1 Easy Way I Learned How to be 10% Happier

How do you like that title? I think I’ve written about this before, way back when this blog was new, so it might be more accurate to say 1 Easy Way I (Re)learned how to be 10% Happier. The method?


Two of my good friends (who are remarkably frugal and healthy and cool but that’s a whole ‘nother post) bike or take public transit to work regularly. And they work much farther away than I do! We were having dinner one night when the subject came up, and I said something along the lines of, “oh yeah, I used to bike to work, but I haven’t lately. It’s too bad because I only live two miles away.”

Their shocked expressions and exclamations of “really?” shamed me back into riding, but the shame was quickly replaced with joy. When I ride my bike to work, I start my day with a cool voyage across (mostly) quiet streets. I get to feel the air on my face, and breathe it in. I have to think (just a little) about what I’m doing so I don’t start worrying about the day’s tasks until I’m actually at the office. A similar process happens when I bike home. I leave the day’s work and any annoyances behind me as I roll out of the parking lot. While the ride back is usually busier, I admit I get a little extra pleasure seeing so many people in their cars while I am cruising past on my bike. I’m having fun! I’m enjoying myself! Look at all these people who aren’t! It’s terrible. And great.

my trusty steed

My trusty steed

Now, biking is no cure-all. People can still be jerks. I can still be tired or grouchy or anxious. But biking consistently makes it better. And the fact that I need to buy gas less often? Just another bonus.

I had similar experiences biking to work when I worked much farther away. At my last job, I would sometimes take the shuttle to the university and then bike the rest of the way to my boss’s house and bike all the way home afterwards. It took about an hour each way, and the way home was sometimes fraught, but it helped me release my frustrations about work and come home happy.

It’s not that I think commuting via car is the worst thing in the world. I wasn’t miserable when I was driving to work; in fact, I barely noticed it. But I think that’s the point. When I ride my bike, I notice that I am riding my bike. I am present for the experience. When I drive my car, I’m somewhere else: either already at my desk thinking about problems or wishing that I was home in bed.

enjoying a ride

This could be you!

It is too rare that we are really present in the current moment of our lives. Biking places me firmly in the current moment. And I think that’s what makes me happier.

Before you say, “that’s great” (it is) “but I could never do that,” (maybe true, maybe not) I encourage you to try it! If not, what things make you 10% happier in your daily life?


Mid-January Check In

Hello lovelies! It feels good to be back and writing, especially since I’ve basically given up on all forms of it for the past week, being sick and excruciatingly stressed about work (the latter may have caused the former actually) so actually having time to write a blog post on this Monday morning is just glorious.

Speaking of work stress, it was extremely wise of past-me to decide that I would set no new resolutions in January as I would have inevitably failed at them by this point. Starting a new position at work right in the department’s busiest season has been insane, and naturally I have certain standards (ie perfection) that I like to live up to… standards that led to me crying in my boss’s office for almost an hour on Thursday through no one’s fault but my own. Literally no one expects perfection of me except me! Fortunately all that crying made me sick and then I basically gave up on life. Also known as: I reset my standards and now feel a lot happier and less stressed.

But that doesn’t mean it’s been easy to avoid resolutions. It’s been really hard and painful (see perfection again. I like starting new things so that I can be really, really good at them). I’ve thought of a number of resolutions I’d like to start or experiments I’d like to try, but I’ve managed to hold strong and start nothing new. I tried for awhile to keep up the things I started in December: daily Duolingo, a pushup every morning, and daily writing, but even those things have fallen off in the last week between work and illness. Fortunately before they stopped, a friend of mine warned me that work might get the better of me this month and that I should just accept it and set a restart date for those habits. I scoffed at the time, but then it happened just like she said, so I’ll try to pick them up again starting next Monday after my major work event is over.

(Buy Girl Scout cookies everyone).

Despite being sick and feeling like all of my internal organs are made up of snot right now, I managed to run  my first half marathon yesterday, which felt pretty great. Running is one area where I have no ego and therefore no perfectionism or expectations, which is a huge relief. I ran very slowly because I didn’t want to make myself sicker and I could feel my cold moving into my chestanne-running as I ran (which is so weird), but I ran the whole time except through a few aid stations where I walked while I drank water and sports drink.  So I was happy with that. Happy enough that I’m thinking about doing another half marathon soon… I started looking at race options after waking up from my post-half-marathon nap.

So what effect has no-resolutions had on my budget?

Not much to be honest. I’ve spent more than I’ve earned so far this month, but I paid rent yesterday and I’m still due for another paycheck so I should come out ahead for the month if I don’t go crazy and nothing bad happens. It won’t be a wildly impressive month either though. I won’t have saved anything for travel, and I’ll only barely save my monthly allotment towards retirement and a house. But it could be worse. I was expecting a bit of a bender. I’ve allowed myself to go out to eat with friends when I’ve felt like it, and even went out to eat with my cat last weekend after she decided to eat something bad and then needed a trip to the emergency vet. It was stressful and we weren’t finished until after 3 p.m. so I was hangry and since she was already in the car, we just went to the vegan drive through, because I’m lucky enough to live in a town with a vegan drive through.

And what do I hope for the rest of January? To survive it, to be honest. To avoid another crying jag in my boss’s office (at least I have a boss who can handle that kind of thing). To do some yoga today and get back out and run more this week even though it’s going to be hell at work. To enjoy the last few days of my man’s company and make plans to see him again. To take it easier on myself in the second half of the month than I did in the first half.

In like a Lion, Out like a…

March has been a crazy month. It feels as though it flew by, and all my typical good-behavior habits flew out the window with it.

In a nutshell, I haven’t been writing. I haven’t been going to poetry class. I haven’t been writing my morning pages. I obviously haven’t been blogging. And I’d like to claim that it was all because I was in New York last week, but it wasn’t. I was skipping classes before that. It isn’t like you’ve seen a post.

So what have I been doing? Working, it feels like, though probably not much more than ever (except last week, which was just one whirlwind of work though it was amazing every minute as well). Sleeping some, it seems; at least, I’ve overslept enough times to skip writing or a morning run this month. Drinking a lot of coffee. Oh to see the number of times that Starbucks appeared in my accounting this month! Well, we’ll save that for another post.

I’ve read some: a book of essays by Jane Hirshfield (which might have been why I slept so much), The Master and Margarita, my favorite trashy romance, a lot of internet.

I don’t want to spend time on what I did to fill my time this month; I want to spend time on getting back on track. I call it “going into robot mode:” that time when I put life on autopilot so that the good things get done because I’m not thinking about them, just doing them. It means getting back into the regular workout routine, regular grocery shopping, regular writing. Not because I want to or because I feel I have much to say right now, but because I know if I do it, something will come.

I did write a bit this month, the start of an essay on my veganism, since everyone I meet seems to have an opinion (mostly the same dumb opinion) about it. And on Monday, my flash creative nonfiction class starts, so theoretically I might still get an essay in before the month is out.

Here’s to Fridays off, afternoons at the beach, and getting back on track.

A Good Morning

Over the break, my body decided it really wanted to sleep in, and since I had nowhere to be, I let it. By really sleep in, I mean I slept until 9 or 10 most mornings, which is crazy considering I used to wake up at 5. And it wasn’t as if I was staying up five hours later the night before; I was just sleeping ten or twelve hours each night.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like it, but I also missed waking up in darkness and seeing light slowly fill the apartment. I missed the quiet of being the only human being up.

Even before the break, my sleep habits had been lax. I was sleeping later than I preferred, giving myself just enough time (sometimes a little less than enough time) to get up, grab a quick breakfast, and drive to work. I always intended to get up earlier, but that just ended up sleeping through three alarms instead of one, which annoyed the Boy.

So I’m working on rebuilding the habit. This morning, I got up with my alarm at 6, made a pot of coffee and sat down at the table to write my morning pages. Afterward, I tried a guided meditation with Happify which was pleasant, if a little long for this beginner.

Equally important to the morning is the evening, so I’m trying to make the last few hours before bed pleasant and restful. Of course, in my mind, I’d rather everything be exactly the same every evening, which is impossible given my current commitments (also undesirable except in my fantasizing brain), so I’m trying not to commit to specific routines, but just more enjoyable options. One thing that’s high on my list is cutting back screen time after work. I don’t do a lot of writing in the evenings, so if I’m on my computer, it’s usually Facebook or unproductive browsing. I’d rather read a book offline or play with the cat. So I’m going to try to cut back on the computer at night, especially as bedtime approaches. Isn’t eight hours at work enough?

It’s tempting to want to want everything to be perfect all at once. I want to jump out of bed at 5 a.m., write for three hours, meditate, exercise and be at work by 9, but that’s not something I can achieve overnight (or even achieve at all) just by deciding it’s right (I know because I’ve tried). What I can do is get up at 6, write a little, meditate, write a little more and pat myself on the back for a job well done this morning. That was enough for today. Right will come.

The Challenge of Habit

One of my most frequent goals is to write more. It’s easier to accomplish this when I am on a schedule that has me waking up early. Most of the time, I am a morning person. I like the peace and quiet when everyone else is still asleep. I like to watch the sky lighten.

But there are also mornings, like this one, when it seems impossible to stay awake. The couch calls my name. The bed calls it too. And even though I’m surrounded by talking furniture, I can barely keep my eyes open. That’s when building this habit becomes a challenge.

“I’ve been so good, I deserve a break” I think to myself, and it’s true, I have been good. I have eight ‘x’s on my calendar from all the days I woke up and wrote. That’s more than a week, so why not let myself off the hook? Then I’m back at square one.

This past week, I’ve woken up around 5:25, gotten myself a cup of coffee with milk and sugar, and settled in to write my morning pages. I write three pages of long hand every morning on yellow legal paper. I love this habit, I could never consider giving it up. Then I’d go for a quick two mile run and come back to write. Running in the mornings is lovely and cool, and good for writing because it gets the brain moving. I’ve been reading Lynda Barry’s What It Is and following the exercises she has in the back of the book, so more long hand writing. It’s nice and it feels good, creative and generative.

This morning, my body needs a break, but my mind needs the habit. I still woke up, still wrote my morning pages, dozing off a couple of times, and now I’m writing this. For the practice. For the ‘x’ on the calendar. Because I hoped the computer’s blue glow would help me stay awake, and it has, better than the coffee anyway.

Good morning. It’s hard to come back from a long weekend, back to the routine of the regular work week. But, here I am.

My morning companion

My morning companion

Some thoughts on food and habits

This morning I skated for twenty minutes in the parking lot of the hospital by my apartment. As I was working out, people walked through on their way to work. It was glorious. I used to think that it was impossible for me to really skate in my neighborhood–too much traffic, uneven sidewalks, nowhere flat and smooth to go. I didn’t even consider the possibility of this parking lot until very recently, and at 6:30 in the morning, it is very empty, perfect for practicing my hockey stops against at the white lines of every parking space. I even felt brave enough to practice my backwards skating, which I am horrible at because I never practice it.

Getting up early and skating in a parking lot is not my ideal-ideal way to work out (frankly, I’d rather use that time to write) but I also think it is important to be realistic. I have evening meetings tonight and for the next two days, so there is no way I’m going to be able to work out after work. Before work? Yes. During work? Feasible. But after? Not really. So that means looking for some new fixes and some new adventures. And I can say that with a positive attitude right now because I worked out this morning so I’m not grouchy. And I’m getting my writing in. It isn’t a poem but this will do.

I also had a realization today that helped me sympathize a little bit more with all the people I’ve met in my life who have said to me, “you’re vegetarian? What do you eat?” Since cutting out eggs and dairy, I’ve been asking myself that question a lot too. What do I eat? What can I eat? The answer has been a lot of tofu. Also burritos. And carrots with cashew “cheese” sauce. And a lot of fruit. And Larabars. I’ve been destroying Larabars. But it hit me today (because I forgot to buy more ingredients for my tofu scramble, so I was scrambling to come up with something else–hence breakfast burritos) that in a few months, this will feel as normal to me as vegetarianism has felt for the past thirteen years. I didn’t even realize until now that it has been that long. And it will be nice to have that habit, to not have to think about it, to know that the answer when I’m asked “what do you eat?” will still be the same. The answer is “food.”