Tag Archives: Happiness

Making Religious Holidays My Own

Over the holiday weekend, my family and I went camping. Being Easter, it was a holiday for only some. I grew up celebrating Easter. Andrew grew up celebrating Easter. But neither of us would call ourselves religious now and don’t believe in Jesus as the one and only messiah. So why continue to celebrate it? Partly because our families still do, but we’ve come to see it a little differently.

For Easter, Andrew and I have decided to celebrate the arrival of spring, specifically with the first camping trip of the year. We share meals and traditional foods (pufek [spelling??? which is a German bread], liverwurst, and strammer max for me) with family. We don’t dress up or go to church. We spend time together outside, enjoying the freshness of spring, and send the children out on a little egg hunt just because it’s a fun game to play outside. And of course we eat chocolate. Easter, for us, is not about Jesus, but about family and nature and getting out to enjoy the warmer weather.

It’s similar with Christmas. I don’t celebrate the coming of our lord and savior or whatever. But I do like a lot about the holiday, such as the sharing, coziness, warmth, and love. So when I celebrate Christmas, I celebrate the coming of cuddly winter with the closeness and coziness of my family and friends. Since it’s also so close to the end of the year, I reflect back on that year and celebrate it for what it was. Then I celebrate the coming of the New Year with new beginnings.

It didn’t take a lot to get here — just a little shift in thinking. It helps that Andrew and I are on the same page with these religious holidays, too. Celebrating in this way, I am able to comfortably share traditions with my family and friends without feeling like I’m sacrificing my own beliefs or pretending to follow others. I’ve come to enjoy these times again instead of constantly questioning the history and purpose, as I did a few years ago. I am now at a good place with them and feel content.

Perhaps a shift in thinking is all it would take for you to have a more enjoyable holiday?

Life Is A Series of Unfortunate Events, But It Can Still Be Enjoyed

Back in college, I read Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events for the first time. They are aptly named. Unfair things happen, people make bad decisions, there is a lot of disagreement. It is sad and depressing and, well, just all around unfortunate.

From the description, these books really don’t sound like my cup of tea. I usually like light-hearted romance and adventure. But while A Series of Unfortunate Events deals with serious issues (like kidnapping, child marriage, murder, identity theft, disability, etc), it doesn’t take itself too seriously.

I am able to enjoy reading (and watching) the series because although the general theme throughout is negative, there are plenty of happy surprises along the way. The series is funny — in a somewhat subtle and ridiculously clever way. The main characters learn and grow and support each other and have several small triumphs. And the series is smart — smarter than your average middle-grade book, some might say.

That’s the parallel I draw to life. Life can be tragic and depressing, unfair things happen, and people make bad decisions and disagree with each other all the time. But there are still plenty of things to enjoy about life along the way. Finding the humor in situations, being a good friend, supporting family, and striving for the goodness you believe in can make life so, so enjoyable.

I know some people who won’t read past the first book (The Bad Beginning)in the series. I am definitely not suggesting that the parallel here is that they have lost the will to live their lives — they just don’t want to read about all the strife the three young main characters must deal with. But if the books are read for those small, hilarious, joyous, triumphant moments, I think they can be so much fun to read. Just like life can be so much fun to live, if we focus on the things about it that bring us joy.

Dealing With Overwhelm

I get overwhelmed sometimes and I must admit that I’m not always the greatest at dealing with it. But I’m working on it. I have identified where some of my weaknesses are, and I’m trying new things to better handle it.

Right now, when I get overwhelmed, I don’t know where to start and it practically paralyzes me. So when I start to feel overwhelmed and stressed, I immediately take a step back and decide to take some time to relax instead. Letting my body rest and relax is better than accumulating the negative affects of stress, right?

Except, relaxing in the face of overwhelm is just a form of avoidance and it makes the problem worse in the long run. I need to relax, of course, but I need to be mindful about it, too. I can’t just relax when things get too hectic because then I would just relax more and more while the chore pile grew and grew to ever more unmanageable heights. I need to take steps toward the top of my to-do mountain with realistic mental-health breaks along the way.

I’ve tried scheduling things out during the week to help spread the busyness. Budget balancing on Mondays, vacuuming on Tuesdays, appointments on Wednesday, laundry day, etc. But I had trouble sticking with it. In reality, the circumstances of my life right now are just too unpredictable to fit in daily boxes. So I created weekly task-lists instead.

I find using a Bullet Journal helps in determining what is really important. If it gets written down, it is priority. (I only allow 1 page for my weekly to-do list, with items written on every other line. That creates a max of 15 tasks per week, or an average of 3 per day.) This helps clear some of the mental clutter. If something doesn’t make the list, it’s easier for me to remember that I don’t have to give it any mental thought power — at least until a later date. This gives structure, but isn’t too rigid. A rigid structure is inherently fragile; When there is more room for improvisation, there is more room to succeed.

When things get to be just too too much, and I find my frazzled mind is affecting my mood, I find stream-of-consciousness journaling helps a lot, too. I’ll take some time — maybe 20 to 30 minutes — to just write about how I’m feeling. I’m not consciously trying to figure out why I’m feeling a certain way, but sometimes it emerges on its own. I mostly just complain. I write about how things are (not great) and how I want them to be instead (wonderful). Just getting those concerns (complaints) out somewhere helps me get past them and move on. I no longer feel bogged down by the weight of the suckiness and feel free enough to do something, anything, and that sets me on my way to a more productive day.

I must say, though, that I don’t only journal to complain. I probably complain for a few pages once every few months. But I compile a list of daily gratitude every night before I go to sleep. I think this is important to note as gratitude journaling is also beneficial. If complaints are the only thing we’re writing into our expressive universe, our energy is unbalanced. Daily thankfulness (or other affirmative expression) tips our expressive energy scale to the positive, making it more likely for the wonderful to come into our lives.

Learning how to successfully deal with overwhelm will be a lifelong feat. As we grow, we learn, we change. It is important to adapt as we realize certain practices are no longer serving us and continually explore ways to cultivate the best lives for ourselves.

Not Reading Less, But Reading Better

My 2017 Reading Resolutions were designed with the idea that I wanted to try to read less. If I read slower, I would read less, right? I wanted to try to take a more minimalistic approach to my reading so I assumed in order to do that, I would need to read less.

Now, it’s only been about a month, but I’m already beginning to realize that I was mistaken. It’s not about reading less, it’s about reading better.

Which makes total sense when we really think about the point of minimalism. It’s not about having or doing as little as humanly possible, it’s about only having and doing the things that benefit and bring joy to us. It’s about removing the excess, but definitely keeping the things that we value most.

Reading is a thing that I value a lot. And as I’ve followed these Resolutions* to read more slowly, i.e. more mindfully, I’ve been really, really enjoying it. It feels great!

In less than a month, I’ve read 3 books (finished 2 that were already started), but I’ve also abandoned 3 more. I’ve gone to the book shop several times and enjoyed my time there, though I still haven’t bought another book. I’ve re-read a favorite author. And I’m currently discovering a new gem that’s been sitting on my shelf for months already.

It’s great. I want to read a lot. But here’s the distinction now — I don’t want to read A LOT, I want to READ a lot. Reading mindfully has rekindled my passion for books and stories. I’ve cut out the endless search for and acquisition of more more more and have come to simply enjoy the activity of reading.

Mind, I realize it’s only been a month. But I’ll keep the Resolutions in mind and I’ll keep this blog updated with my progress and experiences. Now, go on — read a book!

 

*The Resolutions

  • Do not borrow any books.
  • Read only 1 book at a time.
  • Be very mindful of the monthly budget when considering buying a book.

Night Out – A Short Story

It was Friday night and Natalie’s husband stayed home with their children while she went out with a couple of her old friends from college. They went to bar on the river with outdoor seating and dancing.

There were four of them all together, but Natalie was the only one yet married. Soon enough, after they all caught up with one another, the others were off talking and dancing with men, and Natalie was left alone.

She walked up to the bar and bought a drink. Seltzer with a splash of cranberry and a twist of lime. A man walked up beside her and they started chatting. He was nice and funny, just like Natalie. It wasn’t long before he noticed the ring on the third finger of her left hand. The plain silver band contrasted starkly with her dark skin.

“Oh, you’re married?” He asked.

“Yes,” Natalie said.

He bent his head down gravely, “Is it serious?”

Natalie couldn’t help herself and laughter bubbled up and out. “Would you like to dance?” She asked the man, Dustin.

“Uh… sure,” he said. He put his glass down on the bar and she did the same.

They walked to the open area next to the band. The band played jazz that warmed the cool air off the river, jazz as smooth as the wooden boards beneath their feet, jazz as bubbly as Natalie’s laughter.

They held hands and kicked and twisted. Dustin couldn’t remember the last time he danced with anyone like that. Maybe never.

“You’re good,” he said.

“Hmm?” she looked as him again. Most of the time, her head was lost in the music and the movement.

“Do you like to dance?”

“Oh, I love it,” she said.

“I can tell.”

“Almost as much as I love my husband.”

Dustin’s smile faltered for only a moment. Natalie didn’t see it because she had dipped her head back and around.

They danced a while longer, to a song even faster than the one before.

“Then why are you here dancing with me?” Dustin asked.

Natalie did a move that seemed almost a shrug. “You’re here and you’re fun.”

“Yeah?”

He seemed to be waiting for more.

“That’s it,” she said.

Dustin had never encountered a woman such as this before. She was charming and he was charmed. He had gone out for beers and distraction and stumbled upon magic. He knew that magic and he missed it.

The night couldn’t last forever. Natalie’s friends found her so they could all walk back to their cars together. Natalie laughed at the tales her friends recounted as they took out their keys in the parking garage.

She put her high-heeled shoes on the passenger seat and drove home barefoot. She walked still barefoot up the front path to her house.

Her husband loved tasting the lime on her breath when she got home, the children fast asleep. They danced in the living room, after she left her shoes on the floor by the couch. They danced down the hallway to their bedroom, where they danced some more, the sheets dancing above them.

Dustin had had a few beers, but drove home anyway. He was used to it. He was, however, more focused than even he expected. He parked in the street in front of his house and slipped his wedding ring back on as he walked to the door. He was used to that, too. But he wasn’t used to this feeling of floating.

He floated in the door, kissed his wife who was barely awake on the couch, a magazine open on her chest.

“What was that for?” She asked, suspicious.

“Oh, did you want to sleep on the couch all night?” He asked lightly, with a smile.

“No…” His wife said. She had gotten used to a nudge.

He took her hand and he pulled her close.

“You seem… happy,” she said.

“I am happy.”

“Why?”

“I am happy with you,” he kissed her. “You make me happy. You’ve made me happy for a long time.” He had almost forgotten.

He kissed her again and the heaviness of her sleep lifted away from her. They floated up the stairs, floated into their bedroom, and floated some more, the sheets floating above them.

The Urge to Purge

Lately, when I’m feeling overwhelmed or discontent, I want to get rid of stuff. I have the urge to purge. And although it sounds like it almost makes sense within the parameters of minimalism, I don’t actually think it’s the right response.

Minimalism claims that more stuff does not equal more happiness, contentment, status, fulfillment, fill-in-the-blank-goodness. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the opposite — that less stuff equals more happiness, contentment, etc — is quite true.

Stuff is just stuff. Finding the separation between and happy balance with stuff and contentment is the holy grail. And when I’m feeling dissatisfied or stressed, it is easy to think that jettisoning some stuff will automatically make me more at ease. And it might… for the moment.

Minimalism promotes less stuff because it helps clear the space and your mind to find what really matters — to find the things and ways that bring contentedness to you individually. The landscape becomes more clear when the cluttery fog is lifted. But it is still not a sure thing. Even though you can see the landscape better, you still need to survey the paths and decide the route that’s best for you. Definitely easier without a cover of fog, but still no small feat.

It’s been 3 years since I first discovered minimalism. I can’t believe it’s been that long — it still seems so new to me. (I suppose 3 years versus 26 years is still a pretty big ratio spread.) And although I’ve cleared a lot of clutter, I still have a ways to go. I haven’t gotten to that “after decluttering” part yet.

So maybe the urge to purge, as it is, will still benefit me in some way. As long as I can recognize when I’ve purged enough and kept enough (I doubt I’ll not keep enough). The trick will be how to recognize that, eh? I’ll let you know what I find out about that when I get there.

The Art of Contentment

I’m writing yet another post inspired by Joshua Becker, but what can I say? The guy’s kind of a genius when it comes to minimalism and, in this case, contentment. He actually writes about completion and the satisfaction it brings.

When confronting the desire to buy yet another thing, he uses this as an example:

The next time you have a desire to buy something you don’t need, say to yourself, “Nope. I’m done buying clothes. I already have enough. I have met this desire and I am moving on to something else.”

Such a simple thing! Just decide to be done buying clothes. I had honestly never thought of that before, even with the pursuit of a capsule wardrobe. I always thought that it would be growing and changing with me — that I would have to constantly think about and curate it. But, no! I can just stop and be content.

Maybe contentedness doesn’t last forever, as life is fluid and change is constant, but it does exist. And it can exist for a time. Decide to be content and it will be until you decide something needs to change again. Being in control sounds much better than constantly chasing dreams advertisers are constantly presenting.

But maybe it isn’t marketers fueling your discontent. Maybe it is brought on by yourself as you consider all of your life’s what-ifs.

I’ve lived in my hometown my entire life. I’ve done a fair bit of traveling, but have never lived outside of New Jersey. When my husband’s company recently offered him a job in Indianapolis, I began to imagine how my life could be better and happier in another place. I weighed the pros and cons of Indiana vs. New Jersey, a city vs. a small town, the country vs. the coast, anywhere else vs. here. And in doing so, none of the places seemed good enough… Until I went full circle, remembered what I love about where I live, and decided that right here is good enough.

I will be more mindful of how I spend my time. Is it pursuing something that doesn’t really need more attention? Like filling a closet that is already full? I will be content in matters where I already have enough and instead focus on matters where I really can improve myself. Or, as Joshua Becker highlights, on matters that will never be completed, such as being a calm and patient mother, a loving and fun wife, and a considerate and contributing member of society.

The Art of Contentment: A change in thinking can create a change in being.

 

Stop Trying To Be Perfect

The title is a reminder for myself.

I used to make having fun top priority. After my childhood, when I was trying to really figure out how to be in this world, but before college, when I decided okay, now I have to really be in this world. Teenager-y years, I guess. Don’t we all go through a phase like that? Rebel a bit. We just want to party. I did. I had capital-F Fun.

Somewhere along the line, towards the more recent part of my 29 years (holy shit, I’m 29…), I got the idea in my head that people care about what I do, say, and think. Where did this idea come from? Probably from the fact that people have been telling me exactly that my whole life and it finally sunk in. (Sure, I’ve heard some stuff to counter that, but it’s not nearly as prolific.) Whether it was parents telling me not to do or say certain things because they were rude, teachers scolding me for breaking the rules (I hardly ever broke rules, but teachers are very good at preventive scolding), or hearing people talk passionately about their different views… the general message was that other people DO care about what I do, say, and think.

As I got better at being a person, I got better at accommodating this reasoning into my everyday actions. But this idea only really applies to a certain extent. I believe it does matter to have tact, be mindful of others (especially in shared spaces), and be open-minded, but pleasing others should not be the main goal of anyone’s life.

This “stop trying to be perfect” reminder for myself is a measure of self-preservation — so I don’t drive myself crazy living a life around others (who may or may not even notice my existence). And also to not live my life for my own ideas of what others may or may not be thinking. It’s a huge guessing game which only makes everyone stressed, and is rarely worth the effort.

Also, I have control over the bar I hold up for myself. We cannot control others. It is a waste of time and usually destructive. (Side note: instead of worrying about offending other people, work on not letting yourself be [easily] offended. Why should you do all that work, you may ask? Think about how pleasant the world would be if everyone worked on being less offendable. We’d be living in Easy-Going Get-Along-Ville. End side note.)

For example, I used to have a lot of fun with language. My diaries and journals were riddles with run-on sentences, incomplete sentences (I quite like incomplete sentences. They’re all like Bam! Ba. Am.), and made-up words. Those were the fun parts. There was also spelling mistakes and grammatical errors, but nobody else was reading it so I didn’t care.

Enter this blog. Other people are reading it. Should I start to care? Only, I didn’t ask myself that question. I just assumed that they (you) did. I fussed over grammar and structure and if I was being a rambling idiot (circa my ’00s journals… man, they were fun to write). Even for this post title (and every post title) I wonder if it’s the most succinct title (does succinct even mean what I think it means?) and WHICH WORDS ARE CAPITALIZED AND WHICH AREN’T??? I never know. Should the “to” be capitalized? Should the “be”? I don’t know. I never know. But I’m just now deciding…

I don’t care! As long as I’m being clear, I’m not going to fuss about grammar technicalities (of course I will avoid the egregious ones, but something’s gotta be said for colloquial-ality) or if I’m rambling or whatever. I’m going to have fun.

My example is quite niche, but it’s an idea to be embraced. Stop trying to be perfect. Try to be the best, try to be good, but don’t let perfectionism be the enemy of the good. Don’t let hypothetical worries spoil my fun.

I knew it before, as a teenager (there is so much we can learn from teenagers). I explode creatively if I don’t keep myself in a box. I’m happy when I do things I like for myself. I shine when I let myself shine.

I think I can tell when I’m consuming something created by someone else embracing this idea. It radiates through their work. Maybe I’m wrong, but it’s just a feeling I get. And from this end, I’d rather do whatever I can to cultivate that energy of happiness and wonder. It will sure improve my side of things. If it shines through for others, all the better.

I Believe in a Thing Called Positivity

I’ve been through a couple rough patches in the last weeks. Being depressed and tired and moody and just… bleh. More than bleh. Ugh. Even mmmmbblllleuggghhhhh.

I wanted to get out of that funk. A mood funk is not like music funk. Music funk is fun. Mood funks are… mmmmbbllleeuuggghhhhh.

I thought a good way to get out of it would be to… how do I say this? Find some religion. No. But nurture my spiritual side. Everyday life is mundane. We eat and sleep and poop and take care of all that needs to be taken care of to survive, but we often neglect our higher self or spiritual well-being.

I explored a few avenues of spirituality that I believed was best suited to my lifestyle, but they didn’t end up working for me. I won’t go into it to much, but instead will just jump right to the conclusions.

jump to conclusions

I’m not good with idols or gurus or talismans. I like nature — I feel at peace when “communing” with nature, i.e. doing nothing while just being near or in it. But living a life in the modern world, I don’t always have the time or situational circumstances to be out in nature when I need a little connection to the universe.

So I started a journal. (Again.) One where I can complain without burdening my family and friends (especially my huz), wonder and blather on about things that no one else I know will find interesting (which is the better pencil? Dixon Ticonderoga or Staedtler Norica? This guy knows. And cares.), and, most of all, where I can appreciate all the good stuff in my life. Because there is always good stuff, no matter how crappy I’m feeling.

I don’t always complain or commiserate, but every day I practice gratitude. Every day I make a list of any simply nice or extravagantly wonderful thing that graced my day. I don’t think I’ve every thought of less than three in a day. Usually I can think of more, but I just get tired and want to sleep rather than continue the list. Depends on the day.

But this practice of gratitude, of being grateful for anything (not even near everything) has helped improve my mood exponentially. It’s a personal reminder to just think positively about my life. Daily.

Taking the time to think of things to be grateful for everyday puts me in the practice of thinking that way all the time. Instead of being a pessimistic naysayer, I begin to automatically look on the bright side of things. And even if there are that many bright things, or they’re not that bright, but putting my focus on them puts the crap things in the background. So then they don’t bother me as much.

Gratitude and positivity are a way of life for me. I did it a lot in more years ago (before adult life got in the way) and it affected myself and others in a positive way. I made life better! For myself and others. It’s contagious. When I was a teenager working as a pizza delivery driver, one regular customer told me if I could bottle my happiness, I’d be a very rich person. I remember that compliment because it was one of the best I’d ever received. Not because of riches, but because he saw in me a potential to spread happiness. Who doesn’t want happiness? Everyone wants to be happy. And I could help propagate it!

Getting back to that way of thinking and appreciating has done wonders. It’s such a small and simple act, but that’s the great thing about it — it’s so easy! My mood has improved. My energy as increased. My love flows more freely. It’s a wonderful feeling. I recommend it to one and all.

Be positive and grateful and you will create your own happiness.

Enjoy.

My Bucket List

I first read about making a bucket list in You Can Buy Happiness (and It’s Cheap) by Tammy Strobel and I knew I didn’t want to put any material objects on it, like ‘own a house’. I mean, the definition of a bucket list is “a number of experiences or achievements that a person hopes to have or accomplish during their lifetime“.

But I didn’t know what to put on it. When I read that book, I was about to give birth to my second child and was only really worried about surviving the delivery and first couple of crazy months with an infant. My scope of the future was short and incredibly honed in on caring for the new life in my world. I couldn’t think about any unrelated dreams even though I tried. It was kinda depressing, actually. Crazy hormones.

My son Wolfy is nearly 6 months old now and I’m in a much more stable place. So when I saw this post by Jessica, the Minimal Student, I was incredibly inspired. I was reminded of my previous adventures when I saw I had already achieved some of the things on her list. And I was reminded of a bunch of other things I still to accomplish, even while raising children.

Seeing her list unearthed a heap of possibilities for what I want to do with the rest of my life. I think it’s great that she’s shared her list with the world. It inspired and energized me. And right now, my own list’s format is pretty heavily influenced by Jessica’s list. I assure you, this imitation is a sincere form of flattery.

To continue spreading the joy of wonder, adventure, and achievement, I am going to share my bucket list, too — check it out here!

Enjoy!