nature walk. I’ve never been snowshoeing, either, so if that’s all that’s left, I’ll still be able to try something new. My friend says snowshoeing is lame, but I think lame might be just about my speed.

Go dancing. In public. There’s a Sacred Dance Fusion class on Tuesday nights at Avenues Yoga here in town. I think I’ll try that out. There’s also contra dancing on the 22nd in town here. I’ve been contra dancing once. I did my best to avoid actually dancing. If I went this time, I would challenge myself to dance. There’s a beginner session at 7:30 and then the dance proper from 8-11. Maybe that first half-hour would be enough to build my confidence. I have friends who absolutely love contra dancing (not in Utah. These are friends in North Carolina, where I tried contra dancing before), so I figure I might give it a try.

Try a martial art. This one involves a fear similar to the one I have around dancing in public. I’m just looking for something to help me feel more at home in my body, and I want to try out a couple of different things to try to meet this goal. I think I’m going to sign up for either Tae Kwon Do or Aikido. I’m leaning towards Aikido because it seems more meditative and less combative. The only thing still drawing me to Tae Kwon Do over Aikido is that I had a friend in high school who was, like, some state champion at Tae Kwon Do or something, and she had the most amazing thighs. Although we were 17 years old at the time, and I’m fairly certain that 17 years and two children have pretty much eliminated all possibility of me ever having thighs like hers were then.

This is going to be a rather more active month, compared to the more cerebral months I’ve had so far. Which is all part of the “Explore” piece, since I’m way more comfy in my brain than I am in my body.

I’m cautiously optimistic about this month. I think it’s a little too scary for me to be very excited about it, but cautious optimism isn’t too bad. And it’s more positive than the mood with which I usually approach a new year, which I think is better described as cautious pessimism.

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!