Friday, October 10, 2014

Thoughts on Happiness

While cleaning up my blog, I found a half written post about happiness that I started last spring.  It was one that needed to sit - it needed time to rest and for me to reflect and refine my thoughts.

Most people know that I am a learner by nature and I might be into learning about a wide variety of topics at any one time.  For example, I dove really deep into studying The Depression Era a couple of years ago, especially Depression Era photography.  It was fascinating, but made for some strange cocktail party conversation, unless I was hanging out with historians. (I know, my husband puts up with a lot of weirdness.)

Happiness and what makes people happy is another area of deep fascination.

I read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin and have recommended the book so many times that I think people are tired of listening to me, so they read it.! (And, they love it!)  I read her following book Happier at Home and have already pre-ordered her book on habits, Better Than Before.  I am a little obsessed - she is an excellent, smart and accessible writer.  She makes me think and want to be better. And, she writes about happiness and I am hungry for ideas about sustaining happiness in the middle of a busy, wonderful and challenging life.

I tend to be more on the positive side, but like most, my happiness can dip and I question if I am at right place at the right time, if I am doing enough to live my life...you know the drill. The age old question - am I doing life right?

And, then, this week, I responded to some questions from my mentee who was asking really important questions about life, career and her future. Here is some of what I told her:
...When college came around, a whole new world opened up.  I met some really great people...got my heart broken into a thousand pieces twice...recovered, learned some stuff, made decisions, made friends, had some adventures, made memories, and worried about whether I was doing it right the whole time!  It's part of life.
I stumbled on an article, How Happiness Changes with Age in The Atlantic.  I especially loved this part:
The older we get, the more we want to hang on to what we've already got -- the things we've worked so hard to achieve. We also have more experience with pain and loss, having been knocked around a bit by life, and having learned a few lessons the hard way.
I think I am starting to get it - our understanding of happiness and what makes us happy evolves over time, born out of experiences - good and bad.  We continue to worry that we are "doing it right" - however you define right - no matter how old we get, but we get a little better about figuring it out.

Here are some things that I have figured out about my own happiness.  I am happier when I:

Practice self-care on a regular basis.  This is the stuff that feels frivolous and like a waste of time, but is so fundamental to staying healthy and positive - massages, using moisturizer, eating right, running (or walking, it doesn't matter, just being active), reading good writing, writing (some mostly passable stuff worth reading, but it's my truth/story), practicing yoga, sleep (more than four hours, which I am usually below that standard when I am stressed or thinking too hard about something).  You get the idea.

Take my own advice.  One of the benefits of my job is a lot of drive time during most weeks.  Drive time is the best time to sort out my thoughts.  Often, I find myself really torn up about something and then I'll imagine that a friend is asking me for advice about the issue and I imagine what I would tell my friend and suddenly, I have clarity.  It's amazing that when you live in the frame, it is so hard to see the whole picture.

Do nice things for people who have no way or reciprocating. Enough said.  Kindness and generosity just feel good.

Own who I am. This summer I declared that I am not an easy going person.  This is no news flash to anyone who knows me well, but I have been expending a lot of energy over the past 39 years trying to pretend like I am easy going.  No more.  Here is some earlier writing I did about my personality:
I am not an easy going person.  As much as I would like to say that I take things as they come and have an abundance of patience, the truth – the real, gritty and unpopular truth – is that I am intense, stubborn and impatient.  When taking personality assessments, I aspire to mark the “easy going” choice on questions, but when I am really truthful with myself, I mark the “intense and uptight” choices.  My personality characteristics in isolation seem negative, but they actually have served me really well.  I owe much of my professional success to being focused, determined, and quick to action. 

A friend who knew I was going through a rough time gave me a holiday card in which she penned really touching and wise advice.  She said that we were in a canoe and my husband and I each had a paddle.  She gave us permission to “just float” for a while.  I loved this.  I repeated this phrase over and over again for a month.  After sitting with this advice for some time, I discovered it fit me like a coat that was three sizes too big.  I aspired to “just float,” yet my true core is a fighter…a paddler.  Give me a body of water that is smooth as glass and I am out there paddling away as if I was in a river riddled with rapids.  I don’t “just float” and that is my problem and my gift.

My husband is the same way. I just watched him scramble some eggs.  Most people use a modest heat and gently scrape the pan and urge the eggs to doneness.  Not my husband.  He scrambles them, stirring and churning and whipping them into a froth – on high heat.  I have also witnessed him battle two chronic illnesses that are sometimes incredibly painful and the antidote – exercise, painful and grinding exercise.  He is willing to push his body and do the unthinkable – run a few miles when he is in terrible pain.  He battles.  He fights a hero’s fight.  We are not easy going people.
Do really important work, hard work, impossible work.  Get dirty. I love many things about my life, but I most love that my job is demanding and I feel like I use my strengths to make a difference.  Most of what I do is knowledge-based, but I do have carry some heavy boxes every now and again.  Our hobbies and outside interests are more gritty - gardening, repurposing things, digging for vintage treasures - all hard, sweaty and dirty jobs that bring me a great deal of satisfaction.

Travel. Seeing new places feeds my soul. I am pretty disciplined and can easily get into a routine and when I am entrenched in a routine, I begin to let life roll by. A change of scenery goes me so much good and it often slows me down to really enjoy the little things.  I am someone who loves the city as much as I love the country.  There are times I long to be in the city to have access to fine dining, theater, major league sports, outrageous people watching, big museums and galleries, and retail therapy of all kinds.  However, when I am in the city, I long for our little country home and time in the quiet.  I miss the stars and hearing the coyotes. Travel gives me the best of both worlds - new adventures and the thrill of returning to a home we love.

Homekeeping and traditional "women's work" grounds me. There are so many great memories that I hold from working alongside strong and resourceful women in my family.  I still get a great deal of stress relief from hearing freshly canned jars of food from the garden seal - that pop means everything.  Washing dishes or baking a pie or planning a big family meal makes me feel so connected across generations and like I have a small part in carrying on traditions.

I need lists and plans.  This goes back to my revelation that I am not easy going. Lists and plans give me comfort.

Listening to music. Let me be clear.  I am not musical, but I love music of all genres.  I get stuck on some favorite artists and listen to them over and over again.  My current favorites are Ray LaMontagne, OneRepublic, The Black Keys, and George Strait. I also had a few summer jams like Southern Sun by Boy and Bear and Another Story by The Head and the Heart.

Friends and family. I am truly the luckiest person to be supported by so many truly kind people.  When I think about how others have held me up and surrounded me with love and support over the years, I just know that I am blessed beyond measure.  My favorite conversations are those with dear friends who I haven't talked to in months and we are able to pick up right where we left off.

And, there is more for me to figure out and refine.  I am just getting started.

1 comment:

jennamaeblog said...

Lovely. Thanks for sharing, Emily.